Superbrands case studies: Gordon's

Originally published in 'Consumer Superbrands Volume IV', May 2001. The book reviews the UK's strongest consumer brands as judged by the independent Superbrands Council.

Case study provided by the Superbrands organisation.


The gin market has grown steadily since commercial production began some 200 years ago. By the early 20th century worldwide consumption was established and Gordon's Gin enjoyed leading brand status in many markets, particularly in the UK.

Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s gin manufacturers battled against declining gin consumption. In 1980 10.3% of UK adults regularly drank gin, however by 1995 that figure had fallen to 8.6%. Volume consumption similarly declined -- from 144,000 h/ltrs pure alcohol to 100,000 h/ltrs over the same period. The problem was an ageing customer base as younger drinkers found the drink uninspiring in comparison to a host of newer alcoholic drink brands offered as an alternative choice, encroaching on the occasions when gin was traditionally consumed.

Today Gordon's is leading the renaissance in gin consumption, which is being achieved through aggressive marketing and a dedicated brand building programme, a programme that has seen UDV invest some £20m per annum in the Gordon's brand.

Gordon's strategy for the new millennium is to broaden its appeal but to do so in a balanced way. The strategy focuses on making the brand more contemporary, thus appealing to a new category of drinker, but at the same time maintaining its core brand values, values that will build upon the loyalty of its existing customer base. A simple, attractive and lively brand proposition, supported by an integrated marketing campaign of advertising, one to one marketing and public relations is further enhanced by a fresh look at innovative in-store promotions for Gordon's. The cumulative effect is an invigorated brand that is broadening its relevance and appeal considerably.


Gordon's Gin has long been brand leader in many markets and today accounts for seven out of every 10 gins sold in UK pubs and bars. In the off licence sector, Gordon's again dominates -- accounting for 31.7% of sales, although own label collectively accounts for a greater proportion at 47.8%.

The Gordon's brand enjoys two Royal Warrants (one from the Queen and one from the Queen Mother) and has won many awards including a Bronze in the 1996 International Wine & Spirit Awards and a Gold at the same event in 1995. The brand has also won Gold, Grand Gold and Gold (Trophy) at the Monde Selection.


The first spirits flavoured with juniper and produced on any significant scale were developed in Holland in the 16th century and brought home by English soldiers and merchants. Within two centuries gin was the English national drink holding the position whisky had in Scotland.

In the late 18th century, much of the gin produced in Britain was poor in quality and made by distillers of dubious reputation. A handful however became known for the quality of the product and most of these have survived in business until the present day. Gordon's Gin was one of these.

The brand was founded by Scotsman Alexander Gordon 200 years ago. He established a distillery in Goswell Road, Finsbury in 1796. By 1800 Gordon's Gin had made its name both at home and abroad, thanks to the sailors of the British Navy who carried it to all corners of the world. By the late nineteenth century, Gordon's was established as a truly international brand.

The early 20th century saw gin gain popularity throughout the US. Expansion in markets closer to home, notably continental Europe, has come more recently as people switched from other drinks. Today Gordon's Gin, now owned by UDV, occupies the leading position in almost every European market, and is exported to some 150 countries around the world.


Gordon's Gin is the world's most famous and highest selling London Dry Gin. Recognisable by its distinctive green bottle and logo, it is consumed at the rate of two bottles a second, day and night. The recipe for Gordon's Gin has remained pretty much unchanged for years.

London Dry Gin is essentially a rectified or redistilled grain alcohol flavoured with juniper berries, coriander seeds and various other aromatic herbs. The production of an authentic dry gin comprises three important and distinct processes: the distillation of the basic spirit; the rectification or redistillation which gives it the required degree of purity and, finally, a new redistillation with the flavouring ingredients. (The exact recipe for which is a closely guarded secret known only by 12 people in the world.)

Unlike whisky or cognac, there is no maturing or ageing process required. On the day London Dry Gin is produced it can be drunk, it is one of the most adaptable of drinks and mixes well with fruit juices, soft drinks and colas. In many countries however, the most popular accompaniment for Gordon's is tonic which, when mixed together, transform into an invigorating and uplifting drink.

