Bartle Bogle Hegarty staffers must have heaved a sigh of relief
this month when the agency was reappointed to handle United Distillers &
Vintners' £3 million Gordon's Gin account. After all, it would
have been a bit embarrassing to have lost it, after picking up the
business from the long-term incumbent Leo Burnett only a year
Yet BBH's difficulties were not wholly unpredictable. Marketing gin in a
world full of own-label pretenders and energy alcopops is a tricky
business. Marketing Gordon's is even more so. It may be the sector's
leading brand, but it's also a "middle-of-the-road" variant,
increasingly at the mercy of "gourmet" brands, with clear identities and
values, such as the Bacardi-owned Bombay Sapphire, and also vulnerable
to the cheaper, own-label supermarket products slurping up the market's
The problems facing the sector as a whole were widely documented in the
run-up to the review. Gin has never appealed to the younger drinker -
that elusive breed which spends its weekends drinking Bacardi Breezers
and Smirnoff Ice with a few pints thrown in for good measure - and has
suffered accordingly. Gin has a more "difficult" taste, and doesn't go
well with coke or Red Bull. As a result, the colonial tipple is
increasingly overlooked at the bar in favour of vodka and whiskey.
Worse still, Mintel figures show that Gordon's share of this shrinking
market is slipping - in 1993 it took nearly half of the gin market at 47
per cent, but by 1998, this had fallen to 43 per cent. At the same time,
own-label brands had swelled their share of the market by 5 per cent to
40 per cent. Gordon's had sales of £434 million in 2000, but the
market remains flat.
Despite the brand's sagging fortunes, BBH did enough to retain the
account in a pitch against Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy and Saatchi &
Saatchi after Mother pulled out, claiming client conflict issues.
BBH had dropped Leo Burnett's "innervigoration" cinema ads, which
presented the drink as a fantastical swimming pool for the senses. Its
replacement was a press and poster campaign that seemed intended to tap
into older, established gin-drinkers, rather than the party-going
Under the strapline "you can only be truly great at one thing", the BBH
ads demonstrated the hopeless attempts of celebrities such as David
Gower and Geoff Capes in fields outside of their expertise.
Despite the obvious implications of a year-on review, BBH's managing
director, Gwyn Jones, insists the agency's work on the brand was solid.
He implies that Gordon's will continue to battle for space with other
brands rather than try to expand the sector.
"It was a great campaign, but Gordon's faces a challenge in the gin
sector," he says. "It's the 'daddy' brand, but is under threat from
own-label. 'Truly great' worked, but we needed to find a more vital way
of talking to the audience."
He concedes any new strategy has to tap into the gin drinker's psyche,
although he won't be drawn on specifics: "We need to make a link between
gin drinkers, their world and the brand."
So the focus remains on those already drinking gin, with a view to
wrestling away share from the own-label sector and stopping the Bombay
Sapphires and Tanquerays of the world from improving their hold at the
top end. Gordon's will attempt to do so in the run-up to the lucrative
Christmas season, with a campaign that extends to TV, currently a
cheaper option than it was last year. However, the task of talking to
existing drinkers fell to BBH when it won the account the first time
round. If it failed to engage them then, is it any more likely to do so
"We've come up with something which has cracked their brief," Jones
claims, hinting at a campaign with on-going potential that looks more at
the ritual of drinking gin, without losing the focus of the brand as the
"It's a classic brand reinvention job," a source close to the pitch
claims, adding that any future strategy should focus on gin's unique
history, ritual and tradition. "It's not vodka, and shouldn't be
advertised or marketed as such. There's no point trying to make it a
partying drink - it's not something people neck in clubs, they mix it
slowly with care, sip it slowly and perhaps only have a couple before
moving on to wine."
Whatever a new campaign can achieve, what are the odds of seeing
Gordon's brand extensions - such as premixed bottles - in UK bars and
clubs? Surely, UDV needs to address young drinkers.
Jones will not comment on the company's product launch plans. "But you
have to remember that UDV is behind brands such as Smirnoff Ice," he
"That whole sector is a legacy to their bid to move the alcohol market