Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Maker's Mark Plays It Well

And now for something completely different for this web log, but in keeping with my interests.

Maker's MarkTM, a successful brand of Kentucky bourbon, hit the news in a big way yesterday with the announcement that it had made a mistake.  (The company is one of several owned by Jim Beam through its Beam Inc and Beam Global that includes Booker's (one of my particular favorites) and Knob Creek bourbon; Laphroaig and Ardmore single malt Scotch whisky; Connemara Irish whiskey; Canadian Club; Sauza and Hornitos tequila; Courvoisier brandy (another favorite in its Napoleon form); Gilbey's vodka; and so on to many others.)

Its self-inflicted wound was announced last week by Rob Samuels, COO of Maker's Mark, along with his father Chairman Emeritus Bill Samuels, Jr, with the news that due to increased demand, the distiller had discovered a way to reduce the alcohol content (ABV – alcohol by volume) from its standard 45% to 42% in order to increase its product availability, but in a way that did not change the taste, certified by blind tests by professionals and a committee of loyal customers.  The social media response was immediate and overwhelming: the fan base cried foul and demanded no change to the original.  The result announced yesterday was that the company had heard its customer base loud and clear, and so was returning to its original formula.  The news industry has begun to pronounce this as a marketing fiasco that will rank with New Coke.

I don't agree.

The money phrase of the first announcement was: 
Lately we've been hearing from many of you that you've been having difficulty finding Maker's Mark in your local stores.  Fact is, demand for our bourbon is exceeding our ability to make it, which means we're running very low on supply.  We never imagined that the entire bourbon category would explode as it has over the few years, nor that demand for Maker's Mark would grow even faster. 
With the retraction that came within a few days, the Samuels announced that: 
When we got the first comments, we thought that our ambassadors had missed the point, since we had worked so hard to make sure that there was no change in taste whatsoever.  But we found out very quickly that they don't want any change at all, don't want anyone messing with their whiskey.  It's amazing.  They'd rather have to go from store to store to seek it out and deal with any shortages than to have us make any changes. [all emphases mine]

It has been said by any number of people that there is no such thing as bad publicity, attributed to Madonna and Jean Harlow, but most likely it was Brendan Behan ("… except your own obituary").  If all publicity is good, then the Samuels generated their own Br'er Rabbit/briar patch-type of 'dilemma' with similar results, along with a full-blown publicity campaign to accompany it, as if by magic.

Nothing increases demand like fear of a shortage, a threat to supply.  Just look at the gas crises of the 1970s, or the current run on firearms and ammunition as a result of the current threats to the Second Amendment, just like the previous ones.  The Samuels have generated some free publicity with (1) an announcement of increased demand, (2) the concomitant drop in supply, (3) a further increase in demand because of the threat of the end of the desired product (as we know it), and (4) a further decrease of supply that will be theoretically perpetual because the customers will "deal with it", all the while in the midst of an increase in demand of "the entire bourbon industry".  Now if they were to bottle the immediately rare 86 proof experiment in the midst of the run on the standard 90 proof, what price would each of those bottles fetch?

Well played, gentlemen.  Well played.

1 comment:

  1. It is pretty smart. I wonder if it was all a scam from beginning to end? I wouldn't know because I don't drink the stuff. I used to like Rebel Yell, but that's about it.


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