Seagram, Bronfman and Chivas Regal

“Edgar M. Bronfman, Who Brought Elegance and Expansion to Seagram, Dies at 84” is the headline from the The New York Times obituary.

I didn’t know Edgar Sr. (or the Chairman as he was known) very well but interacted with him on a number of occasions, mainly when Edgar Jr. was off doing his Hollywood thing.

A number of stories come to mind, particularly about his pride and joy, Chivas Regal.

On one occasion, when I was running US marketing, I was summoned (along with my new products guru, Sam Ellias) to his office to tell us about a new product idea for Chivas Regal. Apparently, on a trip to Europe to survey the state of the business there, a young brand manager suggested that Chivas needed to be more contemporary and she had just the idea for how to do it – a line extension with a more intriguing and youthful brand proposition.

Chivas Regal had been losing market share for years and any ideas to drastically change the brand’s fortune were usually rejected somewhere along the line. That the Chairman should be willing to embrace a new scotch brand under the Chivas banner was very welcome news.

Danu 2
Chivas De Danu

The brand manager in Europe suggested that we introduce a product called Chivas De Danu, named for a Celtic goddess who spent eternity with her youthful  followers living a life somewhere between bacchanalia and debauchery. (Not exactly right but close.) I suppose the idea was that if you drank Chivas De Danu, you would stay young forever and always get laid.

The Goddess
The Goddess

The problem was, the Chairman referred to it correctly when I first got summoned to his office, but kept referring to it in our meeting as Chivas Duna, as in Charlie the Tuna. Sam and I were perplexed and looked it up online (this was the late 1990s and even then, the world was at our finger tips). Sure enough it was Danu (as in Danube) not Duna.

Now, the hard part. We needed to tell him that while he got it right originally, a product named Chivas de Duna was not going anywhere in the market, after the laughter stopped. The product needed to be called Chivas De Danu.

Sam and I nervously set up a meeting with Edgar. Surprisingly, neither of us got our heads chopped off and he listened attentively to our information but remained a bit skeptical. He had a brand new computer in his office and was in the process of learning how to use it, so he challenged us by rushing to his computer to look it up.

He attempted to turn it on but nothing happened. He grew frustrated and angry and yelled for his secretary, Maxine, to “get that asshole from IT, or whatever they’re called, here immediately.”

Within moments (most of us waited days for help), someone appeared and sheepishly asked what was the matter. I recall the IT person had a look on his face akin to a prisoner going to the gallows and his knees were shaking so much, he could hardly stand. Before the Chairman could turn his palpable anger on the poor guy, Maxine interrupted and told Edgar he had a call. With a wave of his hand as he walked off, he indicated that we should work with the IT person to fix the problem and learn the answer.

The two of us hovered over the poor IT fellow as he tried to fix the Chairman’s computer. It took one second. He leaned over and tugged on the electric cord and showed us the computer wasn’t plugged in. “I thought so,” he said, “that’s what the problem was last week when I went to his home to fix the computer there.”

Computer fixed, information retrieved and there was the irrefutable evidence that the brand should be called Chivas De Danu. When Edgar returned and saw it for himself, there was a shrug. None of us had the courage to tell him what was wrong with his computer.

By the way, the brand failed miserably.

I blamed it on Sam Ellias.

(Another story about Edgar Sr. and Chivas Regal can be found elsewhere on this blog – August 7, 2011, titled “Chivas Gin?”)

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Jameson, Diageo and Seagram…

Having just returned from a holiday in the Emerald Isle, I thought I would share some thoughts, especially about my favorite topic.


Seagram had the distribution rights to this Irish whiskey for quite some time and, frankly, didn’t do much with it. With the exception of St. Patrick’s Day promotions and pushing the Irish Coffee drink, the brand went nowhere for years. I suppose it’s understandable, with millions of scotch sales at the heart of the portfolio, there was little room for this great brand.

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Boodles Gin — Then and Now


By the time I got to Seagram, Boodles British Gin was an idea whose time never came.  As the saying goes, “She was dead when I got there, Officer.”

The brand was developed in the 1950s or 60s under a license from the Boodles Club in London, founded in 1762 by the Earl of Shelburne, later the Marquess of Lansdowne and Prime Minister. The club, which is 250 years old this year, was named after its headwaiter, Edward Boodle.

Get this — the licensing fee was the gin; use of the name in exchange for free goods.

To say that the brand languished at Seagram is an understatement. The fact is, while some gin aficionados felt it was a great tasting gin, Boodles spent many years in and out of the Seagram hospice companies. The problems – real or perceived – included concerns about the square package (too wide for a back bar) and loss of identity when placed sideways. The “oodles” of Boodles taunt by some consumers added to the death rattle, particularly in light of the awful marketing on behalf of the brand.

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