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Gallo duo dusted off for wine cooler ads

Frank Bartles and Ed Jaymes — together again.

The characters, two good ol' boys, turned the hawking of Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers into a marketing gold mine for Modesto's E.&J. Gallo Winery in the 1980s.

Now the folksy, fictional duo will try to re-create that success — "thank you for your support" — using the same campy humor and monotone delivery to try to win over a new audience.

Gallo will release some of the deliberately undynamic duo's vintage commercials on the Internet.

The company plans to have the characters, played by new actors, show up at several events.

"Consumers are really reconnecting with nostalgic brands and to simpler times," Blair Owens, a marketing manager for Gallo, said Thursday.

About 25 of the 200-plus spots, which appeared from 1985 to 1991, will be released over the coming months on a yet-to-be-announced Web site. Viewers will be free to forward them to others — a "viral" kind of product promotion, Owens said.

The spots won't run on television, he said, but the online revival will provide a fresh look at an ad campaign that helped put Gallo at the top of the wine cooler market.

The new push aims especially at women 25 to 35 years old — none of whom were of legal drinking age when Bartles and Jaymes strolled onto the scene.

The ads combined down-home settings with oddball humor, such as when Bartles suggested using a wine cooler as a "topping" for ice.

"This is quick and easy to do," he said in his earnest monotone, "and will not only improve the flavor of ice considerably, but will make it more attractive as well."

Bartles, who did all the talking in the ads, was played by David Rufkahr, an Oregon rancher who died in 1996. Jaymes was played by Santa Rosa building contractor Dick Maugg, who, like Rufkahr, was discovered in a national talent search.

The ads ranked as high as sixth on an annual consumer survey of popular advertising in 1986 and 1987.

"It was a hell of a ride while it lasted," Rufkahr said in 1992.

David Boring, a Modesto advertising veteran, said Thursday that the Bartles & Jaymes spots scored because of the writing and casting.

"That was a really good move, to create these characters that people care about," said Boring, owner of Never Boring Design Associates. "I think a lot of people got caught up in the stories, and that made for fun advertising."

Bartles & Jaymes products have changed during the spokesmen's absence. Most are flavored malt beverages, rather than the original mixtures of wine and fruit juice.

The brand remains No. 1 in its category with 8 million cases sold annually, according to Brandweek, a marketing magazine. Its rivals include Seagram's Coolers, Bacardi Breezers and California Cooler, which was relaunched last month after a 15-year hiatus.

The new Bartles & Jaymes actors will turn up at selected sporting events, movie openings and other events, perhaps including one in the Modesto area, Owens said.

"We've gone through hundreds of (auditions) and found two gentlemen who really represent those salt-of-the-earth values," he said.

To comment, click on the link with this story at www.modbee.com. Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.

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