Cutty Sark and the Real McCoy

Cutty-Sark_bannerWine and Spirits Daily had an interview with the global head honcho of Cutty sark, which is owned by The Edrington Group (Macallan, Famous Grouse, others). In the interview and a previous story, he talks of the turnaround of the brand. In fact, he predicts 5% or higher growth over the next five to ten years.

Is this hype or real?

Cutty+sarkLet’s take a close look. After all, this is a brand that has had 25 years of decline from 2 million cases in the 1950s and 60s to less than 150,000 recently.

What the brand has going for it is the recent movement to Remy Cointreau and their knowledge and focus on scotch. They should be able to push the brand as part of their scotch portfolio and have a vested interest in keeping the Edrington people happy. So check the box on leverage and clout.

A number of side benefits also come with the move to Remy. As a new brand with a full, strong portfolio behind them, they will fill distribution gaps and move into important brand building accounts.

But, wait a minute, isn’t it a bit early to declare victory on the path to a turnaround? From the data I saw, for the four-week’s performance to Feb 24, the brand grew in SymphonyIRI data by 3.2% compared to a -5% for the year.

1967 ad
1967 ad

What about the consumer? What are the motivations that Cutty Sark provides to get a call for it? WSD suggest that its occasional presence on Mad Men, and the retro drinking influence may be helping. That could be, but is it enough?

As I read the article, I became more and more puzzled by the empty pronouncements of success just over the horizon. I can’t figure out the basis on which young consumers are discovering Cutty Sark. Is there a cocktail or signature drink that’s driving the brand? We’re told that Cutty “was created to be easy-drinking, easy-mixing and not particularly challenging.” So is water.

Here’s my favorite quote and an example of world-class marketing BS – “For me, I’m not looking to take business {from} the Scotch category, I’m already seeing us take business in bars from the Irish category.” Really? Cutty Sark is taking business from brands like Jameson that is among the fastest growing brands in the country?

Cutty Sark is an excellent brand with an interesting history. Legend has it that it was Cutty Sark that helped to create the expression the Real McCoy. The story goes back to prohibition and I found it here.

“One man who regularly sailed between Nassau and Rum Row was Captain William McCoy, of Scots origin and living in Florida, who began running liquor in 1921 using a schooner named Arethusa. By this time suppliers and distillers were often meeting the immense consumer demand with very poor quality liquor, and McCoy decided to make his reputation by supplying high quality products, chiefly Scotch whisky. This strategy worked well, to the considerable financial benefit of McCoy, whose name entered the English language as a result of the reputation he acquired.”

“In particular, McCoy ran large quantities of Cutty Sark…”

So there you have it. A brand built on authenticity and known as the Real McCoy
 is the subject of hype and marketing BS today.

Hey, Mr. Global Head Honcho of Cutty Sark: you have a brand with a great story. Why not try to leverage that provenance instead of making empty claims?

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