Maker’s Mark: Lessons Learned


Maker’s Mark is an iconic brand with fiercely loyal consumers and, thanks to social media, they’re not afraid to speak up (make that holler) when the company decided to mess with the brand.

Last week, the company announced that, to “meet demand” they would lower the alcohol content. They explained it to Wine and Spirits Daily by saying that the brand is encountering shortages and among the solutions (including lowering the age, raising the price) they chose lowering the proof from 90 to 84. The outcry among their consumers was deafening with “watered down” the rallying point.

This week they announced that the decision would be reversed.

Maker’s and Beam made a number of errors. First, their explanation of lowering the proof to meet demand was seen as BS, with industry cynics shouting that their real motive was taking the tax savings (approximately $1.5 million) to the bottom line. I don’t buy that. It’s not worth it for a million case brand to take the “goodness” out for a buck. They either should have had a better rationale or spent more time than they did talking to their consumers about the decision.

So, they made a PR mistake.

The brand sells about a million cases and has been growing by double digits for some time. It’s an iconic brand; of course it will grow steadily. Yet, the supply did not keep up with the demand.

So, they made a planning and investment mistake.

The “powers that be” didn’t realize that their fiercely loyal consumers would rebel and post anti-Maker’s comments all over social media. Come on folks, we’ve all seen this movie before – company blunders, consumers express outrage and, company backpedals. See, we have this new fangled thing called social media where consumers talk to each other en mass. They can build a brand or destroy it.

So, they made the mistake of under estimating consumers and the impact of social media.

What could they have done? A Forbes article reported by Buffalo Trace Newsletter put it succinctly. “Maker’s Mark could have used their looming shortage as an opportunity to make their brand stronger. If they encountered sporadic shortages for a period of years, they could raise prices and leverage the scarcity to take the brand up a notch in prestige.”

With all these mistakes, I applaud their quick and meaningful action to reverse the decision. They woke up quickly, smelled the coffee and took meaningful action. I think they positioned the reversal well enough to regain whatever ground they may have lost.

Ad Age reported today that the reversal drew over 15,000 likes and 2,400 comments, mostly positive. One fan said, “This is how a company should be run!! Love you guys even more now.”

No question but that this will blow over and be forgotten soon. The widespread exposure and the turning of a negative into a positive was achieved with the simple words — “You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.”

Lessons learned: Plan before you act and anticipate the downside of an effort. As David Ogilvy once said, “the consumer isn’t a moron…”

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1 comment

  1. Art Hi
    You may remember me – I worked for Seagram in Israel
    Does lower alcohol affect borbon as is the case with Scotch and Irish. Many years ago I was told that if less than 46% alcohol it becomes cloudy and needs to be chilled filtered and since clear a color, usually caramel added. In Germany and maybe other European couuntries the label must reflect the coloring. If 46% or higher most reflect “bottled at 46% with no colouring or chill filtration”

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