Brown-Forman's Southern Comfort brand takes its New Orleans heritage very seriously, and in Phil Cusimano, appointed as global brand ambassador six months ago, now has a native New Orleaner as its prime champion. In this month's Just the Answer interview, Cusimano spoke with Jessica Harvey about the brand's strong links with the city and how its promotional platforms build on its New Orleans roots.

just-drinks: Last year, Southern Comfort delivered double-digit growth. Where did the growth come from, and can this level of growth be sustained?

Cusimano: Speaking from the stateside, I think a lot of the gains did come from the SoCo line initiative, which is still growing and still untapped in the states. I think globally they have a big drive here with the SoCo, lime and lemonade, which is a long drink that they use and I still think it's untapped. Our marketing has changed and we're going through a whole new look and feel. We have our largest TV ad campaign coming up, so I definitely see it continuing to grow.

j-d: In which markets is Southern Comfort performing well, and where would you look to improve?

Cusimano: It's performing well across the board, surprisingly. The US is still our largest market. I think last year Canada had some good growth. The UK, right now, is getting some good numbers and growth. In the last three months it has outgrown its competitors.

j-d: What is the target market for Southern Comfort and how do you look to engage with your consumers?

Cusimano: LDA (legal drinking age) to 29 is our target consumer. The way that we plan on engaging is definitely through the sponsorship of events that they are attracted to, The Big Chill (music festival) being one here. In New Orleans, we do New Orleans' jazz festival, French Quarter festival and also the Southern Comfort music experience in San Diego, Phoenix, Saint Louis and two other locations. Then we're also doing the Voodoo festival, which draws a big crowd in New Orleans as well, in October.

We're doing that, plus our urban wear. We're redesigning our point of sale to fit what the LDA to 29 consumer is wearing, what they're into and we're going after that.

j-d: Last year you began referring to Southern Comfort as 'Soco' in the UK and US. How has this gone down with consumers?

Cusimano: The term SoCo we didn't actually come up with. It was created by a bartender when he invented the SoCo and lime. I believe he was out of New Jersey. So we heard about it and as a marketing team got behind it and rode that wave. In the US, that's the brand call; that's the bar call - it's 'Soco' and that's where it went to.

Talking with some bartenders over here, they're very passionate about Southern Comfort. They like to call it 'Southern Comfort' over 'Soco' and I appreciate that because it does at least show me that they're taking brand ownership and they're behind the brand.

So, we didn't decide to call it 'SoCo' - somebody else did. We're comfortable however, the word gets out there. It came to us and we just got behind it because that was the trend in the US.

j-d: How is Southern Comfort performing in developing markets like Brazil, Russia, India and China?

Cusimano: I'd have to look at those numbers to really give you an answer on that, five months in and I haven't really studied those developing markets yet.

j-d: Are there plans to build share by attracting new consumers in those developing markets?

Cusimano: I would think we'd go into a complete global brand with a similar feel and brand campaign to try and have a similar concept across the globe so I would definitely say "Yes".

j-d: Is there anything in the pipeline, specifically?

Cusimano: Not that I can speak to you about right now.

j-d: Southern Comfort is proud of its New Orleans heritage. How did you feel when Absolut launched its New Orleans variant last month?

Cusimano: Being a local, I thought it was fantastic. I like any brand that gets behind any sort of charity or any sort of campaign like that to give back to the community.

Southern Comfort, as well as other brands, have done a lot in the past to support New Orleans. We gave back proceeds from all our Mardi Gras sales, and once again, I thought Absolut did a phenomenal job. I thought the package was great, their taste profile was great and I look forward to Southern Comfort and other brands continuing to do that for everybody.

j-d: What role did Southern Comfort play in the city's recovery after Hurricane Katrina?

Cusimano: We did a programme where a certain percentage of case sales from the first Mardi Gras after Katrina went towards the music fund (a relief fund for musicians).