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Gordon’s scoops Supreme Brand Champion 2019 title

The Spirits Business has named Gordon’s gin Supreme Brand Champion 2019 due to the brand’s huge volume growth, successful trend-driven product launches and playful marketing campaigns.

Blushing pride: Pink has been a roaring success
Blushing pride: Pink has been a roaring success

*The Spirits Business‘s full Brand Champions 2019 report is available to view here.

In a category fiercely driven by ‘craft’ brands, only a global giant with such staying power as Gordon’s could scoop the 2019 Supreme Brand Champion title.

“Gordon’s was losing share and struggling to fully compete with the influx of premium gins entering the market,” confessed Ivan Menezes, CEO of Gordon’s owner Diageo, during an investor conference call last month (May).

But as a wave of new entrants flooded the gin category, Gordon’s refused to simply tread water. Instead, it sailed full steam ahead to maintain its position as the world’s leading international gin.

Gordon’s was already sitting on a huge volume sales base in 2017, having sold 5.1m cases. Last year, the brand managed to exceed this by an astronomical 26.7%, reaching 6.5m cases in 2018, and creating a 2.2m case lead between itself and its next biggest rival, Bombay Sapphire.

But there are many reasons that make Gordon’s the rightful owner of this year’s Supreme Brand Champion title.

“Quite often, people take a 250-­year­-old brand like Gordon’s for granted,” says Kathy Parker, senior vice president of portfolio Scotch, Haig Club, premium core gins, Captain Morgan and Latin rum, Diageo. “Gordon’s is a great quality gin and offers consumers reliability, which is fantastic. We try to make Gordon’s brilliantly uncomplicated.”

Among the brand’s notable feats is perhaps its most ingenious move to date – the launch of Gordon’s Premium Pink Distilled Gin in 2017. Last month, IWSR data revealed that less than two years since its launch, Gordon’s Pink alone sold 1.21m cases in 2018. “Pink has been a runaway success,” says Parker. “We’ve taken just over a year to get to a million cases, whereas it’s taken other gin brands 20 years. It’s an indication of how massive Pink has been. In our biggest market, which is GB, the top three gin brands are Gordon’s London Dry, then Bombay Sapphire and then Gordon’s Pink.”

Bottled at 37.5% abv, Gordon’s Pink contains flavours of raspberry, strawberry and redcurrant, and as such has been able to attract a new audience of gin drinkers who, in the past, rejected gin for having a bitter taste, Parker explains. Add to this the strawberry garnish that completes the Gordon’s Pink and tonic serve, and consumers have a drink that “makes them feel a bit more special”.

“Gordon’s Pink has managed to make itself appeal to a broader cross­ section compared with London Dry gins,” she adds.

But Gordon’s evolution began in 2016 when the brand overhauled its packaging design with a ‘bold, distinctive and contemporary’ look. Designed to reflect the quality and heritage of the gin, Gordon’s reappeared in a taller, narrower bottle to give it better standout appeal on back bars.

The lowdown: Gordon's taps into low- and no-alcohol trend
The lowdown: Gordon’s taps into low- and no-alcohol trend

The redesign was backed by a £3.6m (US$4.6m) marketing investment that same year, which was rolled out across out­-of­-home advertising, digital and social media platforms. Devised with the help of advertising agency Anomaly, the “playful” ‘Shall we…?’ campaign aimed to give Gordon’s a “simple but meaningful statement” in the increasingly crowded gin category.

“If you look back about three years ago,” recalls Parker, “that was the moment we decided to really drive Gordon’s relevance. We brought in a new bottle so it had a slightly different fit and design, new graphics that came on the bottle as well, and the new ‘Shall we…?’ campaign as a cheeky invitation to have a Gordon’s and tonic.”

This overhaul was the catalyst that projected the brand into the results it is seeing today, insists Parker. “That playful tone managed to make sure Gordon’s was a brand relevant and dynamic for the moment. If we had not done that we would not be sitting here with the success that we’ve got. That was really the beginning.” In 2018 Gordon’s was far from done with its innovation streak. The brand eyed another market that it could fit into: the burgeoning low-­ and no­-alcohol sector. In June last year, Gordon’s introduced two ‘ultra-­low­ alcohol’ pre­-mixed gin and tonic sparkling beverages: Gordon’s Ultra Low Alcohol G&T with a Hint of Lime, and Gordon’s Ultra Low Alcohol G&T with a Hint of Grapefruit. Both are bottled at 0.5% abv and are made from Gordon’s London Dry distillate.

“The big thing we’re seeing in society is an increasing number of occasions when consumers are choosing not to drink, or they want to moderate their alcohol intake,” says Parker. “We’ve made sure we’ve got the same depth of flavour as our Gordon’s alcoholic option to really give a sense of occasion, and ensure people don’t feel like they’re sacrificing a night out with friends.”

The rollout of the ultra-low range has been slower than Gordon’s Pink to ensure they “land very well in markets”, but Parker notes the response from Spain and GB so far “is brilliant”.

But one ominous question constantly looms over the gin category: is the bubble going to burst? “There’s nothing that makes us feel like the gin bubble is going to burst,” says Parker with absolute confidence. “I think it’s actually become part of people’s lives; I don’t see it as anything temporary. At the moment, global gin penetration is only a small percentage; there’s still huge headroom to grow.”

It may be some time, however, before we see additional line extensions from Gordon’s. Looking to the near future, the brand will focus on continuing the growth of Gordon’s Pink “which we feel is only at the beginning of its journey”, says Parker, as well as pushing the ultra-low G&Ts.

“The thing about Gordon’s is it’s about trying to deliver timely innovation as opposed to lots of little stuff,” Parker adds. “We couldn’t be more proud of the brand, especially as this is our 250th year. It all seems to have come together beautifully at the right time.”

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