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Why some brands fly and others flop

David Gluckman

After a lifetime creating new brands, mostly for Diageo, the world’s largest alcoholic beverage company. David Gluckman has written That Will Never Sell, looking back on the 48 years he spent in the drinks business waking up every morning with the question in his head “how am I going to be able to come up with a truly unique idea for a new brand?” Article by David Gluckman

There were ten reasons why some ideas became successful brands and why others didn’t work out. Here is Gluckman’s guide to brand success.

The higher up you go, the better the chance of success
Whenever we worked to a brief issued by executive decision-makers, we had a better chance of moving with speed.  Middle marketing management were more preoccupied with the process.  Ideas took longer, research was endless and cost a lot of money. People who commission ideas should have the power to green light and enable their implementation.

The ideas that worked were based on one solution to a brief.
This was another function of dealing with top people.  They were invariably business people and wanted to see THE ANSWER, not the process which enabled you to get to the answer.  To those people, we were expert, we were trusted and we were accountable – important elements in the progress of innovation. Fail and you’re out.

Simplicity was a key to success
We always tried to reduce briefs and problems to simple statements.  The key to the creation of the wine brand Le Piat D’Or was that UK wine drinkers back in the 1970s wanted wines that they could remember, when going into a shop.  French wines were high quality but their names were too complex for non-French speakers and their labels were too understated.  The Singleton was a single malt whisky aimed not at the 3% of drinkers who drank single malts back in 1984, but the 97% of people who drank blended whisky.

We always had a healthy disrespect for market research and treated it with the circumspection it deserved. One of our great successes, Baileys Irish Cream, wasn’t a hit amongst consumers, so we ignored the findings.  Our feeling was that consumers ‘like what they know’ but do not always ‘know what they like’.  Innovation is about getting people to try and adopt new things.

Again, on the subject of market research, your first port of call on any development programme should be the databank of previous market research you have undertaken
Companies own massive caches of research which are rarely revisited.  A more pragmatic approach to research will save companies huge sums.

Product excellence was always at the core of everything we tried to do
Vodka is required by law to be ‘odourless, tasteless and colourless’ which is a difficult framework within which to innovate.  Two vodkas were created against that backdrop: Smirnoff Black was formulated to be perceptibly smoother than any other vodka and Ciroc was the first vodka to be distilled from grapes, not grain.  Tanqueray Ten was the world’s first gin distilled with fresh botanicals, delivering a fresher, cleaner-tasting gin product. They were all perceptibly differentiated from their competitors.

When competing again huge ‘mega brands’ like Coca-Cola, Bacardi or Red Bull, for example, it is better to compete with ‘part’ of those brands than all of them
Given a requirement to develop a white rum to compete with Bacardi, the conclusion was that Bacardi had almost universal appeal.  Gluckman’s response to the brief was to develop a white rum aimed directly at men.  To achieve that aim it was higher in strength, drier in taste and sourced from a more ‘macho’ location, Australia.

In innovation, it is essential to ‘get the politics right’.  There are no absolute criteria for success with product ideas
The first rule of success is to get the client to own the idea.  Once an idea leaves the building, it becomes the property of someone else.  And the more that person/company takes ownership (preferably the senior people), the more successful the brand will become.

The modern fashion is to focus on communicating emotional benefits for brands. Our aim, even with premium spirit brands was to deliver a functional benefit
Le Piat D’Or worked not only because it was memorable, but because the product was appropriate for UK tastes at the time, in the 70s when wine-drinking was a new experience.  It was an easy-drinking red wine and its taste was the same bottle after bottle and year after year.   The Singleton tasted smoother than traditional Scottish single malts, making it an easier transition for blended whisky drinkers.

Sometimes you have to trust instinct and good judgement on the way to success
Aqua Libra was one of the iconic brands in the UK in the 1980 (Princess Diana even rated it as one of her two favourite all time drinks – the other was champagne).  It succeeded in spite of not being researched at all, having a taste that was not for everyone and having a tiny advertising budget.  The protagonists and more importantly the client, ‘knew it when they saw it’ and went ahead.  There have been many other brands in the past that worked that way.

That Will Never Sell: A book about ideas by the person who had them
David Gluckman
Prideaux Press

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