Messing with the Jewels

A reader wrote an interesting comment on one of the Crown Royal postings. The question was:

Why do you think Crown launched Crown Royal Black? I’ve seen a lot of consumer comments comparing Black to Special Reserve (as opposed to the cheaper versions of the brand). Would they be risking cannibalization of their higher end product?

Got me thinking. As some of you know I’m a wannabe playwright and I imagined this totally fictitious scene whereby the decision to introduce the line extension took place.

Messing with the Jewels

Characters:

Boss, Marketing Maven and Planner

The Boss enters the room and joins the others at a conference table.

BOSS

OK, what have you got for me?

MARKETING MAVEN

We’ve got a good idea to help the brand.

BOSS

Good? Not great?

MARKETING MAVEN

Just want to manage your expectations, chief.

BOSS

Look… the brand is slipping. Line extensions haven’t helped. So let’s go back to basics; why are we losing sales? (Pause) How do you intend to fix it?

PLANNER

Well, there are two factors at play among consumers.

MARKETING MAVEN

And a sales issue.

BOSS

What kind of sales issue?

MARKETING MAVEN

Our guys are the best in the business but they don’t understand the brand and what makes it tick…

BOSS

(Interrupting) Because of those damn line extensions. I don’t get it either.

MARKETING MAVEN

I’ll get to that in a minute. The other sales problem is that the brand doesn’t get enough focus. There are too many other priorities.

BOSS

That’s nonsense. Aw, all you marketing guys just want to blame sales. When I want an opinion about sales, I’ll give it to you. I repeat, what’s the problem and how are you going to fix it?

PLANNER

Consumers are drinking more whiskey but it’s Bourbon and flavored Whiskey.

BOSS

Okay, what else.

PLANNER

Consumers are confused about all the variations. In focus groups they tell us that they don’t understand the differences and we’re pissing them off. It used to be simple — better and best. Now we have original, best original, different betters, best better, saved recipe, and so on. Some believe it’s all marketing hype.

BOSS

Okay Maven, you created this mess. What are you going to do about it?

MARKETING MAVEN

Borrow a page from our Scotch brothers.

BOSS

Are you nuts? Don’t tell me you’re thinking of a Scotch line extension?

MARKETING MAVEN

No, no … Our Scotch line extensions are easy to understand. The price and quality vary by color… red, black, gold, and blue. We don’t talk age we talk color. Easy choice for consumers.

BOSS

So…?

MARKETING MAVEN

We’ll introduce Black as a line extension then gradually change the names of the other extensions to other colors. Wait until you see Purple.

BOSS

All right. Start with Black and show me a plan for the rest of the line.

The Boss leaves.

PLANNER

You got to be joking.

MARKETING MAVEN

Why?

PLANNER

That’s just going to add to the confusion.

MARKETING MAVEN

Nah, it will work. Besides, in a year, I’ll be off the brand and working on that Vodka.

PLANNER

Listen my friend, if it doesn’t work, a year from now you’ll be lucky to be handling the Tequila brand.

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Crown Royal Part 2

The Crown Royal posting generated many emails and calls with additional comments, anecdotes and stories about the brand. I thought I would share a few.

They all amount to the same thing – the brand was built on creativity and consumer engagement with a large dose of cleverness.

Crown was one of the first brands to have outdoor ads that were “spectaculars,” defined as clever, out of the ordinary, with potentially strong stopping power. The most well known was an oversized, full dimensional bottle that filled an entire billboard. The caption on top of the bottle read “Not Actual Size.”  On the bottom it read “Too Bad.”

To gild the lily a bit a local team in the south decided to add two mannequins rappelling down the board as though trying to get into the bottle. Shortly after they went up they were stolen. Rather than get upset or simply replace them, a full-page ad was run in the local papers with the headline “Who are the dummies that stole our dummies?” The ad went on to explain that, “why would you risk your life to steal a mannequin when there was a giant bottle on the same billboard?” The result was great PR for the brand.

For many years Crown sponsored rodeo finals in Las Vegas until the cost of sponsorship became much too high. The event, with signage all over the arena, went to Jack Daniel’s. Not to be outdone, Reichardt and company decided that they were going to invest the cost of sponsorship they had been paying into ads and promotional activity and surround the event.  The result was that everywhere in Vegas that week – from airport signage to cab tops to billboards to bars – it was all about Crown not Jack. All at a fraction of what the event would have cost.

Finally, at one time Crown had trouble getting traction in California and the pressure was on. Cleverly, some local sales managers decided that moving product with just an attractive price to the trade was limiting. So instead they focused on a large Korean store, which resulted in massive window displays that came to the attention of Korean bottle club owners. They liked the package and price and started buying for their clubs. Next thing you know, Crown Royal is the number one item in Korean bottle clubs.

Moral of the stories… creativity and cleverness are byproducts of having fun with a brand and thinking outside the box.

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Crown Royal

Crown Royal has always been an iconic brand. But to me it’s been a bit of a mystery.

When I first met it as a consumer, it was the brand my grandfather served when company came over. Philadelphia Whiskey was his usual fare but his Crown Royal was special.

I’m not an historian on the brand but from what I can gather over the years, at the outset it had important equities but just needed a spark. The taste was great and unlike other whiskies at the time, unique packaging inside and outside, a back story about the royal visit to Canada and very aspirational look and feel. The spark occurred when oil workers from Canada working in the Gulf of Mexico (way before the current disaster) came to Gulf cities on their night off, with pockets full of money, and wanted the best whiskey they knew from home…Crown Royal.

As the story goes, this set off the growth and proliferation of the brand, primarily in the South.

It was marketed in the Seagram days in a classic brand-building manner. ‘Push’ and ‘pull’ efforts worked together successfully and the brand grew — even while vodka was growing by leaps and bounds.

The sales and regional marketing component, orchestrated by Jim Reichardt, was top of the game. All the activity was integrated and based on strategy, from the distributor focus to programming to ‘pull’ activity at retail. Above all, carefully thought through marketing innovations were introduced under Jimmy’s watch.

On the national marketing side, programs were developed to maximize the equity – especially the bag – and develop relationships with the core consumer. And, the advertising was that unique combination of creative excellence combined with brand recognition and sell. Not your average garden-variety ad campaign.

Everything on the brand was done for strategic reasons. The sole line extension (at the time) was Crown Royal Special Reserve whose intent was to protect the brand’s flank from above and make a price-value statement about the base brand. It was not to make a number. In fact, many worried about cannibalization of the base brand, which never occurred. At one point, both were growing at double digits.

Lately I’ve been looking at Crown Royal and how it’s doing. Last year was a tough one for the brand as it was for most high-end spirits. But I noticed the following in WSD the other day–

“…Furthermore, Trevor {analyst} believes the promotional support … behind Crown Royal ‘seems to be paying off,’ perhaps partly helped by its new, more expensive offering, Crown Royal Black.”

I also noticed that there are 5 Crown Royal products in the line.

I think my grandfather would have been confused.

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