Malibu Rum

Seems as though everywhere you go in NYC, you run into an ad for Malibu Black. It’s a new entry that according to the owners seeks to combine the smooth coconut flavor that you love with higher proof and less sweetness for a bolder taste of the Caribbean.

Translation: We’ve been watching the Flavored Rum category and finally noticed that Sailor Jerry was changing the Rum game so we thought we would follow along.

In fact, higher-proof, dark and spiced Rums are doing well. According to Shanken News Daily, Sailor Jerry (92 proof) grew by 59% in 2010 to 635,000 cases. The team that invented it now runs Proximo and their recent entry, Kraken (94 proof) sold 75,000 cases in its first year. The other three or four new entries in this sub-category are still trying to gain traction.

A few observations:

Seems to me, the 6 million case gorilla known as Captain Morgan, is stuck at the dock (including the 100 proof entry) while the flotilla sails off. Admiral Nelson and others are growing at the expense of the base brand and the line extensions don’t seem to be helping. Someone needs to walk the plank.

Malibu Black? Higher proof at 70? It’s still a coconut Rum without an image likely to appeal to the Sailor Jerry or Kraken drinker. Can’t you just hear the conversation leading up to the launch – “let’s make a dark rum, up the proof a bit and call it Black… a sure winner…well gotta run, don’t want to miss the 5:40.”

I had a number of conversations with James Espey about Malibu over the years. James, along with Tom Jago and Peter Fleck, created the brand. (Currently they also are the owners of Last Drop Distillers Limited.)

James has written an interesting article called The True Story of Malibu. The article raises some interesting concepts on the creation of Malibu that are still applicable to the brand and new entries in general. (Send me an email or hit the comment box if you’d like a copy.)

James points out that Malibu succeeded because the product innovation was bold and outside the box. That was facilitated by an entrepreneurial spirit and effort that managed to overcome corporate obstacles. Above all, instinct and tenacity were key elements rather than studying the concept to death.

These elements apply to Sailor Jerry and to Kraken, in my view. Which helps to explain why the spirits industry giants are better at buying new brands than creating them.

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Great Tsotchkes (aka Swag) I Have Known

In keeping with the theme of the last few postings on sales promotion, dealer loaders and assorted point of sale issues, I thought I would continue that theme particularly in light of the holiday season. The Advertising and Promotion Awards in the Nov/Dec issue of Beverage Dynamics also prompted me to address this subject.

First, for the uninformed, the Urban Dictionary defines Tsotchke as “free goods given by companies to consumers, buyers, trade-show participants or other target audiences to promote brand recognition or customer loyalty.”

So, here are some points of view on the subject including some picks and pans from yours truly…

The most consistent and impactful POS has to go to the Absolut folks, particularly their multi-case floor displays. In fact, Beverage Dynamics gave it 1st place for 2010. No wonder, since Carol Giaconelli at Pernod Ricard (and a Seagram alumnae) is among the most imaginative sales promotion people I know. Even after working on Absolut for many years and for different regimes, Carol maintains her creative edge.

While I’m on the subject, I suppose the Hall of Fame for floor displays with loader items has to be the Captain Morgan mirror. According to Sam Ellias, the CM guru back in the day, that promotion was a prominent reason for the brand’s early success. Apparently, all a sales person had to do was to show the mirror in order to get the question, “how many cases do I need to buy?”

I managed to find a photo online. Despite it’s popularity at the time, you can still get one on eBay for under $25.

Now to the pans…

There are lots of awards in Beverage Dynamics for co-packs, gift packs and cartons/tins. The so-called value added packaging. Sorry, but I still don’t get it. In this environment manufacturers expect to entice consumers with Tsotchkes? If you want to measure effectiveness go to a flea market or eBay after the holidays and you’ll find glasses, shakers and pitchers galore. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of them came from retailers.

The Hall of Shame best/worst sales promotion item of all time came under my watch on behalf of Coyote Tequila. Don’t get me wrong the promotion item was great. It was a back bar pedestal with a howling Coyote as the centerpiece with a bottle on the base. Each time the bartender picked up the bottle a button was triggered and the sound of a howling Coyote was heard. Very cool. Very effective.

