Of all the Mad Men-style vices I could indulge in while doing this job, the only one I embrace is the love of a good martini.
After a day of whiplash-inducing deadlines, there really is nothing like going home, pulling out the shaker, mixing one up, and sipping it as I slouch in my comfy leather armchair, feeling the tension melt away.
I prefer an old-school martini: gin, French vermouth, orange bitters, lemon peel. Until recently, my go-to gin was Plymouth. Named after the English city on the south coast of Devon, this venerable brand occupies a unique place on the seasoned mixologist’s shelf.
So unique in fact that the brand’s owner, Pernod Ricard, decided the product has been historically underpriced. Early this year, the company announced it was redesigning the bottle and increasing the price of Plymouth gin by up to 40% globally to reflect “the brand’s super-premium positioning within the gin category.”
Like most people, I don’t follow the distiller-trade press; I missed the memo. So imagine my surprise last week when I stopped by the gin section of my neighborhood boozeteria and spotted the swank new Plymouth bottle — all blue and copper label affixed to ye olde sculpted glass — for the audacious new price of CDN $44.45, up from about $26.00.
As the sticker shock receded, I began to wonder:
Can you take an old (though admittedly good) mid-shelf product, dress it up and (beg pardon) spirit it to the top shelf of the bar — especially if it’s spent years languishing in the average price category?
Can you change consumers’ perceptions of a brand on the strength of a new bottle and an old back-story?
Importantly, can you convince your old fans that your brand is worth the steep increase in price even though the product inside the new bottle is exactly the same?
Compare Plymouth to Hendricks, the current globally reigning super-premium gin. When it launched nearly 10 years ago, Hendricks debuted as an up-market product. Which is what most luxury brands do, whether they’re watches, cars, clothes, even wines and spirits.
And let’s not forget all those boutique gins coming out. Here in Canada, Victoria gin is making a name for itself. Prince Edward Island Distillery’s offering has been getting good press. Odds are there’s an artisanal gin maker near you, too — one you might feel better about paying a premium to.
But nothing is impossible. After all, Marlboro was a poor-selling ladies’ cigarette before Philip Morris (with Leo Burnett’s help) introduced The Marlboro Man and changed the brand’s fortunes forever.
This new, unimproved Plymouth leaves me in a quandary.
As a marketer, I’m intrigued to see whether or not their prestige pricing strategy — and their spiffy new bottle — works. Around here, we encourage our clients to think about how the brand experience fits the buyer — namely, the BrandErgonomics®. Pernod Ricard’s approach feels a little backwards to me.
As a consumer, paying nearly double for the same bevvy is a tough one to swallow indeed.
What do you think? Is this a boozy boondoggle or does it go down smooth? Let’s discuss in the comments.
In the meantime, I’ll pour.
Meet the new gin, same as the old gin. Plymouth before (top) and after (bottom).
Photos via americancocktails.com, LCBO, National Post, and thedrinksbusiness.com