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Ladies are all the rage in the drinks industry, it would appear. With product launches in beer, soft drinks and spirits targetting the fairer sex, it would appear that the female of the species is in the spotlight. But, Richard Woodard is unimpressed - and he's got Diageo in his crosshairs.


The specialist, female-centric marketing consultancy Pretty Little Head was apparently formed after a meeting in which a male creative director came up with the following strategy to make a product more attractive to women: “Re-do the print material in pink.” 

Looking at a couple of recent product launches, I’m not sure the drinks industry has moved on much from this patronising, prehistoric nadir. Although I’m not here to talk about soft drinks, I can’t let this pass: In the UK, AG Barr, the producer of Irn Bru and Tizer, has launched what it claims to be the first energy drink targeted specifically at women.

It’s called Rockstar Pink, it’s dressed in predictable Barbie colours and each can has got only ten calories in it – so it won’t even make you fat, honey. Then, earlier this week, Molson Coors' UK arm unveiled Animee, a 4% abv bottled beer also targeting women.

Then, over the pond, Diageo got in on the act this month. Qream is described as “an ultra-premium cream liqueur” (which, speaking as someone who recently took part in a blind tasting of cream liqueurs, strikes me as a contradiction in terms). More centrally to this discussion, it’s meant for women – or, as Diageo puts it, “developed with a specific demographic of North American women in mind, and forms part of Diageo’s ongoing strategy to tap into this growing market”.

Why is Diageo doing this? Because, as the company points out, “one out of every three alcoholic drinks sold today is consumed by a woman”. To which I’m tempted to say that they should be launching products more suited to the needs of the people who consume two out of every three alcoholic drinks sold.

Or – and here’s a novel idea – they could just focus on coming up with new launches that are targeted at people. Other than products that are exclusively used by one gender or another, are the world’s most successful brands “men’s” products or “women’s” products? Coke? Mars? VW? Apple? 

I simply don’t accept the premise that Diageo needs to create drinks products “developed specifically for women”. Sure, for historical and cultural reasons, many of its brands will have a male consumer bias, but mainstream brands such as Smirnoff and Gordon’s have already moved well beyond the male-centred marketing of yesteryear. 

Anyway, even if we accept the premise that women in the US are screaming out for their own cream liqueur, is this really the way to go about meeting that demand? Qream’s packaging, in girly peach and pink, is about as clichéd and frankly patronising as it gets. 

But hang on a moment. Should we be surprised? After all, who is the proto-feminist whose expertise the world’s biggest drinks company has called upon in order to formulate this ground-breaking product? The spirit of Gertrude Stein? Germaine Greer? Oprah Winfrey? 

No, instead they’ve plumped for the man who has compared the bottom (or I should say “ass”) of his beloved to both a “volleyball” and a “loaf of bread”. The rapper who joined Jay-Z to perform a song with the distinctly female-friendly lyrics: “You ain’t even gotta do the dishes – got two dishwashers.” Lovely. 

Pharrell Williams is primarily a rapper, singer/songwriter and record producer but, as with Sean Combs (Diageo’s “creative partner” for Cîroc vodka), he has moved beyond music to launch apparel lines, collaborate with Louis Vuitton and even design a rather eye-catching chair with Domeau & Pères that recreates a particular sexual position.

Sounds like the perfect person for the job. 

Diageo has apparently hired Williams for his “unique vision”, and not at all because he simply delivers a celebrity association that will help an essentially half-baked product to realise a certain level of sales. 

Williams himself, meanwhile, has transcended rap’s typically macho and misogynistic roots to do a bit of deep thinking of its own on feminist issues. “Women make up half the population and Qream is about celebrating that power,” he says. Revolutionary stuff. 

In the end, will Qream work? I suspect not, despite the likely initial sales spike on the back of lots of showbiz parties and celebrity-drenched launches around the US. 

And is it even really a cream liqueur? It’s 99% lactose-free, so the “cream” descriptor seems a little odd; and it’s 12.5% abv, so it’s got less alcohol than the majority of Chardonnays on the market. 

Qream’s publicity describes it as “one-of-a-kind” and “created by an inspired alliance” between Diageo and Williams. To me, it looks rather more like a dog’s breakfast, and quite possibly the result of giving a celebrity too much say in NPD, when it should be the prime responsibility of, I don’t know, maybe a drinks company? 

But then again, what do I know? After all, I’m not a woman.

Sectors: Spirits

Companies: Diageo, Molson Coors, AG Barr, Coke, Smirnoff

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