The new-look Chambord from Brown-Forman

The new-look Chambord from Brown-Forman

Could a flurry of recent makeovers in the alcoholic drinks sector, particularly for spirits, signal renewed optimism among producers?

Diageo this week unveiled a new-look Smirnoff vodka bottle, while Brown-Forman has revamped its Chambord liqueur, Pernod's Chivas Brothers is redesigning Aberlour Scotch whisky and Edrington Group has announced a fresh image for its Famous Grouse blended Scotch in the UK.

There have been more, not least Pernod's rebranding of Montana wine to Brancott Estate, a relaunch of Constellation's Da Luca wine brand in the UK and a facelift for Luxardo's Limoncello, also in the UK.

This spate of marketing activity has caught our attention here at just-drinks. As a diligent bunch, we make a point of asking companies not only what, but also why changes are taking place.

Often, we could write the answer before we have received it; pepper the words quality, heritage and stand-out into a sentence and you're just about there.

But, perhaps there is something deeper going on here. We know already that most of the major wine and spirits firms, including Pernod, Diageo, Brown-Forman, Beam Global (the list goes on..) have said that they plan to increase advertising and promotion spend this year.

After 18 months of thrift in these firms' marketing departments, creative types have once again been unleashed in 2010. It is possible, then, that this burst of rebranding activity is another sign of optimism that economies are improving in key markets.

Cautious optimism would probably be a better - if not over-worn - phrase in these post-recessionary times.

However, optimism on market growth is not the whole story. There has been a fundamental shift in consumer values in many mature markets towards core messages of heritage, novelty, individuality and, although it sounds obvious, quality.

Much of the rebranding taking place reflects this trend. Chivas Brothers said today that it wants the new Aberlour to have "prestige credentials" without "becoming ostentatious" - rough paper has been used for the canister and label.

For Brown-Forman's Chambord, notionally a super-premium brand, the firm has stripped out much of the bottle's 'bling', plumping instead for a lower-key, simplistic yet sleek design.

Diageo said its new Smirnoff seeks to "encapsulate the premium, heritage and purity cues" of the brand. Its past position as a supplier to the Imperial Russian Court has been clearly flagged up on the label.

Rebranding, then, may signal greater optimism in the sector, but it is also a sign that many drinks companies think consumers are looking for something different following the global economic malaise.  

Jeremy Lindley, global design director at Diageo, told journalists at a briefing this week that the company is working to four key themes on its branding: provenance, heritage, personality and quality.

Food for thought.