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Drinks firm thinks pink

ALLIED DOMECQ, the spirits-to-wine conglomerate, has embarked on an aggressive marketing push to woo the pink pound - the spending power of the gay community - through an unlikely link-up with the world of on- line bulletin boards and cyberspace.

Last year it launched Planet Patrol - a gay, on-line cybercafe -in the UK. The bulletin board has been so successful that later this year Allied Domecq will roll out similar services across the main regions of the US.

It is not the only drinks firm to target the spending power of the gay community. The latest Guinness TV advertisements will include specifically gay references.

Absolut Vodka, under Grand Metropolitan, achieved cult status among gays after it spent heavily on targeted adverts in the mainstream and gay press.

The idea for Planet Patrol came from ADventures, a unit Allied set up a year ago, which reports directly to chief executive Tony Hales.

Its mission was to bring more radical concepts to bear on Allied's diverse spirits- and leisure- related portfolio. However, Alison Jarvis, one of the two managers who run ADventures, says: "It is not an innovations department; we felt that would be a kiss of death. The unit is to develop networks across the company, and to bring about culture change."

Planet Patrol, she says, was an attempt to offer a two-way dialogue with the gay community: "Planet Patrol provides a facility, and is not just riding on the back of the gay bandwagon."

The dial-in service is unavailable through the Internet, so as "to be more discreet". At the various sites on the bulletin board, promotional material for Allied Domecq products is intermixed with on-line, interactive chat lines, information boards and forums.

Planet Patrol and ADventures will host a chill-out tent at this year's Pride '96 festival, in London, on 6 July.

The spending power of the gay community has never been lost on those in the drinks business. Sharon Rubin, promotions manager for the Mean Fiddler pubs in Islington, says: "Gays are recognised as a heavy spending crowd who are largely drug-free. From my point of view, it is just wrong to have such a strong market marginalised."

She estimates that average expenditure per head at a gay bar is pounds 8, double that of straight drinkers.