The Buyer
David Gluckman: why drinks brands need to be braver

David Gluckman: why drinks brands need to be braver

Launching a new drinks brand can be hard: identifying a need in the market, and meeting it with a product that fills a gap to the right demographic… then it’s matching the branding to the proposition. And that’s just for starters. For drinks inventor David Gluckman, the man who put The Singleton and Baileys on the map, a new drinks brand cannot be all things to all people, it needs an edge – something that eliminates a large part of the population to focus a clearly-defined offering on a select few. That’s brave and that’s what will ultimately make a successful new brand… that sells.

David Gluckman
22nd January 2019by David Gluckman
posted in Opinion,

Gluckman recalls a stillborn new product development he worked on long ago and also raves about two new drinks where a bit of bravery is what counts.

Nearly 30 years ago I worked on the development of a new lager intended to carry the Virgin name. The client was Richard Branson.

The idea seemed to work for young British lager drinkers. Branson and the Virgin name passed muster.

I made one recommendation. I suggested that Virgin should enter the market with a differentiated product. Maybe a wheat beer or a cloudy beer, something genuinely different.

Sir Richard disagreed. As long as his product matched a big brand like Budweiser, the Virgin name would carry it.

Luckily for everybody, Virgin lager never happened. By now the signs were evident that Virgin Cola (me-too product versus Coke) and Virgin vodka (same position but versus Smirnoff) weren’t working.

I think that goes to show that new brands can’t be all things to all people. They need an edge. The Virgin name wasn’t enough.

The term ‘brave’ is very much in fashion these days and has become the mantra of The Marketing Society.

And ‘brave’ to me means being prepared to eliminate a large section of the population in favour of a clearly-defined offering to a select few.

I came across two incredibly brave ideas during the course of last year, one from a completely unexpected source – Coca Cola. Both stuck their necks out and were happy to eliminate a lot of potential buyers.

The first was a Single malt Scotch whisky introduced by Ian MacLeod Distillers from Islay. It’s adventurously called ‘Smokehead’ and here’s the package.

What I loved about ‘Smokehead’ was the ‘in-your-face’ language on the box : it says ‘wildly bold and not for everyone’ and uses descriptors like ‘smoky and sweet’, ‘peppery and peaty’ and ‘salty and seaweedy’.

It is brazenly prepared to ignore about 95% of its potential market in order to target a select few with the stomach for a really challenging malt. It’s chasing ‘Laphroaig’ and ‘Lagavulin’ perhaps.

And it broadcasts its individuality from the shelf.

It immediately found its way onto my Christmas list and when offered a dram by the grateful recipient, it delivered. It did exactly what it said on the tin. It’s a big, ballsy malt that delivers all the adjectives it claims.’

And I noticed that it has two companion whiskies, ‘Smokehead High-Voltage 58%’ and ‘Smokehead Sherry Bomb 48%’. Nothing pusillanimous about Ian MacLeod Distillers. Great stuff.

Now to the other end of the world. I was in Australia in September, talking at a conference. I was wandering around a supermarket having a look when I came across this brand. It’s called ‘Lift’ and to my surprise, it’s marketed by Coca Cola.

They go on to describe it as ‘unexpectedly bold’ with ‘more kick’ and ‘real bite’. They call it ‘a drink made for you, not the kids’.

Here again is a brand happy to broadcast its individuality and to proclaim that character on the can.

It became my soft drink of choice throughout my stay in Australia and yes, again, it delivered what it said on the tin. It’s a sharp, sour, really lemony drink that really refreshes. Wish we had it here.

Here are two brilliant brands that really wear their adventurous hearts on their sleeves.

Given that ‘Lift’ is from Coke, it’s bound to be successful. I hope ‘Smokehead’ enjoys the success it deserves.

And I didn’t just talk about them and write about them. I went out and bought them.

David Gluckman© January 2019

  • You can read more of Gluckman’s views on drinks brands and what works in his whirlwind tour down the back bar in That Sh*t Will Never Sell.