Five brilliant failures from the creator of Baileys
The drinks industry is awash with clever ideas that never become mainstream brands – and here we bring you five brilliant failures from the creator of Baileys.
Taken from a new book called That s*it will never sell!, written by David Gluckman, we look at some of the drinks concepts created over the past 30 years that may have been brilliant, but ultimately failed.
With humour and honesty, Gluckman considers the history of brands he worked on during his 40 years in the drinks industry in a newly-published work, which he describes as “a book about ideas by the person who had them”.
Providing the “real story behind Baileys Irish Cream”, Gluckman also tells the history of this great label along with other memorable brands he worked on, from Le Piat d’Or, Aqua Libra, Tanqueray Ten, and Cîroc, among many others.
And he also frankly outlines the failures, those labels that were never adopted by the parent company that commissioned them, or the distributors that should have promoted them.
However, just because these ideas weren’t pushed, doesn’t mean they don’t have still have a potential in the market today, so read on for five brilliant failures, selected by the drinks business from Gluckman’s book.
Meanwhile, to read their story in full, and much more, order That s*it will never sell! by clicking here.
Having worked on the hugely successful IDV wine brand Le Piat d’Or, which was introduced to the UK in 1974 with packaging inspired by Benson & Hedges cigarettes, 20 years later David Gluckman was involved in another wine branding brainstorm, although this time, the brilliant idea never went mainstream.
After leafing through a document detailing US varietal wine regulations in the early 90s, Gluckman’s attention was piqued by a line noting, ‘For bottles labelled varietal, at least 75% of the wine therein must be of that varietal’.
Gluckman was inspired by the idea of playing with the other 25%. And, because this was at the height of demand for Chardonnay, he pondered, what if you blend 25% of a red wine like Pinot Noir to the white grape? You would get red Chardonnay…
He writes, “Imagine someone walking along the red wine aisle in a supermarket and seeing the word Chardonnay writ large on a red wine bottle. I was in love with the thought.”
Gluckman continues, “I had two visions for red Chardonnay: the first was the commercial vision. Create a red Chardonnay which, if you tasted it with your eyes closed, you would be convinced it was a white Chardonnay.
“The second was a potential ego trip – for the wine makers: this would be a sophisticated blend of Chardonnay with red wine, or with added red skins, that would win someone an award for innovation. They had the opportunity to create an entirely new variety.”
Although he says that the wine makers were “only moderately interested in the idea”, two wines were produced from brands in the IDV stable, both based on a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir: one from Sterling Vineyards and the other from BV (Beaulieu Vineyards).
Admitting that both have now vanished from sight, he concludes, “I still think red Chardonnay is a good idea”.
J&B goes sub-zero
Inspired by a gin martini served frozen, straight from the freezer, in a bar “somewhere in the US” around 15 years ago, Gluckman came up with a novel idea for Scotch that sadly never made it past the boardroom.
Recalling the effect of the extreme chill on the cocktail, he writes, “The gin was deliciously oily and viscous and the flavours of juniper, coriander and vermouth seemed to explode and envelope my tongue. It was a whole new glorious sensual experience. How might it work for a whisky?”
Gluckman tested the idea at home, storing Scotch in his freezer, and tasting it with friends. “The results were interesting and quite unexpected,” he records.
He notes that when frozen, “smokier, phenolic Johnnie Walker blends seemed to deliver a much smoother, softer result” – although he had originally thought that the “sweeter, estery J&B style” would have been more successful.
Nevertheless, the idea had been to develop a new “super-premium” product for J&B in the Korean market, “the local company having made a huge success of J&B Jet”.
Gluckman named the whisky J&B Sub-Zero and enlisted “brilliant designer” Gordon Smith, who created “a gorgeous bottle with a platinum label”.
Gluckman then flew with J&B business manager for Korea Guy Escolme to Korea to present it to local representatives: “25 executives, all dressed in dark navy suits”.
Gluckman then writes, “Guy and I retired to the bar after the presentation… we waited about an hour before S G Ryu, our local representative, appeared. We were all agog. ‘How did they like it?’ I asked excitedly. Ryu eventually blurted out, ‘They hated it’.
Gluckman later acknowledges the launch of Snow Grouse: a Scotch from The Famous Grouse brand that was designed to be served frozen, and launched in the UK.
However, he writes, “I’m not sure they put much drive behind it. I remain convinced that, if the technical challenge had been pursued, we could have emerged with the world’s best frozen Scotch.”
A shot at beating Bacardi
Invited by IDV in 1985 to create “an idea for a white rum that might really attack Bacardi,” Gluckman looked for a chink in the latter brand’s armour.
Having done a couple of focus groups, he learned that Bacardi was “about tropical paradises with palm trees”, and it was “perceptibly sweeter than vodka” – and “very sweet indeed” when blended with Coke, while, “at 38% alcohol it was below the standard level for stronger spirits”.
