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The Rise of the Soft Drink

After years of what seems like a predominance of innovation within the alcohol industry, it appears that the soft drink category is taking note, and more importantly, making bolder steps than ever before to increase their appeal. In general, consumers are becoming more health conscious - the rise of clean eating and superfoods was more or less unexpected, yet took the world by storm; millennials in particular are moving away from regular alcohol consumption, and value health more than the generations preceding them. With the news of Diageo acquiring a majority stake in Seedlip, a relatively new non-alcoholic drinks brand, we thought we'd take the time to have a look at the rise of the innovative soft drink.

1. Seedlip - Diageo

Launched in 2015, Seedlip is a the new kid on the block in terms of soft drinks, yet has made an large impact on the influencers in the food scene; both Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal are said to be fans, and the drink has been distributed in Selfridge's and Fortnum & Mason. An innovative take on the non-alcoholic drink, Seedlip's creator, Ben Branson, describes the brand as 'a really grown-up non-alcoholic option for all the times when you are not drinking'. Pitching itself as 'the world's first' distilled non-alcoholic drink, Seedlip boasts two flavours (clove, lemon and cardamom, and sweet pea, cucumber and meadow grass) and distinctive packaging which resembles a large section of the craft distilling movement. 

2. Thomas & Evans - Britvic

The Thomas & Evans range as a more interesting option for consumers who do not drink, or who want to have a lighter evening. The first release from this is aptly named T&E No.1, and is described as 'a gently sparkling drink, revealing notes of green fruits, citrus peel and botanicals' - pitched as a standalone drink and also as a mixer, it has filled a gap in the emerging zero-proof drink market. Drawing inspiration (and the name) from two business partners found in the Britvic archives, who created non-alcoholic alternatives to sell in pubs in the 1880s, T&E No.1 is made up of 20 different ingredients, and marks Britvic's first big step into the adult premium drinks category.

3. Merchant's Heart - Lucozade Ribena Suntory 

We first noticed Merchant's Heart at Imbibe this year - the way in which the brand positions itself is so unique that it sticks in your mind. Marketed as a 'spirits enhancer' rather than a mixer, this is a drink that stands on its own two feet and does not need to support a strong gin or spirit to make its point. Available in 6 adventurous flavours: classic, pink peppercorn, floral aromatic, hibiscus, ginger ale, and lemon, the brand is selectively making itself available to London's premium drinks outlets, before a full launch in Spring 2017. The brand's style is also iconic - drawing inspiration from 1950's Vogue editorials & Suntory advertising, its bold colour blocking and geometric styling sets it worlds apart from the nostalgic or botanical imagery seen from the majority of adult soft drinks coming onto the scene.

In summary, the zero-proof adult drinks market, whilst still in emergence, is making a large impact with some of the biggest players in spirits even getting involved early. It's time to say goodbye to the lime & sodas of the world, and hello to a distilled, premium soft drink on a dry night out!

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#DropOfPride: Bringing Brands to Consumers

As an agency based in the West End (the heartland of creative agencies in London) we thought we’d seen it all! That is until, on the last Friday of June we received a delivery of London Pride and other Wimbledon-themed treats at our front door. The delivery didn’t arrive completely out of the blue (that would’ve been incredible), but a simple Tweet to the London Pride Twitter account using #DropofPride, and a little bit of good fortune saw our beer hamper arrive just in time to combat the Friday blues.

While this form of Random Act of Kindness marketing hasn’t become the norm, it’s starting to appear more and more across the alcohol industry. Hendrick’s Gin have recently started their global ‘Cucumber Courier’ activity – a vintage inspired delivery service to the on trade, ensuring the perfect Hendricks’s serve with cucumber. Not only is the concept inspired, but their means of transport is a definite point of difference for the brand – who else would you expect to be travelling around in a motorbike and sidecar shaped like a cucumber?

