In our first Just the Answer interview of 2007, Dean Best spoke with Nick Blacknell, brand director for Beefeater at Pernod Ricard subsidiary Chivas Brothers, about the company's ambitious re-launch of the established gin brand it acquired as part of the Allied takeover in 2005.

J-D: What did Chivas Brothers find when it inherited Beefeater?

Blacknell: On the plus side, we inherited a good position in Spain. It's always been a strong brand in Spain; that's our lead market and it's the second-largest gin market in Europe. In other markets, there had been under-investment, so Beefeater lost some of its image, particularly in the US. To some degree, Tanqueray and (Bombay) Sapphire had taken share from Beefeater in the US.

J-D: What was Chivas' view of the fundamentals of the Beefeater brand?

Blacknell: The packaging wasn't as premium as it should be; it was in lightweight glass and in the premium sector it's normal to have heavier, more premium (blown) glass. The labelling could have been more premium and there was also an issue with shelf stand-out because being a clear (transparent) label it didn't stand out as well as paper labels.

The brand historically had had two positions globally. It had a younger target audience in Spain and an older audience in the US. One thing we had to do was reconcile those differences and come up with a single, global platform for the brand.

J-D: So from that point, what have you done to try to revitalise the brand?

Blacknell: The first thing we did was to say: "What's going to be our positioning?" The obvious thing to position the brand around was its London heritage. Beefeater is the last of the major gin brands still made in London. If you think about it, there are very few spirits distilled in cities, so we could have a cool, trendy, urban persona. But we had to test whether our supposition was right and whether people in other countries had a positive view of London, and secondly, whether Beefeater could be viewed as the London brand.

J-D: What did consumers say?

Blacknell: The result was a very positive yes; particularly in Europe, London was hugely aspirational. Even in the US, which tends to be less up on trends, American consumers really perceived that there was a new London and it was not a traditional place but a hip place to visit.

J-D: What else have you done to breathe life back into Beefeater?

Blacknell: We looked to premiumise the pack, so we've gone back into heavyweight glass. We've redone the label to premiumise it and improve stand-out. We've gone for a much crisper, heavier, better embossed bottle, which just gives a much more premium feel. We've updated the Beefeater; we've cleaned him up, made him a bit more modern, improved his stance. Overall, we're really, really pleased with the pack. We've kept the iconic status but brought it into the 21st century.

J-D: What work have you done on the advertising front?

Blacknell: Advertising is the other big thing; again, the whole campaign is built around London. What makes London really attractive to people is a mixture of the modern - the trends, the music, the fashion - and the traditional. That's really unique to London and, if you think about it, it's unique to gin because gin is a white spirit, it's drunk like vodka in long drinks and in Spain it's a trendy spirit. But, at the same time, gin is a 200-year-old brand. Luckily, what's key about London - the mixture of the old and new - is key about gin. They dovetail very nicely and the advertising really captures that spirit of old and new.

J-D: What is the target demographic for Beefeater?

Blacknell: It does vary by market. The core consumer in Spain is under 35, in the US, probably over 40. What we feel is by positioning the brand around London, actually age ceases to be an issue because London is aspirational. It's aspirational for different reasons for someone in their 20s and someone in their 60s. It's less about trendiness and more about injecting a real provenance, a bit of gravitas behind the brand.

Having said that, we are aiming younger than we have been in the US because we've got to recruit new consumers. We're not going to alienate older consumers with a London proposition but we can use it to bring in people in their 20s, 30s, 40s.

J-D: How successful have spirits producers been at marketing premium gins?

Blacknell: It's been a successful category; if you ask anyone to name 10 new, premium brands that have been successful, Sapphire is in there, so there has been good development in premium gin. Beefeater is 2.3m cases worldwide, which is a substantial premium brand. The gin category has been as good as any other category at marketing premium but there's always room to do better and take more share of standard sales.

J-D: Who within the premium gin segment do you see as your main competitors and how do you seek to set Beefeater apart from the competitive set?

Blacknell: Sapphire and Tanqueray are the two main competitors but what Beefeater has over them is the whole provenance story. It's from London. If you think about Sapphire, some people think it's Indian, some people think it's English, some people think it's American. Tanqueray is vaguely international. What we're doing is putting a stake in the ground and saying we're the authentic London gin and that's great from a quality point of view and an image point of view. The very best brands mix image and heritage.

J-D: But to what extent are bartenders and consumers of premium spirits moving away from vodka to gin?

Blacknell: It's very hard to find a bartender who says they drink vodka anymore; they're all saying they drink gin and other categories like Bourbon, Scotch, rum. Consumers are lagging behind to some extent but history has shown that whenever bartenders champion new things in time consumers will follow.

J-D: What needs to be done for consumers to make that jump?

Nick Blacknell, brand director Beefeater

Blacknell: Education definitely helps. With vodka, you go to the US and people clearly understand the product differences. It's really been drilled into them by vodka producers and gin needs to learn a lesson from that. Gin also needs to break beyond the gin and tonic. For example, in Spain, all our sampling is done with Sprite not tonic, just to promote new ways of drinking. In Spain, the trendy white spirit is gin. Allied (Domecq) spent money on Beefeater in Spain and it became the white spirit of choice, which goes to show that if you put investment and education behind it, you can change anything. People get hung up on gin and say: "It's an old-fashioned category" but you don't have to be hidebound by tradition.

J-D: The US is the world's largest gin market. How is Beefeater performing there and what are the brand's prospects across the Atlantic?

Blacknell: Beefeater has slipped. At one time, it was the largest-selling premium gin in the US but Tanqueray and particularly Sapphire have come in and taken that position. The competitors were more proactive and that's what we're going to redress. We're going to spend more money, introduce good advertising and have a really clear positioning versus the competitors. Within Pernod Ricard, Beefeater is a priority brand and there is a real hunger and desire from the US team to resurrect it in the US. They're ambitious - we want our share back.

J-D: What about globally, markets in Asia for instance?

Blacknell: We think there's potential in China; it's such a fast-growing market. Like in Spain, the drinking patterns there aren't necessarily set. There's a developing vodka sector, Tequila is starting to make inroads; like any market it's going to develop and we need to make sure gin gets a share of that. Russia is great for us, sales are up 31%, and it's a really burgeoning luxury goods, imported spirits market.