Can reinvigorated brands reconnect with consumers and reignite the spirits category?

DISCERNING DRINKERS

For some time now, the spirits industry has been hearing scare stories about young people drinking less, but they’re not the only ones, it seems we’re all drinking less as a nation. According to research from Mintel, one in four adults in the UK have cut down on their alcohol purchases since 2017 thanks to the proliferation of health studies on the negative effects of drinking.

But research shows that we’re not so much swearing off drink as becoming more discerning about exactly what we drink, and when we drink it. It’s no coincidence that as overall alcohol purchases have fallen, craft beer has boomed, gin has blossomed, and dark spirits are now enjoying their moment in the sun. Consumers are looking for new flavours and new experiences, and it shows in their buying habits.

As spirits manufacturers search for the next big thing, rather than look to the future, they might want to dust off some of the brands in their product portfolios to see if there isn’t a product of their own that, with a fresh lick of paint, might gain a new lease of life.

There are several spirits brands that have successfully revived one of their overlooked imprints. It doesn’t work for every brand though, you need a great product and sharp insight to ensure that the reinvigorated brand has staying power beyond the initial nostalgia rush.

UNLEASHING THE NAKED TRUTH

Edrington’s Naked Grouse was a premium expression within The Famous Grouse portfolio that takes its name from the first-fill “naked” sherry casks used in its production. But despite some success in global markets, by 2017 the product had been largely neglected and featured a dated identity that was no longer connecting with The Famous Grouse consumers.

Edrington took the bold decision to relaunch Naked Grouse as a stand-alone brand, targeting a younger, knowledge-seeking consumer that was no longer bound by traditional whisky rules. Research showed that these attitudes existed across all markets which opened up an opportunity for Naked Grouse, so in addition to the product’s core markets (Taiwan & the Nordics), the brand sought to reach out to consumers in new territories like the US and Australia, as well as re-connecting with the UK. In casting off the stuffier elements of whisky drinking, we repositioned Naked Grouse around a central concept – liberation – executed through the idea of “living naked”. This grew out of research with the target audience that gleaned the insight “I’m at my most happy when I can be myself”.

The result was the creation of a distinctive brand world that talks directly to the attitude of the targeted global consumer. The brand’s assets and creative strip things back to traditional processes, from the typewriter print on the brand mark, to the imagery of ingredients in their raw, natural state. Black and white photography captures the emotional spirit of the brand in a way that’s playful and uncomplicated. Special attention was paid to identifying the correct on-trade and off-trade accounts with a communication strategy that would allow Naked Grouse to talk to its target consumer. We worked on building on-trade presence through a global advocacy programme focused on premium trend leading accounts, a handful of which were in the World’s Top 50 list.

Naked Grouse proved that reviving an old brand can be worth the risk achieving +17% growth in value and +21% volume in the first year, an achievement that was then bettered with 22% volume growth in the following year – making it one of the fastest growing brands in its sector. The brand is already forging a meaningful connection with a new generation of whisky drinkers and earned a spot in The Spirits Business’ “Top 50 Innovative Spirits Launches of 2017”.

ALL AT SEA

Another spirit seeking to differentiate itself from its parent brand is Lamb’s Spiced Rum, a spiced variant of Lamb’s Navy Rum. The Lamb’s brand was once a household name in the UK, but over the years it has failed to evolve, leaving the main brand looking somewhat dusty and anachronistic. There’s still plenty of potential for the brand to be brought back to life, but the Spiced Rum variant doesn’t do much that competitors like Sailor Jerry and Captain Morgan aren’t doing more successfully. Lamb’s Spiced targets younger consumers (as well as female consumers) but fails to flex its assets in a contemporary way.

The revamped “Spiced” brand is also confusingly positioned alongside its parent brand, which has maintained the same look and identity, so it almost feels as if the two products are operating completely independently of each other. Would it not have been better to relaunch both expressions at the same time?

Contrast this with Naked Grouse, which playfully mimics and obscures assets from its once parent brand, The Famous Grouse with unconventional illustrations and a jokingly placed censorship bar in the logo. As a result, Naked Grouse effectively acts as a stand-alone brand without treading on the toes of The Famous Grouse.

THE NEW KING OF SUMMER

For a long time, Pimms ruled supreme over the great British summer, but in recent years it’s been dethroned by an Italian import. Aperol is fast becoming the UK’s go-to summer cocktail with sales up a staggering 98% in 2017 according to data from retailer, Majestic Wines.

