Is Brown-Forman at the end of the Southern Comfort road? - Editor's Viewpoint
Would you sell Southern Comfort?
Much as Brown-Forman would not be drawn on reports last week that its Southern Comfort whiskey liqueur has been put up for sale, the brand's performances of late suggest that the end is, if not already upon it, then just around the corner.
On Wednesday, Brown-Forman declined to comment on an item on Reuters claiming it has hired Goldman Sachs to investigate a sale of brands including Southern Comfort. The group is keener on focusing its efforts on the American whiskies in its portfolio, said Reuters.
The backdrop to this speculation is a set of numbers showing a brand battling against terminal decline. In full-year results to the end of April – released in June – Southern Comfort posted a 5% slide in sales. This, on the back of a 2% dip in fiscal-2014 and 4% slide in 2013. Jump forward to this fiscal, and Q1 sales for the brand fell by 4%.
To be fair to Brown-Forman, the company had managed to stem the decline in fiscal-2013, following a 7% drop the year before. The reason? This activation:
The ad, which launched in the US and globally online in August 2012, was clever, fresh, funny and – most importantly – emulative. Indeed, what's not to say that the spike in sales came from consumers wanting to do 'the funny walk' on the way to the bar for their mates?
To me, the ad works like a lot of advertising nowadays: See it once, like it. Second time, love it. Third time, got it. Fourth time, bored of it.
(An aside, but I can already see Diageo's emphasis of joy as a cue for Johnnie Walker playing out similarly. Much as I was impressed by the new ad, I can't help finding the brand's over-use of the word 'joy' already a touch cloying.)
Bar the blip in 2013, Southern Comfort is clearly being drowned out, not only by new flavoured whiskies – as Brown-Forman concedes – but also by a swathe of the consumer landscape that doesn't really understand what the brand is for any more. Bar lemonade or cola, what else does one do with Southern Comfort? It's not really on the cocktail menu any more, it's not part of the shot/shooter culture…
What would you do with it? If you were Brown-Forman, you'd probably sell it.
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