Are you paranoid enough? I’m not asking this question with
regard to your personal psychological status, in which case
paranoia might not be such a good thing. Rather, I’m asking this
question of any reader who is tasked with the care and well-being
of a brand, in which case a healthy dose of paranoia is a very good
and necessary thing. In fact, without being paranoid, as famously
cautioned by Andrew Grove, former CEO of Intel, your brand might
not survive. There are moments in business, just as there are
moments in history and in society, when major change occurs, when
rules change, markets change, demographics change. If a brand is
not on top of changes relative to its product or service, or
relative to its audience, it’s very likely to succumb to the
competitor who is aware of what’s actually going on out there.
Smart brand managers know that a brand must be different in a way
people care about to achieve top billing in a category. Smart brand
managers also know that a brand must stay relevantly
differentiated, especially with its core customers, to maintain top
billing. There is no resting on one’s laurels in a marketplace that
is not just rife with change, but in which change is happening
faster and more furiously than ever before.
This topic was front and center of a conversation I had recently
with Tom Herbst, Director of Marketing, Rums for Diageo, a consumer
goods company with a portfolio of world-famous drink brands,
including Captain Morgan and Captain Morgan Black, the darker,
bolder spiced version in the lineup of Diageo rums. Captain Morgan
first came to real prominence in the United States in the 80’s and
has continued to enjoy incredible double-digit growth over the past
15 years. This is not just the result of being a high-quality
product, but that those who oversee the brand are (in a good and
necessary way) paranoid enough to sense when changes in market
conditions are taking place and a reassessment of a brand is
required. What follows is a part of the fascinating discussion Tom
and I had about the challenge faced by the Captain Morgan crew and
how the brand regained its solid footing as a category leader.
Allen Adamson: Let’s go back before we go
forward. All through the 90’s, the Captain Morgan brand had been
incredibly popular, especially with the twenty-something consumers,
predominantly males, who were just entering the category space.
What were the core DNA components of the initial growth?
Tom Herbst: Frankly, it was great marketing.
Captain Morgan was the ultimate party brand for a consumer who was
coming of age when there were many less worries than men in that
age group have today. These were guys who were born into a world
where they could graduate from college and didn’t have to worry
about getting a job immediately. They could move back to where they
grew up and hang out with friends, let life come to them and create
stories they could tell for the rest of their lives.
AA: You knew your audience very well. You knew
how to talk to them, how to depict their life. It was a matter of
holding up a mirror. They could relate to the brand and it fit
nicely into their world, not to mention that this demographic was a
growing part of the marketplace, in general. So, what happened?
TH: As time went on, we saw our growth slow and
looked at the factors that had changed and, quite honestly,
everything had changed. First of all, the category which had
originally included one brand—ours—now had several new entrants.
Nothing attracts competition like success. More than this, the
dynamics of the larger beverage category had changed. Our main
competition had been domestic beer, but as we turned into the
millennium, dark spirits and whiskies started to gain in popularity
and beer started to decline. People were drinking different things,
which put Captain Morgan into a different context.
AA: This was also the time when we, as
marketers, started to see the evolution from Generation X, as it
was referred, to Generation Y. This demographic group, and relative
to this conversation, the men in this group, entered the world with
a different set of motivations and expectations.
TH: Exactly. This group grew up with technology
in the way that Gen Xers hadn’t. Technology was hugely empowering
for them. They saw that they could become entrepreneurs at a young
age, that they could use technology to come together and elect a
president and, more than this, that they had a public image that
constantly needed cultivating and developing. Social media had
become a huge influence in their lives. Facebook was a public
window into who they were, and the onus was on them to constantly
be more interesting and be doing things that were worthy of
sharing. Our brand just hadn’t kept up with that. We were still out
there with the party image.
AA: Your original rockets to success weren’t
propelling you upward and onward anymore. The competitive set had
changed. The culture had changed. The consumer had changed, but you
hadn’t. So, enter the next chapter. What did you do?
