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The Anatomy of an Idea – Marketing Innovation

David Gluckman reflects on his role in creating such legendary drinks brands as Baileys and Smirnoff Black, as well as a few that got away. Solo efforts, he concludes, are much better than focus-group fudges

Having spent almost all of my business life creating ideas for new products, it has been interesting to look back on how these ideas happened. When you think about it, the actual moment of insight takes all of a nano-second. But the foreplay leading up to it can take a lifetime.

The idea for Baileys was probably more logical and linear than most people might imagine. It was born a decade before launch in 1963, when I worked as an advertising account executive on Kerrygold Butter, which was run by the legendary Tony O’Reilly.

During that experience, I learned how people perceived Ireland and Irish-ness – green pastures, healthy dairy cattle and luscious butter and cream. Baileys was the answer to the question “How can we create an alcoholic Kerrygold?” It was the only idea presented and did not come from a brainstorming session. And working with Dr O’Reilly also prompted the use of an Anglo-Irish name, because he felt that traditional Irish names, like his own, sounded “stagey”. And those who can remember the original Baileys labelling will recall the pastoral Kerrygold-type motif on the package.

Another cream liqueur, Sheridan’s, started with the simple objective that a new product from Baileys should not come across as “coffee-flavoured Baileys”. It should be discernibly different. The stroke of luck came when I saw a pint of Guinness being pulled in the bar at Dublin airport. I asked for a pint when I met the client and when it came, explained that you could drink the coffee (dark part), through the cream (white part). It was a very short meeting!

An idea that, sadly, didn’t make it, came out of a brief to add value to French brandy. There was Cognac and Armagnac, from specific regions of France, but brandy could come from anywhere. The idea came after looking (desperately) at a Bordeaux wine bottle late at night. This triggered the thought “If great wine comes from Bordeaux, why not great brandy?” We developed Fontaine Bordeaux Brandy, in a beautiful frosted claret bottle, but couldn’t find an enthusiastic buyer.
Ideas can often come from the tiniest, seemingly most irrelevant fragments of information.  In 1990 we were called upon to create a new premium Smirnoff vodka to be sourced from Moscow. The brand was returning home as a result of glasnost.

The idea for the vodka came from a simple date, “1818”, that was blind-embossed on old Smirnoff Red bottles. This was the year that the family started making vodka for the Czars.

Now vodka, these days, is usually made in a continuous or column still. But it had not been invented (by an Irishman, Aeneas Coffey) until 1831. This meant that original “1818” Smirnoff vodka must have been made in a pot still, of the kind used to make whisky and Cognac. That was the basis for the new vodka.

Smirnoff Black was made in the Cristall distillery in Moscow, in a pot still bought in Scotland and shipped to Russia. And the pay-off to the consumer was perceptibly smoother vodka, achieved through this process. Here was a tiny fragment leading to a potentially big idea.

Contrary to popular belief, you do occasionally get ideas from distillery visits. Tanqueray Number Ten came from seeing dried botanicals – juniper, coriander et al – lying about in sacks on a distillery floor. “Can you make gin out of fresh botanicals?” was the question and the answer was a fresher-tasting gin.

Another “eureka” moment took about eight years to gestate. I was with a colleague, Adrian Walker, visiting the Saradzihvili brandy distillery in Tbilisi, Georgia. We noticed a plaque stating that this was the first brandy distillery in Georgia and it was founded in 1888. To show interest, I asked the question “What did Georgians drink before 1888?” The answer was “Vodka”, though this begged the question “What was it made from?” (not much grain in Georgia).

“Our vodka is made from grapes and we call it Cha-Cha.”

Some years later, Adrian headed up Diageo Brand Innovation in the US and we were looking for a premium vodka to compete with Grey Goose. “Remember Georgia?” I asked and he did, and Cîroc Grape Vodka was born.  We were looking to create a completely new type of vodka, and one made from grapes, not grain, fitted the bill.
One of my favourite ideas was one created out of absolutely nothing. The brief was to develop a “fighting” Scotch brand to compete in the lower reaches of the market. It had to be bog-standard Scotch, non-aged, in a standard bottle, with a standard label shape. The idea came from a bar of Cadbury’s chocolate on my kitchen table. Why not a Scotch with a purple label? The idea was mauled in research across Europe because Scotch doesn’t come in purple labels – precisely the point of the idea. It was eventually grabbed by a couple of entrepreneurs from Thailand who took it to two million cases. It was called Spey Royal.

An idea from outside the drinks industry was inspired by a visit to New York in 1974. I was sitting on my bed in the hotel watching television and saw an ad for Arm & Hammer Baking Soda. In it, they extolled the virtues of A&H as a fridge deodoriser! You take a pack, open it, put it in the fridge and hey presto! No more kipper-flavoured milk.

1974 was a tough year, and I decided that it would be interesting to work up the Arm & Hammer idea, turn it into a specialist brand – not just a cardboard box – and see whether we could sell it to an interested client. Our resident designer, Bob Wagner, who incidentally designed the original Baileys pack, came up with the inspired idea of putting our magic ingredient into a blue egg which would fit into the egg compartment in the fridge. We didn’t manage to sell the idea, so did it for ourselves and it was successful enough to have been bought by Dylon a decade ago. And it is still around!

I would hope that all of these ideas were incredibly simple in essence and could be communicated in a very short paragraph to an intelligent and understanding client.

The so-called modern method of running several Chardonnay-fuelled workshops and brainstorming sessions invariably produces long lists of half-baked idle speculations. The best ideas are still individual responses.  db June 2006

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