With the abundance of food and drink delivery services now – Deliveroo first, and now even UberEats – it’s nice to see that brands can tap into this and make it work to ensure brand engagement or consistency of quality, without it seeming disingenuous.

What better way to end a Friday & celebrate the end of the month?

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Courvoisier Pairing Dinner

Cognac & first class food – what could be better?

Last month, we were invited to attend a Courvoisier pairing dinner at Oriole Bar in East London’s Smithfield Market, which was, as you’d expect, incredible.

Oriole has recently been nominated for Best New International Cocktail Bar in the Spirited Awards 2016, as part of the Tales of the Cocktail competition – no mean feat, but completely understandable once we’d tried their rendition of the Courvoisier Classic Champagne Cocktail.

After a brief catch up with our hostess for the evening Rebecca Asseline, Courvoisier’s glamourous Global Ambassador, we were seated in the side function room off the side of the bar, a small area, which lent a very suitable sense of intimacy to the evening. Following a warm welcome from our hostess, we tucked into our Amuse-Bouche, a pain d’épice topped with sweet potato and camembert which matched perfectly with our champagne cocktails.


We then moved on to a history of the cognac making process, and the rich history of the Courvoisier cognac house and its intrinsic links to the Parisian Golden Age and even as the cognac served at the opening of the Eiffel Tower – truly making it the Toast of Paris! We paired our starter of Courvoisier cured Salmon Tartare with asparagus vichyssoise, poached quail egg and salmon roe, with a snifter of Courvoisier VS. 


Our mains (the Beef Rossini with Duck foie gras was too good to photograph before we tucked in) and the Sole Veronique were great accompaniments to the VSOP, showing that a good cognac can really be a part of every stage of a meal.


The piece de résistance however, was the poached pear and Roquefort crème brulée, alongside the Courvoisier XO. A true showcase of the great skills of the chef at Oriole, and the versatility of the cognac.


The guests in the room were left satisfied – not only from a great meal and tasting of the Courvoisier range – but also with the in depth knowledge of Rebecca. Conversation flowed, not only from those more acquainted with the world of cognacs and Courvoisier, but also those who did not have a knowledge of the brand before this evening.

Once again, thanks must be given to the team at Oriole for putting on such a great event, and providing a great meal and cocktails (the Head Chef, Gustavo, received a much-deserved round of applause upon entering the room), and to Rebecca for being a great hostess to this unique event.

Events like this are not few and far between here in London, and we would heartily recommend for you to visit any tutored tastings or pairing dinners you may find – they always shine a new light on a brand you may think you know well!

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#TBT: Imbibe Live

A few weeks ago, we ventured out to Olympia in West London to visit Imbibe Live. Branded as an ‘innovative and interactive annual exhibition’, Imbibe hosts the best in class of the trade, including the mainstays of the industry alongside newer brands who are just starting on their journey.

The show acts as a great stage for brands of all sizes to show off their products, innovation and for agencies like us to take note of the upcoming trends in the drinks industry. As we wandered around the hall, there were a few key activities that we picked up on:


1.       THE MOVE TOWARDS BOTANICALS:

We all love a stereotypical English country garden – and it seems that brands have picked up on this. With the unforeseen growth of botanical gins over the last few years (gin sales were expected to top £1bn for the first time in the UK in 2015*) it makes sense that brands would hop on to this quintessentially British theme. There was an abundance of garden styled bars and flavoured drinks, with Fentiman’s leading the charge with their beautifully set-up bar.

This leads us brilliantly on to…


2.       MIXERS – MORE THAN JUST A SUPPORT ACT

None of us were expecting a presence of the soft drink category on this scale. It would seem that the mixers are making a stand:  they are more than just an addition to a good gin, they MAKE the perfect cocktail. This mindset was highlighted by the relatively unknown brand ‘Merchant’s Heart’ a new range of drinks by LR Suntory, who brand themselves as ‘spirit enhancers’ rather than a mixer. Stands from Britvic, Schweppes, Fentiman’s & Fever Tree represented the big players in the mixers world – each of them representing their brand in a different, yet impactful way. The newcomers to the category included Thomas Henry (a German brand), Franklin & Sons LTD, and Bottle Green (who, yes, have been around for a while, however this is the first time we’ve seen them positioned as a mixer, rather than a standalone drink).