Recent developments

Today Gordon's are pioneering a relationship marketing programme to increase consumption of Gordon's and build loyalty amongst heavy gin drinkers. Over 500,000 consumers joined in the first year of the campaign and research has shown significant increases in Gordon's consumption. In addition, Gordon's has developed a number of innovations to extend the Gordon's franchise. These include Gordon's & Schweppes Tonic premixed as a ready to drink pack designed to appeal to new and current users of the brand, and sold in grocers and specialist off-licence channels. This allows the definitive gin and tonic to be enjoyed at a number of outdoor events and locations from Glyndebourne to Henley.


Gordon's advertising has developed significantly since the still remembered slogan of the 1970s and 1980s -- "It's got to be Gordon's" - and the versatility of the early 1980s encouraging the use of several mixers.

In the late 1980s, Gordon's set about presenting a more contemporary image to attract new users with the launch of the 'Green' campaign (1989). This was designed to present Gordon's as being more approachable, humorous and clever than its rivals in an attempt to ditch any perception of the brand as stuffy and traditional. This worked well for Gordon's with younger consumers reassessing how they felt about the brand. However, as the only media used were cinema and print, the campaign was not exposed to the mass market and did not seem to make the audience it reached want to choose gin over other spirits.

This all changed in 1995, when Gordon's unveiled its national advertising campaign on television, ending the voluntary television ban on spirits advertising in the UK. This new campaign adopted a fresh theme -- 'innervigoration' -- which focused on the physical, emotional and spiritual refreshment offered by a Gordon's Gin and Tonic. These activities were designed to strengthen the brand and appeal to two groups -- upmarket gin drinkers aged 45 and over and 25 to 34 year olds -- with the message of quality and relevance.

In one commercial, created by Leo Burnett, that was shown in cinemas, Gordon's demonstrated how to make the perfect gin and tonic accompanied by the smell of juniper berries which was pumped amongst the audience.

At the same time, Gordon's focused on staff training to improve the general presentation of Gordon's in pubs and bars. It developed a 'Perfect Serve' programme which focuses on presenting the perfect Gordon's and Tonic in bars; fill a tall, clean chilled glass with ice, pour Gordon's over the ice, top up with a chilled bottle of premium tonic, add a wedge of lime or lemon and stir. The 'Perfect Serve' programme goes from strength to strength and is today reporting an average uplift of 40% in participating outlets.

Brand values

Gordon's core values are style, stature and invigoration. At its heart is a recipe, which has remained unchanged since 1769. As a product, Gordon's Gin has always been known for its refreshing aromatic, clean, crisp and reviving qualities.

Things you didn't know

  • The origins of gin lie in a 12th century Italian monastery where monks made medicines from local herbs, including a conifer called juniper. The end result was stimulating, sudorific, diuretic and was thought to be good for arthritis and rheumatism. It was later used as a cure for Black Death. The monks soon realised the juniper concoction was better mixed with alcohol as they had already perfected the art of distillation.

  • By the late 19th century, export orders for Gordon's Gin were coming from all round the world. One of the first was from a group of Australian settlers who sent their payment in advance -- in gold dust.

  • Gin and tonic was first drunk in India in the 1850s. British troops stationed there suffered terribly from malaria for which the only remedy was quinine. But quinine tasted awful. Until, that is, a resourceful officer starting mixing his regular dose with sweetened seltzer, or soda water, and eventually gin, which made the taste even better.

  • 75% of Gordon's is consumed with tonic. However other mixers are on the increase including orange and, amongst the most fashion conscious, cranberry juice.

  • At the Gordon's distillery, the last two processes of the three-step production process take place in large copper stills. The oldest of which, Old Tom, is over 200 years old and survived the destruction of the distillery during the last war.

  • 10m cases -- or about 100m bottles -- of Gordon's Gin are produced and sold in the course of a year, enjoyed by millions of gin drinkers around the world.

    © 2002 Superbrands Ltd