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Celebrity brands ‘precarious’ says man behind Baileys

As the number of celebrity-backed brands increases, Baileys co-creator David Gluckman tells db that personality-driven products can gain “immediate coverage”, but have a “precarious” future.

Instant solution or precarious and pricy? Diageo buys Ryan Reynolds’ Aviation American Gin in deal worth $610m

In a discussion this week with the drinks business, Gluckman, an expert marketer and experienced brand builder, expressed his surprise at the decision by big drinks groups to pay large sums for celebrity-backed spirits when, in his view, their longterm success is not assured.

Considering the decision by Diageo last year to buy Ryan Reynolds’ Aviation American Gin in deal worth $610m, Gluckman questioned whether the drink would retain its brand strength without the actor’s support, suggesting that it was a high price to pay for a label that didn’t have what he believed is a secure future.

“The personality outweighs the brand; what happens if you take the personality away?” he asked.

Continuing, he said, “If you look at personality brands [of today], then there’s not much in terms of product point of difference; so, if I’m a Ryan Reynolds fanatic, then I’ll buy Aviation gin, but if you take that away, then what’s special about the gin? And what does Ryan Reynolds know about distilling?”

Turning his attention to George Clooney, who sold his Casamigos Tequila brand to Diageo for US$1 billion in 2017, Gluckman expressed a similar concern.

“So Clooney and his mates like Tequila, but there’s nothing that says, ‘Clooney drops dead, what’s in it for me?’”

Looking back to earlier this century, he mentioned the failure of musician Pharrell Williams Qream brand, which Diageo axed after buying it due to poor sales.

“It was the blingiest cream liqueur ever produced, but what was the benefit? A lot of brands are totally absorbed with process… Celebrity brands can be precarious,” he said.

“To me it’s a cop out: the celebrity gives you a tremendous amount of immediate coverage, but what’s underneath that, what’s the brand about beyond the celebrity status?”

Continuing, he said, “A celebrity will get you distribution, but if you take away the personality, then what have you got? It’s got to be more than a process, it’s got to be a product that you buy for something.”

Gluckman, now in his 80s, spent 36 years developing brands at IDV/Diageo, and is responsible for creating products from Baileys to Aqua Libra and Sheridan’s to Tanqueray Ten; more recently, he wrote a book loosely based on his career in marketing, called That S*it Will Never Sell.

Looking back, he said that many of the brands he worked on had clear product benefits.

“Tanqueray 10 was intended to be presented as the world’s first gin made from fresh botanicals, which meant that it has a fresher, cleaner taste than other gins – it made the perfect Martini,” he said, before mourning the fact that the advertising agency didn’t think that such a clear product benefit was “sexy enough” for marketing the brand.

But he also addressed the topic of cost when it comes to product development versus brand acquisitions, pointing out that creating a label like Baileys was a more profitable and secure solution than buying a celebrity brand for a high price.

Speaking about recent Diageo acquisitions, like those mentioned above, he said, “It seems to be a very expensive way of doing things,” commenting that even if one aggregated the expense of developing the 11 brands he worked on during his time at IDV/Diageo, “I doubt whether they cost 1% of buying Casamigos.”

In contrast, Sheridan’s Irish cream liqueur, which was launched in 1994, “has been making money for 30 years, and the last time I looked, it was turning over $98 million; it sold 305,000 cases in 2019, it’s been generating income for 30 years.”

He then said, “And Baileys is a different story, it’s enormous, and continues to be, turning over more than $1bn in 2019 – so there’s a point in developing your own brands, and these were all done in IDV corporate cultures, and cost less than 1% of Casamigos.”

Finally, he said, illustrating the risk of acquiring celebrity-backed brands, such as Diageo’s $1bn purchase of Casamigos Tequila, “George Clooney is 60 years old, and in 10 year’s time, it may a case of George who?”

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