Lotte Hits Below Belt to Score Instant Success
At first, soju makers were careful to go light with their alcohol content. But after gradually dieting the domestic hard liquor way below the 20-percent level, companies are now willing to lighten up even more to qualify for airtime.
Current broadcasting law bans commercials for beverages with an alcohol content higher than 17 percent from being aired by the three main terrestrial broadcasters, so the most obvious solution for liquor makers is to hit just below the legal limit.
Leading the way, Lotte Liquor BG is showing how the strategic positioning is done.
The country's second-largest manufacturer of distilled and colorless liquor is in the final stages of rolling out its latest and lightest version of Cheoumcheorum, a popular soju brand. And its alcohol content, according to industry sources, is optimized at 16.8 percent.
This is the least amount of alcohol content any of the country's top soju brands currently carry. The market's No. 1 player Jinro's J contains 18.5 percent alcohol.
Cheoumcheorum's weak content will be light enough to earn commercial time on the most popularly watched television channels after 10 p.m., but critics view Lotte Liquor BG's strategy with skepticism.
They point out that allowing soju brands to air flashy television ads is socially irresponsible as the full-fledged promotion could encourage drinking among minors.
But for Lotte's liquor unit, an all-out ad blitz is deemed necessary considering the recent disappointing sales of Cheoumcheorum. The retail giant took up Doosan's spirit-making division in January, making Lotte one of the country's biggest soju manufacturers.
However, performance has been weak since then, forcing the conglomerate to adopt new product and marketing initiatives.
It kept slimming down the alcohol content level to appeal to a wider range of consumers. Over the years, low-proof liquors have been gaining popularity as more health- and weight-conscious people began worrying about their waistlines and hangovers.
Bold ad campaigns featuring popular singer and sexy icon Lee Hyo-ri were also launched nationwide, but no impressive turnaround has resulted yet, according to industry data.
Market estimates show that Lotte currently takes up 12.6 percent of the country's soju market, while Jinro is comfortably ahead with more than 78 percent.