Just one small problem — Coyote Tequila tasted like crap. As the saying goes, “I wouldn’t drink it with your mouth.”

And now, dear reader, I have two questions for you.

Care to share your nominees for the best and worst promotions you’ve seen now or in the past? Either hit the comment button or send me an email.

Also, as I went through the 40 advertising and promotion awards by Beverage Dynamics, there were lots of first, second or third place winners from many major suppliers — Brown Forman, Heaven Hill, Skyy/Campari, Pernod, Bacardi and others. None were from Diageo. I wonder why? It could be that their market position and brand shares allows them to spend in other ways. That would explain the dearth of POS recognition. But no ads, traditional or digital, made it either. Huh.

As we used to say in Brooklyn, wait ‘til next year.

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Borrowed Credentials or… Mention my name and it will sell

Borrowed credentials is a term I like to use when a brand “borrows” something or someone to identify with, such as a brand name or a person as the endorser.

The intent is the “approval” or “license” to give a brand some prominence. But, more often than not, it doesn’t seem to work.

Three categories will help you to see where I’m going:

  1. A brand that has licensed the name from another business or category. Godiva, for example.
  2. A brand closely identified with a star or celebrity. Such as, Ciroc.
  3. (My favorite) A brand named after a star or celebrity.

So here we go…

Licensed Brand Name

The two that come most readily to mind are Godiva and Starbuck’s, both in the liqueur category. I gotta tell you that I thought Godiva would be a crack-of-the-bat homerun. And, I wanted to license Starbuck’s so badly, I could taste it. Alas, neither has set the world on fire.

Association with a star or celebrity

This is a mixed bag best characterized by the nursery rhyme… “There once was a girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very, very good but when she was bad she was horrid.”

So in the “good” category we have (not necessarily in order of goodness):

  • Ciroc and P Diddy (forgive me if I have the wrong name; who can keep up?). Probably the gold standard in celebrity links.
  • Crystal Head Vodka and Dan Aykroyd — talk about chutzpah.
  • Cabo and Sammy Hagar — (notice I didn’t say Cabo Wabo) good for you Skyy, it’s about the product not the star.
  • Red Stag and Kid Rock — the brand is a homerun with or without him. But he sure does help.
  • Margaritaville and Jimmy Buffett — remind me to tell how this came about. But even without Seagram and me, it’s doing well. But, Land Shark beer is doing even better.

The “not so good” entries I’ve come up with so far (let me know about any I’ve missed) include some that faded faster than a cold beer on a hot day:

  • 901 Tequila and Justin Timberlake — run that by me again? I got it but I don’t get it.
  • Sobieski Vodka and Bruce Willis — it’s the price point, dummy. It ain’t about you. Even if you’re still involved.
  • Godfather Vodka — You got to be joking.
  • Conjure Cognac — by Ludacris. I totally agree but ludicrous is spelled wrong.
  • Armadale Vodka — by Jay Z.  Why don’t you ask P Diddy how it’s done?
  • 3 Vodka — by Jermaine Dupri. Enough said.
  • Mansinthe — by Marilyn Manson. I didn’t make this up, folks.

Named after a star or celebrity

My favorites by far. Do I hear a drum roll?

So far I covered the good and the bad. Here comes the ugly:

  • Trump Vodka. He doesn’t even drink for heaven’s sake. Could be a pilot for Celebrity Booze.
  • Willie Nelson’s Old Whiskey River Bourbon. Enough said.
  • Danny Devito’s Limoncello. Close but no cigars.
  • Jefferson and Sam Houston Bourbon. Not kidding; Google it.
  • Frida Kahlo Tequila. I love her and her work but… who dun it?

And the winner is…

  • McMahon Vodka. Would have worked with a name like, “Here’s… Johnny.”

Lessons learned:

None of the top selling brands have borrowed credentials…unless you count Captain Morgan.

I would like to meet the people behind some of these efforts, there’s a bridge they might be interested in buying.

Where would the spirits industry be without brands to pour off?

What’s next…the Lindsey Lohan Liqueur?

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