The main take out from the mass-representation of mixers at what has over the last few years primarily been an alcohol trade show, is that the trend for flavour and origin matter across all aspects of the serve, rather than just the alcohol itself.

Speaking of flavour…


3.       FOCUS ON FLAVOUR

From our sensorial work with Teisseire and The Glenlivet, we know that flavour is more than just taste, but for the sake of simplicity let’s just keep this as flavour for now (read our case studies for more information on those two projects if you’re intrigued…).

In addition to the botanical and mixer trends above, it seems that all brands are focusing on flavour. None more so than Stoli vodka, whose exhibition stand massively impressed us. With Brand Ambassadors dressed in lab coats and a set up like a mad scientist’s laboratory, the area drew a large crowd, inviting guests to create their own spin on the Moscow Mule.

This stand exemplifies the new trend for customer engagement through experiences. By letting the customers mix with ingredients they’ve never seen before, or use bar tools they have never used, including a very intriguing smoke machine.

The set up and creativity behind this stall really raised the bar (mind the pun) for all trade show stalls and customer experiential work at the same time.

Overall, Imbibe delivered once again – however this time with a little more variation and range than seen before!

 

* https://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/dec/18/uk-gin-sales-artisanal-distillerie

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A Cultural Evening in London

London is known the world around for its amazing theatre and arts – and being based in the city’s West End we’re constantly reminded of the great spectacles that are on offer. As Londoners, however, we also know how expensive it would be to try and see everything you’d want to.

So when I was told about the Hammersmith Summer Festival’s free showing of the Royal Opera House’s ‘Il Trovatore’ I jumped at the chance to go. To be completely honest, I had no knowledge of what the opera was about, and opera would not be my go-to subject on Mastermind, but I’ve seen some live shows at the iconic Covent Garden venue a couple of times, and the experience is something to behold!

The set up in Hammersmith’s Lyric Square was simple – some (branded) deck chairs for the early arrivers, and a nice patch of astroturf for those who dropped in late (thankfully we brought a blanket.) With the big screen set up front & centre, and the bars, and restaurants surrounding the venue allowing guests to take their refreshments out with them, the scene was set for a fantastic evening. Also, by some small British miracle, the sky was blue and the sun shone throughout.

It’s no surprise that the opera was incredible – from stage design to the singers – and obviously a great tragedy took place, but even that couldn’t dampen the mood in Hammersmith and the various other live screenings happening across the country.

Long live the London art pop up, allowing us to enjoy lovely British summer evenings and the great arts and theatre the capital has to offer!

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Wonderworks Wins Britvic Teisseire Activation Pitch

Woo hoo! Wonderworks are happy to announce a new relationship with the key British producer of soft drinks, Britvic!

We are excited to have won the pitch for activating the number 1 sirop brand in France, Teisseire, a sirop that aims to enhance everyday moments with a dash of a French flair. 

Our journey together starts now but we already can't wait to see where it will take us. Watch out for exciting things to come! 

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The wonders of beer world

As well as being the world’s third most commonly consumed beverage (after water and tea), and its most popular alcoholic drink, beer is also considered the booze that has been around the longest. Mentions in various cultures date back to as early as 1754BC when beer is cited in the Code of Hammurabi, a law code from ancient Mesopotamia.. 


Demon drink?

Perhaps beer’s global appeal and longevity is because it is actually one of the healthiest drink choices you can make – as long as consumption doesn’t involved 20 pints a day! While overindulgence certainly risks overall health (and the growth of an unattractive ‘beer belly’), moderate consumption has been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, arthritis and kidney stones. It can even protect teeth from decay and gum disease. In the long term, beer improves cholesterol levels and may help consumers live longer than their abstinent friends. Even before science had provided proof, Thomas Jefferson was claiming that: “Beer, if drank with moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit, and promotes health.”

