“Are we in good shape? Are we fit for purpose? Are we ready for the challenges ahead?” These are natural questions for brand owners at this time of year.
Brands are the markers in people’s lives, the ones we grew up with, remember with affection, regardless of their presentation, and we feel protective, and importantly emotional about.
In the drinks world, brands have a particular and extended role, they play host and they take pride of place on the cabinet. They speak of social confidence, and standing. They can reflect an upgrade (from 12 years to 15) or a degree of knowledge (blend to malt) or maybe a new year salary rise (cuvée to grand cru).
And we don’t need them. . . . they are more accessory than necessity. This means they have to work very hard, to earn their space, and their place, in our lives.
Most great and enduring drinks brands were once family owned and produced. They were much more than accessories, they were a legacy, products of passion, commitment, expertise and pride.
These families knew all about earning space, and through a combination of their diligence and commitment created individual presentations which fascinate with their eclectic compositions. And importantly, convince with their authenticity.
Herein hangs the problem. Today these familiar faces are brand orphans, most often the property of new owners. No longer family, and with political and regional agendas, ‘going forward’ often has more resonance for new owners than ‘looking back’. Uprooted but with plenty of activity around them, these brands can struggle to keep in touch with ‘from whence they came’.
Today’s brand guardians must be supremely mindful of this, truly understanding the brand’s journey. Restaging not discarding.
As life increases in complexity, we take heart and comfort from the intangible, what is there because it always has been, and what is there because it was no-one’s place to change it. Or what is there because new generations had to bide by, (and respect) their founder’s rules.
However, if we look carefully, what some may call ‘baggage’ and I call ‘gems’, are alive and well.
“Afore ye go” the cheery tagline of Bell’s whisky skips gaily around the capsule, having once had pride of place on the label. It sums up in those three little words, the personality of the brand. Hospitality, generosity, friendship and warmth. All good things and definitely not thought up in a brainstorm.
Sadly, the best words in the business, Lily Bollinger’s eulogy to her beloved champagne has been removed from the packaging, only to be replaced by generic wallpaper, presumably in the pursuit of progress.
Sometimes these ‘gems’ need a helping hand. Some twenty years ago I unearthed an old label in the distillery archives at Lagavulin. The islanders, a feisty lot, had their own way of describing this potent malt.
“Time” they said “takes out the fire but leaves in the warmth”
Commissioned to design the new label for new owners, I gave this descriptor centre stage. Ensuring this local lore lived on. And it does, and under subsequent ownership, it’s still there today.
Legend and authenticity run a fine line, we can make room for both. Captain Morgan, that rogue of the rum brands, has done its homework, peeling off the layers to reveal a fascinating man. We all want to know more.
Sometimes we need to spin a story, but often the real one is patiently in place, and the gems are waiting to be treasured.