H2O-NO: Maker’s waters-down its iconic brand

Reports of a decision by Maker’s Mark to add water to its signature bourbon in order to meet increased global demand have circulated online among drinkers in recent days. If my circle of friends is in anyway representative of a broader audience, it’s safe to say that the announcement has elicited a substantial amount of consternation, anger, and criticism. I’ve not heard of anyone burning their Ambassador’s Card yet, but the reaction has been overwhelmingly negative.

Maker’s has always been one of my very favorite brands. It’s a Kentucky-made product with iconic packaging and print advertising by Louisville agency Doe-Anderson (the horrendous TV ads they’ve produced the past few years are a very different story, but that’s another conversation), a place where I interned a century ago and where I had the good fortune of riding an elevator a couple floors with the very funny and foul-mouthed Maker’s Mark Master Distiller Bill Samuels, Jr. (now retired).

Samuels’s devotion to quality and consistency–and his acute marketing savvy–were the catalysts of the brand’s tremendous growth over three decades. An ad (posted below) produced in response to a spike in demand following a fortuitous 1980 WSJ article thanked drinkers for their interest, but conceded that the time-consuming nature of distilling, aging, and bottling Maker’s Mark didn’t lend itself to ramped-up mass production of the bourbon. This was, of course, partly true, but also a great way to spin the fact that Maker’s simply hadn’t yet grown large enough to produce enough volume to distribute outside of Kentucky. However, Samuels’s response cemented Maker’s position as a premium, hand-made, authentic bourbon and led to the formation of a cult of rabid brand enthusiasts. I suppose that’s much of the reason so many Maker’s drinkers are feeling plenty betrayed right now.

Image“We were very pleased on August 1st to find a story about our little family distillery on the front page of The Wall Street Journal.

As a result of the story, we’re getting calls from people all over the country who are ‘suddenly’ interested in buying Maker’s Mark.

And as much as we’d like to accommodate all the inquiring public, we’re concerned that we can’t. Quality is what makes Maker’s Mark special. And if we made much more than we did, well, it just wouldn’t be the Maker’s Mark you read about.

If our special bourbon whisky isn’t available where you live, you might need a little perseverance. If your local retailer doesn’t have it, he can order it for you.

Or, if you’d prefer, write us at Maker’s Mark. We’ll get you started on the right avenue toward finding this one-of-a-kind whisky.”

Super Bowl ad review: Sodastream strategy falls flat

Sodastream wants people to buy one of its soft drink makers because it will help save the environment by eliminating lots of plastic bottles. Sounds nice, but will it sell the $80 machine? Doubtful. We’ve known for years that plastic bottles are an environmental disaster but that hasn’t affected the beverage industry in the least. Bottled water sales have steadily increased despite campaigns to sell $5 reusable bottles and to install fillers in offices and other places of business. This article¬†points out that Americans are consuming more bottled water than ever. And this website notes that Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles per hour. In short, nobody really gives a rat’s ass about eliminating plastic bottles.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Sodastream’s sales won’t increase. It’s a neat machine that plenty of people will want to sit next to the KitchenAid mixer and Keurig coffee maker to impress house guests. But had it been positioned using a deprivation strategy (think of the original Got Milk? campaign), I think its post-Super Bowl sales bump would have been outstanding. Instead of talking about environmental pollution, the spot should have shown someone needing to whip up a fresh drink in the kitchen to seal the deal after a hot date but coming up short because his week-old cola poured out like cough syrup and had no bubbles.

The Sodastream could be the hero in a great many situations when someone doesn’t have time to run to the store or vending machine or doesn’t want to because it’s cold or rainy or late or whatever other reason. People could readily identify with those scenarios. Who hasn’t cooked a pizza only to realize that the Coke you planned to wash it down with was completely flat?

Thoughts on a visual comm nightmare

We’re all familiar with the red and blue electoral college maps that appear in news reports about this time every four years. In 2000–the year that the Supreme Court elected W–the final map looked like this:

Keep in mind that the final electoral vote count was 271 for Bush and 266 for Gore, about as close to dead even as it could have been. (Gore won the popular vote, as well as a proper recount, but those are other issues altogether.)

The problem these maps present then–for Democrats at least–is that they represent a near 50/50 split as an apparent red state landslide. Obviously, using a map with individual states scaled to represent their physical size and not their population size (the basis of how many electoral votes the state gets) is the culprit. The bigger issue relates somewhat to a tenet of Spiral of Silence theory which holds that when people perceive the masses as moving some direction, they tend to move in the same direction. Consequently, I believe electoral college maps are part of the reason that many people believe the country is made up overwhelmingly of Republicans.