Beer is in fact one of the most natural drinks available, much more so than some apparently healthy non-alcoholic drinks such as smoothies and juices that are highly processed and loaded with sugar. Beer is fat- and cholesterol-free and low in carbohydrates and calories. It’s also very nutritious: high in vitamins, fibre, antioxidants, bitter acids that prevent inflammation and aid digestion, silicon that assists bone health, and xanthohumol that promotes the growth and development of neurons and protects brain cells.


Key trends

For a commodity to remain relevant, however, it generally has to evolve – and beer is no exception. This year, Suntory launched a product called ‘Precious’, a beer containing 2g of collagen in each can. Will this benefit the skin in the same way as collagen is claimed to when added to upmarket skincare and cosmetics? The jury is out as the digestive system may not absorb collagen in this particular form. However, Suntory is now at the forefront of the ‘health benefit’ trend in beer, pioneered originally by the ‘lighter’ and ‘lower calorie’ brews that gained popularity a few years ago.

Spiros Malandrakis, senior alcoholic drinks analyst at Euromonitor International, predicts this year will witness a peak in craft beer and microbrewing, thereby toughening the competition and favouring the stronger key market players. ‘Speers’ – hybrid beers with a spirit base typically of bourbon, tequila or rum and a higher ABV – are also predicted to enter the mainstream. The current crop of flavoured, low and non-alcohol beers, meanwhile, are expected to lose popularity, as will high ABV IPAs (India pale ales). In their place will be more ‘session beers’ with relatively low alcohol content – beers that don’t lack taste, but that enable enjoyment without consumers getting too tipsy.


BrewDog leads the pack

One example of a craft beer that isn’t facing the zenith of its peak sales anytime soon is BrewDog. Since two ambitious twenty-somethings launched the company seven years ago, BrewDog has enjoyed non-stop expansion. It now employs over 350 people and has bars in Tokyo, Gothenburg and Sao Paulo. According to the Sunday Times Fast Track 100, BrewDog was the UK’s fastest growing food and drink company in 2013.

Due to the strength of demand, the Scottish brewer is planning to expand its eco-friendly, high-tech HQ in Ellon with the addition of a new 4500m2 building housing a 300HL brew house. BrewDog has also recently announced further overseas expansion with a 100,000sq ft state-of-the-art craft brewery in Columbus, Ohio, to contain its US offices, a 100-barrel brew house, a visitor centre, a craft beer restaurant and a taproom, accessible via both road and bike path. Funding for this project will be sourced from the on-going crowdfunding project, Equity for Punks, which has already helped BrewDog raise substantial amounts of money for its projects. Within three weeks of the launch of the IV share offering, by May 2015 BrewDog had raised £5 million based on 525,000 shares and a minimum investment of just £95 for two shares. A US version of crowdfunding is to be launched later this year with a minimum share purchase of just $95.


Category crossover

What’s trending in beer can also be seen in other alcoholic beverages. The cider category has similarly seen significant growth in craft products as consumers look for new and more premium products. And in an echo of speers, ‘Spiders’ (spirit-based ciders) are also entering the market; for example, key player Magners released an Irish whiskey-based cider in January 2015. The fruit ciders category is still booming with a focus on new product development, for example innovative flavour fusions and products like Kopparberg’s Frozen Fruit Cider pouch. 


Anyone for a pint?

Beer festivals are growing in popularity and scale, many drawing inspiration from Munich’s long-established and world-famous Oktoberfest. However, in recent years, the focus has been more on craft, niche producers of small batch bitters and ales.

The most renowned UK beer and cider festivals are the London Craft Beer Festival (Bethnal Green), the Great British Beer Festival (Earls Court), the Birmingham Beer Bash, Craft Beer Rising (Glasgow) and the Reading Beer & Cider Festival. However there are many smaller events across the country, a large number of which are organised by CAMRA, the Campaign For Real Ale. 


