Marketing Brief - When heritage brands make a comeback

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In a new monthly column on just-drinks, we have teamed up with marketing analyst Cream Global to bring you the best in comment and insight on the world of drinks marketing and advertising. This month we look at the brands that have successfully leveraged the power of heritage marketing from craft German beers to Canadian Club.


The drinks industry is subject to the same changes in fads and fashions as other consumer sectors. Just like fashion editors dictate the changing heights of heels and hemlines, so mixologists and bar tenders can influence the rise and demise of a particular cocktail or ingredient (remember when it was all about rye whiskies last year?).

But more often than not, these revivals are brought about by widespread adoption within certain social groups; the resurgence in popularity of Cognac brands at the start of the decade was widely attributed to its adoption by the rap and hip-hop sub-culture in the US. And, thanks to Carrie and the girls from Sex and the City, even high-street bar chains now offer a selection of cosmopolitans and martinis, albeit some of perhaps questionable pedigree (I recently suffered an 'Appletini', a nightmarish concoction of house-brand vodka and apple-flavoured Sourz).

Some more historic brands, however, can’t afford to wait around to be re-rediscovered and championed by elements of pop culture.

Particularly in Europe, there are thousands of historic brands, each of them fading further into obscurity. Some of these ancient brands have strong ties to the local communities from which they originate.

Take Ararat for example. This Cognac brand hails from Armenia, the former Soviet country that occupies that gap between western Asia and Eastern Europe, where the local culture is strongly rooted in ancient folklore and mysticism. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the influx of western brands into the region sidelined many domestic products, Ararat included.

When Pernod Ricard acquired the brand, they decided that, in order to counter the growing perception that newer, western brands were somehow “better”, Ararat needed to capitalise on its heritage, and the strong local roots of the brand. The end result was a 20-minute film, 'The Legend of Akhtamar'; a modern re-telling of an ancient Armenian folk tale that deals with the plight of two tragic lovers. The film, which represents a benchmark in the area of branded content, and only features fleeting glimpses of Ararat branding, has proven phenomenally successful for the brand.

Ararat has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts and regained its prestige status amongst specialist Cognacs. Further films in the 'Legends' series are currently at the planning stages.

The beer market is slightly different, particularly in Germany, where there are hundreds of smaller craft beers that have been brewed for centuries, for sole distribution in their local area. The complexities of the German beer market are for another article, but 'purity laws' exist to protect smaller brands from the activities of larger brands who might potentially force craft beers out of their own markets. One such craft beer is Astra, which recently celebrated its centenary anniversary.

Far from falling back on a stereotypical 'bier keller' image, Astra used clever online platforms and user-generated content programmes to engage with a new generation of drinkers.

More modern brands can also afford to re-invent themselves for the next generation. Canadian Club’s well-documented “Damn right your dad drank it!” poster campaign succeeded in turning the main consumer criticism of the brand on its head, and unapologetically reminded new drinkers that their fathers were once “men about town” too.

In general marketing terms, the Canadian Club strategy was very simple, and in alcohol marketing terms the campaign represented a small investment. “Damn right” reversed a 17-year downward trend for the brand, proving that, like the other brands mentioned here, shrewd marketing can reverse the fortunes of historic brands, without waiting for rappers or movie stars to raid their cellars in search of forgotten classics.

Cream “The Innovation Exchange”, an online service aimed at media and marketing professionals that indexes and analyses best practice examples of brand communications from around the world. Cream offers inspiration and insight through daily news, monthly reports, “How To Guides”, and over 2,500 case studies of marcomms innovation including the best work from the Festival of Media.

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