In short, Gluckman discovered that Bacardi had “strong feminine appeal”, so he decided to devise a new rum with a strong masculine persona.
This would be done by creating something “significantly drier in taste” as well as “higher in alcohol”, and, in terms of source, a rum from Australia: “Australia was about as macho as you could get and it had recently been put on the map by the film Crocodile Dundee which was taking America by storm.
The new rum, which would be made from freshly-pressed cane juice, not “treacly molasses like Bacardi”, would be called Stubbs – which was “a name from our archive”.
“The design, by the late Howard Waller, was stunning”, adds Gluckman.
However, the IDV team “failed to engage the local Australian company in selling it in their market, which would be the Stubbs homeland. That was a major error.”
“Perhaps the bigger error was not engaging the key target market, the US, in any stage of this process,” he then says.
“The Americans were never really on board and so for Stubbs, the music died. The Bacardi people could relax, for a while anyway. A pity, really. It was such a good idea.”
The think drink
IDV didn’t just have Bacardi in its sights: the drinks giant also wanted to take on energy drink phenomenon Red Bull.
“It was an interesting challenge,” writes Gluckman. …”the idea of going head-on against a strong competitor with a ‘me-too’ product is fraught with problems. You must have a strong competitive edge that will attract at least some of the target brand’s consumers. Or instead of competing head-on, you can compete with part of the entrenched brand.”
Taking the latter approach, Gluckman opted to isolate the appeal of ‘mental energy’, as opposed to Red Bull’s position as “the brand for physical energy”.
Continuing, he records, “Red Bull could go on stimulating the body but our brand would focus on the mind. We called our brand IQ and described it as ‘The Think Drink’.”
Having come up with a “vibrant metallic yellow” for the brand, and a bottle shape inspired by Purdey’s, Gluckman says that IQ “had huge personality as a kind of nerdish Big Brother starting out at you from a supermarket shelf.”
Concluding, he writes, “I was bitterly disappointed that it never got off the drawing board. In fact it never got onto it.”
However, he notes that today Red Bull talks about mental energy, “which suggests that we may have been onto something”.
“There are times in a career when you have an idea, inspect it, and marvel at its pure simplicity,” writes Gluckman.
Speaking about his Distilled Guinness brand, which he describes as “possibly my favourite idea ever”, he says that “Everything came together in a few seconds and the solution appeared to be perfect. Unfortunately, I was the only person who felt that way. So this new drink never materialised.”
Gluckman’s light bulb moment occurred just after the merger betwseen IDV and GuinnessUD in 1997 when the newly-combined company’s technical team met to consider the creation of a Guinness whisky.
Having attended a “large gathering” to discuss the idea, Gluckman told the attendees “that to be true to the Guinness DNA you would need to do an Irish whiskey” which presented a problem.
The supplies of Irish whiskey were mostly owned by competitor business Pernod Ricard, and so, he writes, if the new company (Diageo) bought whisky from Pernod, it would be “using the powerful Guinness name to take business from its Scotch whisky.”
Continuing, he records, “And then it happened… if you know anything about whisky distillation you realise that the first stage in the process is fermentation. You actually make a beer – and then you distil it. That was the answer. We wouldn’t do a Guinness whisky at all. We would simply take Guiness and distil it.”
Sadly for Gluckman, however, the idea “vanished into the maw of what was becoming an enormous corporation and was never seen again. Well not in my time.”
Nevertheless, he adds, “I remain convinced that the idea of distilled beer is a very exciting proposition.”
And finally… why did these five ideas fail? David Gluckman explains…
There is an interesting collection of reasons for the failure of these ideas.
Are winemakers conservative by nature, therefore resisting ‘novel ideas’ like Red Chardonnay?
Stubbs was clearly a failure in politics: ‘star chamber’ innovation where the key market personnel were completely by-passed was a formula for disaster, no matter how good the idea might have been.
J&B Sub-Zero bombed in Korea because the local people were obsessed with age statements. They wanted a 17 year-old J&B. And, like many other traditional marketers, they said that Koreans didn’t drink their whisky frozen!
As for IQ and Distilled Guinness, these were off-the-wall ideas that didn’t fit a company that was consolidating and preparing for growth. They were highly experimental and that kind of innovation was off the agenda at the time. Maybe their time will come again. Or some other company might have a look.
David Gluckman was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa on 1 November 1938, the day Sea Biscuit and War Admiral fought out the race of the century at Pimlico Park, Baltimore. Educated in Johannesburg, he joined a local advertising agency after university and soon fell in love with the business.
He made the pilgrimage to London in 1961 and worked as an account executive on Procter & Gamble, Kerrygold, Lyons teas and several Unilever accounts. Always a frustrated copywriter, he escaped into product development in 1969, met a man from IDV and his life changed forever. He lives in London with his partner, Barbara Bryant, has one daughter, Romany Turner, and a grandson, Marlo.