Attracting consumers’ attention

The rise of smaller producers with limited marketing budgets has had a noticeable effect on the advertising campaigns of the big players. Some try to portray themselves in a more ‘crafty’ way, while others purposefully differentiate themselves from so-called ‘hipster ales’. Others still prefer to use their sense of humour or shock value to attract more attention.

With their massive budgets, it’s perhaps no surprise that Superbowl commercials are the ones eliciting the most comment. This year, Budweiser released its ‘Brewed The Hard Way’ campaign, designed to appeal to people who simply like drinking, not ‘dissecting’, beer (as opposed to ‘pumpkin peach ales’) in thinly-veiled references to the craft beer industry and its fans. The video caused a lot of controversy and was labelled hypocritical and anti-craft beer. But Budweiser must surely have melted a few hard hearts with its ‘Lost Dog’ ad, a continuation of the #bestbuds campaign.

Marketing campaigns are also tending to employ more guerrilla tactics; a 360º approach involving a lot of interactivity, often digital, is believed to lead to deeper consumer engagement. One example of a brilliant activation that went viral is Sol’s 2013 ‘Free Beer for Free Spirits’ campaign which challenged office workers to bin their ties on the way home in exchange for a beer.  Another is Carlsberg’s ‘That calls for a Carlsberg’ cinema ad in which couples who dared take their seats among 148 poker-faced bikers were rewarded with a Carlsberg and an appreciative round of applause. 

Carlsberg also launched a very interesting campaign in 2013, ‘Standing up for a friend’, which tested friendships in the middle of the night. A hoax call asked a friend to bring money to pay off a gambling debt; faithful friends who made it through the den of iniquity with money intact were rewarded for their loyalty with a beer. Heineken’s ‘The Candidate’ ads in 2013 were secret recordings of applicants for internship programmes where the interviewer deliberately acted very strangely to gauge how candidates acted under pressure. The candidate deemed to have reacted the best in the eyes of the marketing team was rewarded with the internship.

This year’s campaign from Britain’s Beer Alliance is definitely worth mentioning, too. It comes from a cross-industry group of brewers, pub groups and beer organisations working together for the good of the beer industry in Britain  (www.beerforthat.com). The campaign, ‘There’s a beer for that’, promotes the huge diversity of beers suitable for different occasions and the individual preferences of drinkers. 


On-trade activation

As the highly competitive marketplace demands ever greater creativity to capture the imagination of consumers, so brands are recognising the increasing need for bartender engagement and advocacy programmes and competitions. Stella Artois is one of the leading brands in this area. Its Stella Artois Connoisseurs programme trains bar staff on the history of the brand as well as the art of pouring the perfect beer. Stella Artois also runs the World Draught Masters competition in which competitors are judged on their skills performing the Stella Artois 9-step Pouring Ritual. The winner of this global competition embarks on a journey around the world, visiting over 30 countries as the brand ambassador. 

Heineken runs a workshop programme focused on the craftsmanship of the serve, ‘The Art of Pouring’, which is led by Franck Evers, Heineken’s Beer Craftsman from the Netherlands. Heineken has also launched the Passion 4 Beer platform, developed to acknowledge the role that bartenders take as guardians of the brand who provide quality beer experiences to consumers. The online hub has been designed as an information resource covering beer ingredients, the brewing process, tasting and pouring etc. 

Pilsner Urquell continues to run the Pilsner Urquell International Master Bartender Competition in recognition of the fact that, ‘The brewmaster brews the beer, but the bartender makes it’. The brand has developed a trio of ways to pour, each of them providing a different experience to the consumer as they influence carbonation, smoothness and the flavour profile. 

The growing creativity in marketing beer has been recognised not only by generic marketing awards bodies, but also by the newly created Beer Marketing Awards, ‘reflecting the UK consumer’s increased interest in beer and dynamism in the market (...) making this the only awards ceremony which bring the whole beer sector together’ (beermarketingawards.co.uk). 


