Measure up to youth expectations

Hannah Booth looks at alcoholic drinks brands having a shot at expanding their traditional customer bases

We all know that we are what we eat, but today it is fair to add that we also are what we drink. From Guinness-swilling rugby boys to rappers sipping Cristal or the less salubrious connotations of extra-strong lager, drinks brands often have a strong positioning that clearly delineates their audience.

But for some brands in the sector their positioning means that business isn’t growing because a younger, moneyed audience isn’t drinking up.

Last week, exclusive champagne house Krug announced it has appointed Peter Saville to advise how it can broaden the brand’s appeal to attract younger consumers (DW 23 October).

Krug chief executive Mark Cornell wants a Burberry-style makeover for the brand, emulating the success of Cristal, which has retained its exclusivity, but enjoys a massive urban following.

But Krug faces a dilemma. It can’t disguise its prestigious heritage and doesn’t want to lose its well-heeled older audience, yet needs to find some contemporary resonance. As Cornell says, it’s a ‘cult’ brand, but therein lies the dichotomy. How do you maintain a cult and broaden an audience?

It’s a problem not dissimilar to that faced by premium whisky brands, which are steeped in the imagery and language of ancient distilleries, heather and tartan.

Several brands, including The Macallan, Whyte & Mackay and The Glenlivet, have hired Design Bridge, Elmwood and Lewis Moberly, Added Value and Landor Associates respectively to look at their positioning to appeal to younger drinkers.

‘All these types of brands have a youth problem, particularly whisky,’ says Lewis Moberly creative director Mary Lewis. ‘Champagne by its nature is a fun, celebratory drink and has obvious youth appeal.’

But single malt whisky brands suffer more from fusty associations, often because they overemphasise their centuries-old credentials, she believes.

The Macallan wants to distance itself from ‘heather and weather’ imagery without appearing to try too hard, says Design Bridge group creative director Graham Shearsby. ‘It’s a global luxury brand that needs updating, while remaining timeless.’

The Easy Drinking Whisky Company is helping to broaden the category’s appeal by launching a new brand with no traditional trappings (DW 23 October).

With a bottle and ‘homemade-style’ label that echo the cues of fruit drinks, the brand is aimed squarely at the ’25-plus’ age range, says founder David Robertson, a former master distiller at The Macallan. He hopes to attract younger drinkers with tastings at Oddbins stores, where the whisky will be stocked from this week, to capture the ‘it’s-not-as-bad-as-I-thought’ market. But Robertson admits a new product faces an easier task than a more entrenched brand.

‘It’s more difficult to move an established brand forward. We have a new product, with a different set of values, and aren’t worried about alienating the older drinkers,’ explains Robertson.

Cognac brand Rémy Martin is also hoping to break into a younger audience. It is using a sub-brand, Rémy Red, launched in the US last month with packaging by Design Bridge. The product – cognac mixed with fruit juices – has been created to try to break into the ‘the black American market’, says Shearsby.

Bar culture is swinging and expensive cocktails are growing in popularity, he claims. ‘Rémy Martin will still enjoy its impeccable high-end credentials, while Rémy Red aims to be more accessible,’ says Shearsby.

It’s difficult to think of a younger association for a long-established premium drink than US rap culture, which, in addition to Cristal, has adopted Cognac brands such as Courvoisier and Hennessy, ‘biggin’ them up in lyrics.

However, few companies sought out this association and it is debatable whether it is possible to target this audience in a credible way. Blackburns design director Matt Thompson says marketing directly to young people won’t work, they have to discover a brand for themselves.

If a traditional brand is targeted too obviously at the ‘youth’ market, and is seen to be ‘trying too hard’, it will fail, agrees Lewis. Many brands leave it too late to update their image and then overcompensate, she adds.

‘Every tweak to a drink’s packaging or identity should be towards modernity. Krug needs to be thinking along youth lines, but the danger is that it will be seen as a transient move.’

Cornell’s aim for Krug is to position it as an ‘individual’ choice rather than one for ‘followers’ of trends, and Saville may be better placed than most to help out. Having achieved cult status with his sleeve designs for Factory Records, he has advised brands such as Selfridges in a similarly informal way.

‘[Krug] needs to be a better known secret,’ Saville says. ‘I’d hate to see it everywhere, but that’s better than not seeing it anywhere.’

His work with Krug is at an early stage, but he has already given Cornell his ‘instinctive interpretation’ of how he sees the brand and ‘what’s right for it’. He’s interested, he says, in how people perceive Krug and what associations might enhance its potential.

Associating a brand with other, hipper marques is a highly effective repositioning tool, agrees Lewis. The consultancy relaunched Pol Roger’s vintages earlier this year at the Imagination Gallery.

‘If you sit a brand within a younger framework, you can move it on. It’s not just about overlaying a bottle with new graphics.’

Thompson agrees subtlety is key. ‘To revamp whisky, it needs to be aimed at a youthful, but not too youthful, audience. It must remain true to its Scottish roots, but adopt a different tone of voice,’ he says.

So whisky will have to play the waiting game, and, like French brandy, its turn may come. And who knows, 50 Cent could be rapping ‘Pass The Macallan’ on his next album.

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