So how does a century-old apéritif manage to steal the crown from Pimms? Much like Naked Grouse, by breaking the rules while targeting a new international audience. The Campari Group have responded sharply to the changing palette of British drinkers as the UK has discovered a taste for all things bitter. But the brand has also been canny in owning the UK summer drinking occasion. Aperol has positioned itself as “the first drink of the night” with an easily reproduced ritual that’s understood both on-trade and off-trade. The brand’s distinctive brand assets ooze retro cool, with a blue banner and yellow type standing out with Italian pizzazz against the product colour, which also serves as the brand colour (a colour that has the advantage of being particularly Instagrammable).

All of a sudden, the Pimms brand has started to look tired, having lost its aspirational appeal. Could a Gen-z-focussed refresh be key to a revival? A fruit-based low ABV serve is, in theory, more in keeping with the drinking habits of this age group, but the design is currently doing nothing to entice the younger crowd. Thankfully, Pimms has a rich heritage and plenty of distinctive assets to play with, so there’s no reason it can’t reclaim its summer throne.

CALLING THE SHOTS

Jägermeister led the shot market for well over a decade with a distinctive brand image and a memorable ritual. But as alcohol consumption declines, how can a brand that fuelled drinking culture adapt and thrive in a new market? They might look to another shot glass staple, tequila, or more specifically, Patrón.

Recent years have seen premium tequila move to embrace craft. Now, many tequilas like Patrón are rightfully enjoyed as straight sippers in much the same way as a great whisky, rum or gin. You’re now just as likely to find tequila lovers discussing ageing and barrels, as salt and lemon.

Patrón have made it their mission to educate consumers on the pleasures of premium tequila. The brand have tapped into a wider trend of consumers looking for quality over quantity where increasingly, consumers are looking for a premium serve and they’re willing to pay more for it. Much of the brand’s marketing focus is around on-trade as well as the consumers, educating drinkers and servers in the virtues of artisanal, hand-crafted tequila. Like Naked Grouse, Patrón is reaching out to knowledge-seekers, consumers looking for brands with quality, craft and unique stories.

Jägermeister, too, has long been seen as a shot but there’s room for the brand to experiment with the serve. It’s something they’re already attempting in their marketing; from cocktail recipes to cold brew, ice-cold shots to chasers, Jägermeister have even dabbled, somewhat unsuccessfully, with pre-mixed cans. But whether it’s the brand image or poor communication, these innovations haven’t caught on.

With a strong brand story and a unique look and feel, Jägermeister has successfully outlived the hype of fellow shooters like Aftershock and Goldschlager; there’s no reason they can’t ride out the current changes to the way we drink.

REVIVING AN ALCOHOL BRAND

As we’ve seen, there are plenty of ways to successfully revive a brand to reinvigorate a category. Done well, this can allow your brand to tap into new audiences and make connections with a new generation of consumers.

 

START WITH A STRONG BRAND

  • There’s no point trying to revive a weak brand that consumers won’t welcome back.
  • Does the brand past have relevance for the future?

 

UNDERSTAND YOUR CONSUMER INSIGHT

  • Make sure this works for all markets.

 

UNDERSTAND YOUR CONSUMERS’ NEEDS

  • What do they want from your brand?

 

OWN THE OWN OCCASION AND THE RITUAL

  • How does your audience drink?
  • When and where do they drink?

 

CHOOSE YOUR CATEGORY CUES AND LANGUAGE WISELY

  • Does your brand lead the pack?
  • Or do you go against the norm?

 

HAVE A RIGID BRAND SEEDING STRATEGY

  • For both on- and off-trade.

 

DEFINE YOUR BRAND STORY

  • What is the brand truth?
  • How is it motivating for the consumer?
  • You may have to dig into your brand’s past to uncover this.

 

CREATE DISTINCTIVE ASSETS

  • Don’t just fall back on existing assets, make something new.

 

As the way we consume alcohol continues to evolve, the smart brands will be the ones who invest in their own portfolio and innovate to stay ahead. The modern consumer is crying out for unique experiences and brand stories to which they can connect. The good news is, you may have precisely what they’re looking for hiding in your brand portfolio, or gathering dust at the back of the bar. It could be time to take a look at your portfolio and ask whether there’s a brand that’s ripe for a comeback?

If you would like to talk about the challenges you’re facing, including reviving underperforming brands, we’d love to share our expertise with you. Kinship have extensive experience in the spirits sector, using our insight and intuition to build deeper and more meaningful connections between brands and their consumers.