Some of our favourite brand stories

Marketing of any brand often involves simply telling the brand story in an engaging way to connect emotionally with consumers and increase brand loyalty. But how well does this technique work in the beer world? Which of the brand stories work for the target audiences?

A good example of a successful storytelling campaign is the ad from Seleção Especial, a special edition beer from Brahma designed for the 2014 World Cup. The advert depicts the product in a very emotional way, showing not only that it’s a great beer, but also how it’s made from barley grown on the ‘Granja Comar’, the famous training pitch for Brazilian football teams. This connects both with patriotic emotions and with consumers’ passion for football. 

Newcastle Brown Ale has been telling its brand story authentically in the ‘No Bollocks’ campaign in a full-on, straightforward and honest way, no matter what the situation. Their social media activation encouraged consumers to do the same with the #NoBollocks Subtexter tool, exposing the harsh but hilarious ‘real meaning’ of photos posted on social media. 

Guinness is a fantastic example of a brand conducting powerful yet stylish storytelling that evokes an instant connection to brand values and heritage. 2014’s advert, ‘In Pursuit of More’, shows the brand as a family-run business that cares not only about craftsmanship and beer, but also about community and people. The previous year’s campaign, ‘Made of More’ – featuring the ‘Clock’ and ‘Cloud’ adverts that highlighted passion, hard work and commitment – delivered extraordinary results.


Last orders

All in all, we predict exciting years to come; booming interest in the beer and cider categories will see brands innovate accordingly both in product development and marketing strategies. We’ll drink to that!

 

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Luxury Gift Packaging

With the recent heatwave and the summer vibes, you might think there's plenty of time before the need to even contemplate Christmas shopping. But for premium brands, there’s not a second’s peace as the planning cycle kicks in for the festive season: how to wow customers and ensure that it’s their brand’s special limited edition sets or gifts that find their way under the most Christmas trees. 

When analysing packaging trends in FMCG, it’s probably worth defining ‘luxury’ first - but there is no homogeneous, simplistic definition! Instead, taking brands from the Cosmetic sector as examples, we can identify various levels of luxury products starting with Basic Luxury­ ­- high quality everyday products eg Coty - then the ‘premiumisation process’ rises through Aspirational eg L’Oreal, to Super Premium eg Shu Uemura, and finally Ultra High End eg Creme de la Mer.

What all these luxury brands have in common is a focus on brand value and equity, niche craftsmanship/expertise and the story to support it, as well as unique marketing and distribution channels to complete the consumer experience. (You’ll be familiar with the on-going trend in luxury spending that puts more focus on the purchasing experience than on the product itself.) What modern brands also focus on more these days are personalisation, exclusivity and value. Luxury brands need to embody Knowledge, Purpose (sometimes more aesthetic than practical), Timelessness (represented both by the history of the brand as well as the timelessness of the piece purchased) and Rarity.

Packaging is an important component of luxury brands. The starting point is often simplicity, with an elegance and finesse of design that focuses attention on the product and the quality of its materials/ingredients. The next stage of successful luxury packaging is the theatrical stage - innovative designs that cannot be missed and provide a thrill when purchased and received. Given the quantity in which packaging is produced and the awareness of the brand that it creates through sheer volume of sales, packaging can both reflect or come to embody a brand’s iconic identity – hence packaging is often featured in ATL advertising.  

Luxury gift packaging is an expanding area for Premium FMCG brands, with an ever-growing need to stand out on shelf and develop more personal connections with their audiences, as well as to provide perceived value for money. Regular consumers will naturally be drawn to their favourite product, but it is the occasional premium buyer that brands are fighting for here: the customer who tends to buy cheaper products, but will ‘splash more cash’ buying a special treat for their dad’s 60th birthday or a Christmas gift for their newly-wed husband.

Let’s take a look at the broad term ‘Premium’ FMCG brands that we mentioned above. Some sectors have a particularly strong influence in the arena of luxury gift packaging designs. For example, as much as people love the actual gifts from Tiffany, it’s the iconic blue box that initially sets the heart racing. Everything purchased from Tiffany comes in ‘standard issue’ packaging rather than cartons specifically designed for individual products or occasions. (But boy, what a fabulous box!) 

At the other end of the spectrum, for variety and customisation we look to the Beauty and Alcohol industries which definitely lead in the development of creative designs for limited editions, box sets and gift packaging.

In Beauty, Christmas and other seasonal/occasion-based gift packaging (eg Easter, Mother’s/Father’s Day) is where the investment in design and production is often focused as that’s where sales reach the highest volumes. Non-seasonal gift packaging is much more challenging: it might come in handy when customers are looking for birthday presents for their loved ones, but it quickly loses its ‘new product appeal’ on shelf and generally doesn’t sell in anywhere near the same volume as seasonal gift packaging.

Alcohol gift packaging is usually associated with special and limited editions - either of the product or of the pack format (eg special tin). It attracts the attention not just of those looking for a gift for others, but encourages self-gifting by devoted fans or those building collections of a brand’s artefacts.

We have put together a little collection of the most incredible, eye-catching and wonderful special editions below:

As Christmas is the biggest retail opportunity for the majority, this is the time when brands work very hard, way ahead and with most of their annual budget, to compete with every other brand working very hard, way ahead and with most of their annual budget. Brands hope that their loyal customers will buy bigger and that they will attract enough attention for smaller gifts to be purchased by previous non-consumers. Packaging colours in the Alcohol sector tend to capture Christmas with a predominance of gold, red and seasonal sparkles, while Beauty gift packaging generally plays a bit more subtly on Christmas themes.

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In the general Christmas shopping madness, and going head-to-head against competitors’ outstanding efforts, it is crucial not only to focus on gift packaging but on the entire retail experience, from window display to POS. Potential customers need to be amazed by your brand offerings this season and wowed enough to look for your products the second they set foot in the retail environment.

To support this, many brands introduce out-of-store campaigns that ensure customers are aware of their products and want to buy them before they even start thinking about their Christmas shopping list. When designing and implementing marketing campaigns, luxury brands are very conscious of their strategies: they tend to use more subtle, informative and refined tools that seemingly don’t influence customers’ decisions, but leave an idea in their heads: rather than creating an immediate increase in sales, marketing focuses on the long-term aspiration to own or give.

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The Macallan Residence

Background

The controversial move of replacing The Macallan core range of predominantly under 18 year old whiskies with the no age statement (NAS) 1824 Series in 2012 saw the introduction of expressions named after colours – Gold, Amber, Sienna and Ruby (listed here from least to most expensive).

The expressions are additive- and caramel-free; the source of the different colours comes from differences in maturation and the type of casks used (predominantly first fill sherry oak).

Speculation in the market suspected a shortage of sufficient aged whisky to meet worldwide demand. However, according to Stuart MacPherson, The Macallan Master of Wood: "Whisky obviously has an age, we just don't publicise it here. This is something the whisky industry created in the early 20th century, where we put an age on it to make the whisky easier for the customer to identify. We're taking things a step forward and saying this isn't about the age, it's about what the consumer wants and the skills of the whisky maker."

Target audience

Along with the introduction of these NAS expressions, The Macallan also seems to be changing the target audience for its whisky, seeking a younger, more glamorous and prestigious crowd. Clearly aspirational, targeted Facebook advertising, adverts in affluent magazines (eg Esquire) and the experiential side of ATL present cosmopolitan, smiley twenty-somethings at a party where they are served The Macallan by a butler wearing white gloves.

