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How to market UK gin to the rest of the world - Analysis

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Earlier this week, the UK government set out some grand plans for the country's gin producers. Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said her ambition is to see the segment match Scotch whisky exports, which topped GBP4bn (US$6.2bn) in 2014.

Will the UKs gin exports ever rival those of Scotch whisky?

Will the UK's gin exports ever rival those of Scotch whisky?

Between 2010 and 2014, a total of 73 new spirit distilleries opened in the UK - with 56 set up in the past two years, according to UK government department DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). The number of UK gin brands has also more than doubled since 2010 from 31 to 73 due to the demand for new brands "using locally-sourced ingredients and natural botanicals", the department said.

Much like the marketing of Scotch whisky, ingredients, history and heritage continue to be important - especially if you're an established brand. Looking back over gin launches and advertising campaigns for existing UK brands from the last few years is like playing drinks marketing bingo. Here are a few of the key trends...

Big brands

Diageo's Gordon's started 2015 with the Gordon The Boar campaign, inspired by the boar that appears on the brand's bottle. The idea is to "cement Gordon's place in... modern British culture". It also reminds viewers that the brand has been around since 1769.

At the end of January, Bacardi's Bombay Sapphire, which was launched in 1987, took a different tack with a multi-million pound cinema ad. The campaign focuses on the gin's botanicals and where they come from. Bombay Sapphire has been consistent with this message and it was one of the first gins to really talk about botanicals - they are listed on the side of its bottle. You can even see them growing at the brand's new distillery, in the UK.

In June this year, Diageo rolled out Tanqueray Bloomsbury Gin, initially to the US. The key marketing messages centred around the history of the recipe, inspiration for which came from a gin created by Charles Tanqueray's son, Charles Waugh Tanqueray. The original recipe dates back to 1880, when the distillery was located in Bloomsbury, London (it's now distilled in Scotland). Botanicals not only get a mention, some also get a country of origin - Tuscan juniper, for example. Looking forward, then, telling consumers more about botanicals could be a winner.

Smaller players

At the other end of the spectrum, new gin brands are either creating heritage for themselves or following the food trend for locally-sourced ingredients. Interestingly, not many seem to be bothered about just using the recognised European Union definitions, such as the term 'London Dry' - it's a style, not a geographical indication.

In Cornwall, Southwestern Distillery's "contemporary take on London Dry" uses Devon violets. The master distiller professes: "One unusual ingredient is the Devon violet. From these I take the delicate leaves, which add a vibrant green freshness to the gin and create something deliciously unique."

'Unique' ingredients feature heavily in Scotland, too. Over the last five or six years at least, the message has been fairly unanimous: use locally-sourced botanicals. Islay's The Botanist, which was launched by Remy Cointreau's Bruichladdich unit in 2010, uses 22 botanicals found on the island (as well as classic gin botanicals), Speyside's Caorunn (launched by International Beverage Holdings in 2009) trumpets locally-foraged finds such as heather and bog myrtle. Released last year, Cross Bill gin actually manages to use Scottish juniper. Meanwhile, Spencerfield Spirits Co launched a gin this year, made with seaweed, scurvy grass and ground ivy, sourced from the Edinburgh coastline.

Also launched this year, Gin Lane 1751 from The Bloomsbury Club uses history as its hook. It is named after the Gin Act 1751, which was said to be influenced by artist William Hogarth’s depiction of Gin Lane.

Meanwhile, Brighton Gin is creating its own brand heritage with design cues such as the colour of its label and wax seal - it's the same as the railings and bus shelters on the seafront, known as Brighton Seafront Blue. It is also distilled in the city of Brighton & Hove, making location part of its provenance story.

What is interesting to note is that many smaller gin brands are using very local ingredients to emphasise provenance. Producing 'just' a London Dry gin, for example, won't cut it. Scotch whisky, on the other hand, can only be produced in one country - and that's a massive part of its appeal.

And, all the while, the segment could do with having its expectations better managed; last year's gin exports from the UK totalled GBP394m. Aspiring to Scotch's current annual level of GBP4bn may indicate ambition, but it's not going to happen any time soon.

What is gin's problem? just-drinks editor Olly Wehring has an idea - click here


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