So my question–and I’m looking squarely at the DNC and media outlets such as Huffington Post and MSNBC–is, why in the hell hasn’t someone figured out a better way to visually represent an electoral map by showing each state sized proportionally to its population instead of its area? Can the DNC not afford a copy of InDesign and a freelance graphic designer?


Shouldn’t a beer or spirits marketer save the bar car?

Assuming that the information in the article is accurate, the New York City bar car may soon go the way of the caboose. And that makes this drinker’s little heart sad, sad, sad.

Thus, one could reasonably deduce that an opportunity for some brave marketing boss to play hero to a lot of commuters exists. Surely there’s an adventurous soul or two somewhere in America brave enough to build a bar car worthy of NYC. And unlike many programs, he or she could measure the exact value of the program since his/her brand(s) would have exclusive rights to sell beverages on said bar car. Hell, with all the train-related imagery that Coors uses, I can’t believe they haven’t already designed a Silver Bullet bar car and approached MTA and the public. It would be a marketing coup.

Think I’m nuts? Apple saw value ($4 million worth) in transit marketing when it partnered with Chicago Transit Authority to renovate a Red Line station. And let’s face it, that company knows a thing or two about selling its products and inspiring brand allegiance. That story, and accompanying photos, can be found here.

Make mine a double, Jim. The wife and kids are out of town for the week.

The agency internship. Or, how to spend your summer working your ass off for no pay, benefits, or appreciation.

I’m going to Bruce Lee Kick the next agency boss that I hear complaining about not being able to find competent, talented entry-level staff. Is anyone really surprised that the kids at the top of their classes don’t have any interest in working for companies that barely pay above minimum wage, don’t invest in furthering their employees’ education, and don’t think twice about canning the small fish when upper management loses an account?
It’s no wonder that many regard agency staffers as second-rate compared to the client-side folks who enjoy larger salaries, better benefits, and frequently earn graduate credit and/or degrees on their employer’s dime.
This disparity extends all the way down to the lowest of the low: the summer intern. Not only do students have to pay for internship credit hours at the university, if they intern at an ad agency, they most likely do so for no pay. Some agencies are actually nice enough to validate interns’ parking, but even that seems discretionary for some places.
Would it really be so difficult for agencies to come up with a little cash to attract brighter interns who might someday become valuable employees? I’m willing to bet that places like P&G, Google, and Johnson & Johnson (all of which pay their interns and have sophisticated programs in place) have very few problems identifying and hiring the best minds that are capable of improving their business. A list of top companies to intern for can be found here, complete with average hourly intern wages.
David Ogilvy was fond of telling the story of giving his directors a set of nesting dolls, the last of which was replaced with a note that read “If you hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If you hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants.” I think that’s still pretty sound advice that could benefit many of the agencies who find themselves suffering brain drain today.

A loyal agency intern works at his second job to raise grocery money.

An unsolicited idea – Swamp People

I love History Channel’s Swamp People. Considering it has garnered top cable ratings this season, it appears that many people share my sentiment. Which is why I find it hard to believe that more brands haven’t found ways to place products in the show.

Specifically, it seems that Ford or Chevy would be an obvious and natural fit for the program. Several of the crews tow their boats in and out of the swamp on every episode which means there is footage of trucks doing the type of work that both these companies claim their trucks do best.

From what I remember, Junior and Willie drive Chevys and Trapper Joe drives an old school Ford F-150. If I was working on Ford’s ad/PR team, you can bet your ass I’d be trying to swap Joe his truck for a new one. I’d then do some type of promotional tour with Joe and his old truck around the country to meet and greet fans and raise money for some swamp-related cause. Likewise, I’d get Junior and/or Willie into a new truck since they’ll likely be around as long as the show is on air. Those two are just too compelling not to bring back season after season.

Where are you ad people? This is low-hanging fruit. And waaaay cooler than Extreme Makeover Home Edition.

Junior and Willie on the hunt. If I advertised trucks, I’d make damn sure these guys drove my brand.

Great Alabama blizzard of 2010

I made a snowperson from the few flakes that stuck to the top of my car this morning. You can see the accumulation on the street that was responsible for the university and many businesses closing today.

The orange hat that I put on my snowperson is an old guitar pick I found in the parking lot. It’s there for scale more than anything.