Proof (if it were needed) that Christmas is but ten days away comes in the blitz of commercials now airing for Santa's favourite: sticky liqueurs. Just as aunties and uncles across the land dust off the remains of last year's bottle, so the drinks companies are lining up their battalions for this year's festive onslaught.

Archers, Baileys, DiSaronno amaretto, Sheridan's, Tia Maria and more - not to mention a selection of sherries and ports from Croft's to Cockburn - are once more gracing our TV screens, each with a promise of elegance and sophistication.

Take Sheridan's, currently sporting a stylish black-and-white ad highlighting conflicting emotions - love and hate, trust and betrayal. You can't appreciate one without the other, the end-line explains: just as the brand's dark coffee liqueur must be mixed with the accompanying white liqueur cream.

Likewise, Tia Maria. Having dropped Eighties super model Iman, advertising agency Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe's new campaign features an enigmatic Princess of Darkness. The sequence of artfully shot ads, which blend style and sophistication with film noir, were shot by Highlander 2 director Andy Morahan.

Yet behind the customary gloss a number of manufacturers are attempting to effect a subtle change of tack. For many years, Christmas has marked the focus of their year's marketing activities. Now, they are attempting to position their products as an all-year-round tipple.

So, Tia Maria exploits the vogue for quaffing coffee liqueur mixed with Coke. And Baileys, which for the first time uses humour, features a couple in evening dress apparently getting up to something naughty in an ancient, rickety lift (in fact, they are simply enjoying an innocent glass of Baileys).

The idea is to encourage consumers to consider drinking Baileys whenever they go out - not just when they're staying at home, explains Hugh Burkitt, chairman of Baileys' agency Court Burkitt and Company. A previous campaign featured a man bringing in sacks of ice to add to the drink - another attempt to re-position it as more than an after-dinner liqueur.

"We know people love the taste of all these liqueurs, but unfortunately they tend to categorise - in this case, liqueurs are still seen by many as after dinner drinks or as drinks for Christmas," adds Tim O'Donnell, marketing controller at International Distillers (IDV) and Vintners whose brands include Baileys, Sheridan's, DiSaronno and Drambuie.

However, IDV has worked to re-position its liqueurs by encouraging consumers to try them in pubs, bars and restaurants, throughout the year and in bigger measures - as a long drink. Baileys, which remains market leader with sales 70 per cent ahead of any other product, now enjoys only 60 per cent of annual sales at Christmas; not so long ago the figure was nearer 100 per cent.

The move seems to be paying off. Sales of DiSaronno are up 60 per cent year on year over the past 12 months. Meanwhile Sheridan's, a much newer brand, is "flying", he claims.

The effect on the liqueurs market as a whole, however, remains harder to quantify. Current estimates suggest total sales are growing at a much slower rate - annual sales now stand at around 32 million bottles. According to O'Donnell, growth for IDV has been at the expense of smaller rival brands.

Small wonder if competitors are now also attempting to re-position their liqueurs as a cool and flexible drink anytime and anywhere. They just can't afford not to. After all, it's hardly good for business if your product is only served three days out of 365, while for the rest of the year it sits in sticky obscurity - at the back of the drinks cabinet.