TH: Basically, we took a step back and, with
the help of your team at Landor and our other agencies, we looked
at our core attributes. What had we stood for, and what did we own?
The biggest answer came from the pack, itself, and specifically the
story that was on the back of the pack. Here was the story of Henry
Morgan, a real man, a cool, inspirational and genuinely interesting
image. Here, right in front of us was, in many ways, the original
millennial. He went out to conquer the world and made it on his own
with a close network of friends. He used his wit and
entrepreneurial wisdom to succeed. We hadn't been telling the
story, and it is an incredibly relevant story.
AA: So you went back to your roots. You had a
real opportunity to take what was fundamental to your brand without
actually changing who you were, and what are. You just needed to
grow up and communicate that Captain Morgan, this swashbuckling
young man who left his home to conquer the world in 1654, quickly
became famous as a legal pirate, or Buccaneer, defending British
interests at sea. It’s an image that is as relevant and
aspirational to your audience today, as it is authentic to your
brand. A lot of brands that look to reenergize don’t look outside
but rather, inside in order to find something that is part of their
DNA, something genuine and enduring. This makes it easier to
explain, certainly, and easier to execute.
TH: That’s what happened. We decided to
communicate our new positioning by rolling out a fully integrated
Captain Morgan Black, which was a hyperbolic extension of the
values that we thought we needed to express most, those being
authenticity and masculinity. We did it through design, through the
liquid, itself, and through the price point. This new position in
the market helped us quickly and very directly communicate that we
are an authentic and masculine brand that can compete with today’s
mix of competitors in the whiskey space.
AA: There’s another branding principle at play
in this story. If you’re a big brand and you’re trying to
reenergize, to accelerate growth, it’s important to get to the top
of the brand—the premium experience—and make sure you’ve got that
absolutely right. If you don’t get the ultimate expression of the
brand nailed perfectly, you’ll never convince consumers you can do
other iterations right. If, for example American Express Platinum
wasn’t the best, it would have trouble with the Green card.
TH: Our category is driven by aspiration. The
idea in all of our products and communications is to present
everything in its best possible light. We had lost the aspirational
quality of the Captain Morgan name, and particularly the North
Star, the ultimate experience. We not only needed to change the
core, but elevate it. We had to “premiumize” the Captain Morgan
brand. We knew if we could achieve success at this level, we could
grow the brand across all lines.
AA: And as we all know, as you go off and build
innovatively at the top of the brand, it’s critical to sweat the
details, finesse the whole proposition, from packaging to the
TH: It’s much finer attention to details. But,
once we attached to the idea of making Captain Morgan this
aspriational figure, the ideas started bubbling up. We had a solid
platform on which to build. We started with the bottle, an embossed
cylinder with a cork stopper that would have been similar to those
found on Henry Morgan’s ship, and we created a parchment-like label
inspired by official documents of that era, rendered all in black
in a woodcut style. Then we went off in other directions, for
example, a mobile gaming app that lets you walk in Henry Morgan’s
shoes and rise to the rank of captain. And, last summer we went
down to Panama with the documentary film maker, Michael Haussman,
to work on a movie, “The Unsinkable Henry Morgan” that will be
shown at an event during the Sundance Film Festival.
AA: This all brings attention to the fact that
brands today need to be brought to life through both traditional
marketing expressions and as experiences that go beyond. There is a
real opportunity to connect the expression to the experience. If
you had to summarize what it takes to reinvigorate a brand in a
fast-changing, hyper-competitive market, what would you
TH: First, you’ve got to identify your brand’s
larger purpose. We found our purpose through the character of Henry
Morgan. He was all about inspiring the adventurous life, and we
want to inspire a more adventurous life among our consumers.
Second, make ideas, not ads. Become a part of the culture, not just
a part of the marketing. Third, don’t follow, but lead your
consumers. Don’t just a hold a mirror up to them. Make them care
about you. It’s crucial to differentiate your brand in a way that
matters. Create a story into which consumers can insert themselves.
You don’t want to become substitutable.
Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum case