New product failures I have known – Old Breed

I thought I would look at some world-class new product failures and see if there is some learning behind what happened. Let’s start with Old Breed.

When I arrived at Seagram the product was in a few markets and was failing miserably. The premise was interesting. The owner, aware of ‘shot and a beer’ consumption, decided that a beer flavored whiskey was a good idea and pushed for it.

I suppose that the equivalency issue also had a role to play. A blurring of the lines between beer and spirits sort of makes them equivalent from a product standpoint and flies in the face of the lack of equivalency in excise taxes.

Finally, beer flavored whiskey was seen as a novel new product idea.

The product failed on all counts. Wanting a shot of whiskey with a beer chaser is not the same as a whiskey that tastes like beer. There are expectations about the taste of a shot with a beer that can’t be met with a bottled version. Even if the product tasted great, it can’t replicate the fresh version – much less with a product that tasted like stale beer.

Everyone knew this, I learned when I got there, but no one wanted to tell the emperor that his baby was ugly (to mix metaphors).

So the product limped along until a trade researcher interviewed a retailer who went ballistic when asked about Old Breed as in, “tell them to get this crap out of here.”

What I love about market research is that political correctness has little to no role to play in providing information. As a result, the owner learned what the management team was loath to tell him. The product was pulled from the shelves the next day.

Lessons learned:

To succeed a new product has to be both unique and relevant.

Concepts and premises can be brilliant but the product must deliver. It’s about what’s in the bottle.

A management team concerned about being candid will not succeed.

And, a corporate culture that creates an environment that punishes the messenger is doomed to failure.

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  1. I have a sealed bottle of Old Breed!! Likely the only one ever purchased! LOL! Does it have any value?

  2. I have a clock with the Old Breed logo on it. I have been trying to figure out when Seagrams made the whiskey but cant find any info. Do you know at least the year so I can roughly age the clock?

  3. I was the account guy at Ogilvy in charge of the advertising for Old Breed. It was Edgar Bronfman Jr’s pet idea. “People will love a beer flavored whiskey!” he said.

    Lord it was awful. It smelled like the rug at a fraternity on the Sunday morning after a keg party.
    It tasted even worse.

    To the best of my memory, it was test marketed in Buffalo NY and maybe one or two other markets. It died (deservedly so) a quick death.

    To Michelle: not sure it has any value, but it might well be an extremely powerful stain remover.

    To Doreen: I would say it was in 1986 or 1987. Whenever it was, thank god we’ve moved on since then.

  4. The BOOZE BUSINESS article by A. Shapiro – new product failures is very interesting.
    I have a clock with the Old Breed Logo – The clock is framed in wood. It stands 17 inches tall and 11 1/2 in wide and is an eye catcher. It has been in my possession for over 20 years – is in perfect condition – keeps correct time – is as quiet as a ‘church mouse’ – no ticking sound – and the one AA battery required lasts for a couple years. Can you tell me when the Beer Flavored Distilled Spirits came to be?

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