I was always fascinated by Seagram’s Gin and at a recent lunch with a former production friend, we reminisced about the brand. I thought I would share that with my Seagram readers.
When I came to Seagram, the brand was selling at roughly the 3.3 million case levels. Thanks to Snoop Dogg’s Gin and Juice rap song, it grew to close to 4 million cases by the late 1990s. Today, the brand is still the leading gin but its sales are in the 2.5 million case range.
The product story of Seagram’s Gin epitomized the fundamental values of the company. In the commitment to quality and brand differentiation, someone way back when (perhaps Mr. Sam himself) decided that an American Dry Gin could be smoother and more tasteful if it were rested in charred oak barrels for 90 days. That resulted in a more expensive proposition and gave the product a pale straw color. Then, they decided to put it in an “ancient bottle” which evolved into the “bumpy” bottle the brand uses today.
In effect, from 1939 on, marketer after marketer pushed for the yellow tint to be removed and to figure out how best to deal with the bumpy bottle.
The consumer of the brand was, and still is, primarily Black. Many of the brand managers – regardless of their racial background – tried to change the audience composition. A small fortune was spent on marketing to the “general market” as though Beefeater Martini and Tanqueray and Tonic drinkers would suddenly switch to the yellow gin in the funny looking bottle.
Still, the hope and investment lingered on until a few things began to get through the thick skull of the brand manager in charge of Seagram’s Gin (for those of you who recall, he was a poster child for the Peter Principle).
First, among the brand’s myths, was the belief that the product had aphrodisiac capabilities. I have no idea how this happened; it must have been due to the yellow hue. As I recall, the reaction ranged from confusion to delight, mixed with concern about what to do. Finally, the ad agency came up with a campaign called “Everything they say about it is true.” Which commented on the brand’s equity and threw in a dose of confirmation. It ran for some time until the public affairs and legal folks got nervous.
Next came the game changer in the form of Mr. Dogg.
A common off premise consumption pattern was the cooperation among the drinkers, one of whom bought a bottle; another provided the cups and another brought the juice. The end product was gin and juice. And, Snoop Dogg made it famous with the song “Gin and Juice” and especially these lyrics:
Now I got me some Seagram’s gin
Everybody got they cups but they ain’t chipped in
Now this type of shit happens all the time
You gotta get yours, but fool, I gotta get mine.
The brand took off and thanks to the Tropicana relationship, a new premixed gin and fruit juice product was born called Gin & Juice.
My favorite recollection has to do with a launch meeting for the brand in the Southern region. I wasn’t there but this is how I pictured the event. The senior folks in charge went through the pitch, the brand’s reason for being and the likelihood of success. It was now time to taste the product. A bottle was removed from the case and an attempt was made to open it. The cap wouldn’t turn. No big deal, it happens. A second, third and fourth bottle was removed and tried again. None would open. The force of closing the cap at manufacturing was so great that it was impossible to open any of the bottles.
But at least we found a way to deal with the yellow hue.
The difference between how Seagram marketed gin to the Black consumer and how Pernod does it today can be seen by the following example. At Seagram, we spent much time and money finding emerging black artists whose work we showcased and publicized. Black history month was also a focal point.
At Pernod, some genius recently ran a program that co-packed a Du Rag on every bottle.