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Baileys Irish Cream: “It could have been bigger. It still can.”

Author and drinks inventor David Gluckman was part of the team that created Baileys Irish Cream in 1973. It now sells roughly 82 million bottles a year in more than 160 countries. But did gendered marketing get in the way of even greater success? The spirits trade veteran looks back on his time working with the brand.

(photo: Ferhatt Matt/iStock)

We developed Baileys Irish Cream 45 years ago for a small outpost of IDV (now Diageo) called Gilbeys of Ireland. They loved the idea and bought it at our first presentation.

They made a few changes and then ran with it. They still are.

Last year Baileys was valued at £1.6 billion at retail. And all cream liqueurs are valued at £3.5 billion. In the lead up to the presentation, there were a couple of focus groups. One loud-mouthed respondent in the male group described Baileys as a “woman’s drink”. The other men in the group agreed with him.

That mindless remark has formed the cornerstone of Baileys’ strategy for the next 45 years. Its ultimate affirmation of this was the sponsorship of the Woman’s Prize for Fiction. Nothing wrong with that. But it clearly concedes that Baileys is a woman’s drink.

But why? That alienates about 50% of the population. Why shouldn’t men like a drink made with cream, chocolate and Irish whiskey – the “original ingredients”?

Now I don’t claim to have seen every campaign for Baileys in every country. But I can recall two campaigns for Baileys, one in the US and one in the UK, where Baileys’ ‘women only’ fixation was put aside. In the US, Baileys was launched in 1976 as ‘The Impossible Cream’. The ad showed the pack and the product, and talked about the delicious taste delivered by the mixture of Irish cream and Irish whiskey. It was all about product, not people. There was no apparent target group. No over-analytical proposition.

And it worked. Baileys became, and still is, a major player in the US market.

Then in 1986 the famous ‘Cat’ commercial for Baileys appeared in the UK. It showed a couple returning from a night out, relaxing with a glass of Baileys.  Shots of the couple sipping are interspersed with footage of a cat lapping languorously at a bowl of cream.  The scene is accompanied by a slow, atmospheric classical score.

It was all about the product and beautifully captured the experience of sipping Baileys as the couple relaxed and wound down late at night. The ad showed a woman, and a man, delighting in the experience.

I call this focus on the product, its ingredients and the experience of drinking it ‘Benefit Out’.  No over-analytical psychological stuff. No sophisticated target grouping. Just talk about the drink itself and why it’s different.

For two brief periods in Baileys’ history, they had it.  And they even flaunted it.

They could do it again.

  • You can read more of Gluckman’s views on drinks brands and what works in his whirlwind tour down the back bar in That Sh*t Will Never Sell.

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