CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/GORDON'S GIN - Gordon's must fight off gourmets and own-labels. BBH clung on to Gordon's, but the brand will find life tough

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

previously.



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

lower end.



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

younger crowd.



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

this time?



"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

market leader.



"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

adds.



"That whole sector is a legacy to their bid to move the alcohol market

on."