He argued that he had the ultimate marketing job because he had to persuade the drinks trade to take his version of a colourless, odourless gas over his rivals, but provided through the same pipe.
“The only difference between us is price, and that is a very narrow window of opportunity and our ability to market our gas as superior to that of our rivals,” he claimed.
The conversation appealed to me because I had heard someone make exactly the same argument for the marketing of Jack Daniel’s – for exactly the opposite reasons. Which brings us to gin. Sort of.
If you wanted to be nasty about gin, you could describe it as a base alcohol so foul that people added anything they could get hold of to hide its flavour. And then, after they had done that, drinkers felt compelled to mix it with tonic or use it in a cocktail recipe to further hide its taste. Its somewhat chequered history puts it on a par with heroin as a social evil that blighted English society and encouraged violence, degradation and poverty.
When it did manage to reinvent itself it did so by positioning itself as the snotty drink of choice for the sort of elitist chauvinists who excluded women and ethnic minorities from their golf clubs. So you have to take your hat off to the populist movement that has now once again reinvented the drink as a craft spirit.
The world of gin has gone mad. One online retailer lists more than 430 gins for sale, and that is merely the tip of a very large gin-flavoured iceberg. Every town and city now boasts its own gin, and not just in England – everywhere from Midlothian to Manhattan is having a shot.
So how do you stand out from the crowd with a drink that is loosely defined around a core group of ‘classic’ botanicals and, in particular, juniper berries? Answer: by applying the same sort of focus as the gas marketing director all those years ago.
Here, then, are the winners of my Gin Revolutionary Innovative Marketing – GRIM – Awards.
In third place, Broker’s gin. To associate its gin with its quintessential Englishness, Broker’s is named after the traditional bowler-hatted Reginald Perrin-style character who commutes into the City of London to work on the money markets. And the top of the bottle has a bowler hat on it. Class.
Second, the Cambridge Distillery, which describes itself as ‘the world’s first gin tailor’ and wins for Anty Gin. Apparently a colony of north European red wood ants has been bred in Kent, England, and each bottle of Anty Gin contains the formic acid essence of 62 of them. Not 60. Not 65. Sixty two. Count ’em.
And number one? Citadelle. Not only is it distilled for 12 hours over a naked flame, but its makers claim to have records showing that during the 18th century the French government encouraged British smugglers to take it to England to undermine the English economy – a bid for heritage and quality at the same time. Splendid work chaps!