Maker’s Mark: Lessons Learned

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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.

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Blizzard Booze

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What’s your favorite drink when it’s cold, snowing and you want to feel cozy?

I posed this question to friends on Facebook and via email all across the country. The answers ran the gamut from expected to exotic and everything in between including weather related, as in “Hey, I’m in the sunbelt, I don’t have that problem.”

Amidst the Sidecar, Hot Apple Pie, Hot Buttered Sorel (from my friend Jack at Sorel Liqueur), Manhattans, 25-year-old single malts, and a Cognac near a fireplace; I received some interesting comments –

My friend the blogger and foodie Mary Ellen Griffin, “I am just a simple, old fashioned girl who likes a very well aged (and properly decanted) vintage port in front of the fire.” Her blog is here. Hmm, Port gives me heartburn but I love the imagery.

From my daughter and former partner Michelle (the “M” in AM Shapiro), “Hot cocoa with a shot of Godiva liquor. I think u taught me that one!”  Atta girl, but ever since Diageo got its hands on Godiva, we no longer speak of it.

For you ex-Seagram folks, here’s a bunch from Mark Levine in Seattle, “Gosh, hard to decide: Igor the invisible or Pasha with a touch of Cherry Swiss…. no, no wrong. It must be Sabra…no, no…I know it this time…without question, my favorite, and I wish I could get it…. Lochan Ora warmed in a snifter.” That’s a trip down Memory Lane (maybe Nightmare Lane).

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Tuaca Liqueur – A Secret Worth Uncovering

V2.Tuaca_750_newbottleWhat happens when a great tasting product, but one that has been gathering dust on the shelf, tries to make it?

To tell the tale of this wannabe spirit, we need to start with its pronunciation. It’s Two-AH-Ka and it’s named for the two brothers-in-law that created it in 1938. Messrs. Tuoni and Canepa named it after themselves –TUACA, their combined names, get it?  The liqueur is said to have come from a recipe dating back to Lorenzo de Medici and the Italian Renaissance. So they say.

I first encountered the brand during my Seagram days and, despite efforts to make it happen, the brand languished as only an orphan brand could at that company. According to Sam Ellias, who worked on the brand at one point, they tried everything to make it a contender – changed the package, reduced the alcohol (to minimize the harshness) and worked hard at developing mixed drinks using Tuaca. (My favorite was the hot apple pie, consisting of Tuaca and hot apple cider.) Nothing helped the brand catch on. Throughout the 80’s, 90’s and into the 21st century, the brand, as they say, couldn’t get arrested.

Yet, there were pockets of strength including bartenders in different parts of the country. The poor little brand was kept a secret and hidden away. (Sob.)

Enter Brown Forman in 2004. The brand starts to grow a bit, but no real traction or spotlight to build a franchise among consumers. Still a stepchild.

I have a feeling that this is about to change.

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