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The Macallan Residence

The Macallan Residence event, taking place in the grand, historic neo-Gothic mansion at Two Temple Place for two nights only, was advertised in a similar manner. It promised to ‘unlock your senses’ as you stepped ‘inside a world of luxury’. An enigmatic and intriguing description on the official website read: “Showcasing the latest artistry, excellence and experiences, including bespoke styling and grooming, curated with a number of handpicked partners, this is undoubtedly an experience not to be missed”.

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Having purchased tickets at the reasonable price of £20 and put on smarter shoes, off we went on this immersive sensorial journey!

Greeted outside by a very Scottish – and very handsome – gentleman wearing a kilt, our tickets were exchanged for a pass with a group number and two golden keys that we would use to ‘unlock’ rooms within this spectacular venue.

We gathered in the first room and were offered rounds of refreshing cocktails and (trays and trays of) Scotch eggs.

The venue looked very elegant: it featured the various expressions in a subtle manner with good attention to detail. The pillars of The Macallan brand were reflected – but not overtly pushed – by a bespoke bar, projections on the walls and aisles with photos which all contributed to give just enough brand presence.

An Esquire-branded photo booth allowed guests to take a picture and post it immediately on Facebook. This was fun, but we were confused by the props provided: the white curly wig, cowboy hat and enormous sunglasses looked extremely out of place.

After a few minutes, the handsome Scotsman greeted all the guests, introducing the venue and going through the running order of the evening’s show. He also revealed that one of the Seven Pillars of The Macallan shown in the aisles of photos was untrue – and that a competition was running to guess which one it was.

Following a few words from The Macallan representative, who introduced the brand and gave a little history of Two Temple Place, we were shown a demonstration by a mixologist who made a Scotch-based Old Fashioned with chocolate bitters. We were then led upstairs to the Esquire room where we were greeted with the exact same Old Fashioneds and were invited to mingle for a few minutes.

The journey through the corridors of this outstanding venue was a treat in itself, with bottles of The Macallan featured under spotlights at strategic points.

The Esquire room was also gorgeous, although the actual event décor was a little disappointing. In the first part of the room, a knowledgeable representative spoke to us about age statements now being out of date in the world of single malts, while more Old Fashioneds flowed from the corner bar and The Macallan brand film was screened on the wall. A DJ in the corner provided some pleasant but unremarkable tunes that had all the gents in suits tapping their feet.

The second part of the room was taken up by two small branded stands displaying mostly tweed suits and expensive watches. In the corner, a shoepolisher was struggling to provide services to a queue of a dozen men wearing expensive leather shoes.

The whole room was a little confusing, and looking around, it seemed we were not the only ones who didn’t really know what we were supposed to be doing or taking away from where we were. The messages were not clear – although at a guess, we would say craftsmanship was the common theme – and the event flow felt disjointed. We found ourselves searching for the senses we were expecting to unlock…

Our first key finally gave us access to another room to experience the individual expressions of The Macallan paired with extraordinary chocolates from Artisan du Chocolat, the famous luxury artisan chocolate producer from Kent which majors on experimenting with production from ground cocoa beans. Salted caramel, Tasmanian honey and tobacco leaf chocolates, paired exquisitely with The Macallan expressions, were a true indulgence and a unique sensorial experience. Personable representatives of both The Macallan and Artisan du Chocolat talked through the entire experience confidently and competently – and in a very entertaining way.

After the experience we returned to the Esquire room where we were invited to mingle again, with an opportunity to exchange our second key for another – let’s be frank – extremely delicious Old Fashioned.

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We truly enjoyed our evening in such wonderful surroundings, and loved the chocolate pairing and the subtle branding. However, the event left us a little unsatisfied and hungry for more. We’re not entirely sure whether it was due to the large amount of moving, mingling and waiting or down to the actual immersive, sensorial experience itself being quite short. Perhaps it was the feeling that the collaboration of brands at the event seemed disjointed.

Sadly we didn’t leave feeling enlightened by the discovery of The Macallan 1824 Series which we would assume was the objective, nor did we unlock any senses. However, it was a great venue and the chocolate was nice, if a little messy!

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