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18128 DrinksReport_v5 21/2/06 5:05 pm Page 1

February 22 2006

A fresh look at super-premium spirits

The use of educational and aspirational
messages in drinks advertising

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The use of educational and aspirational messages

in drinks advertising

This white paper analyses the marketing messages

of five super-premium spirits categories. It discusses
the contrasting benefits of educational and
aspirational marketing and explains the differences in
behaviour of each category.
Through semiotics, we also argue the need for
Brand Managers to be aware of emerging consumer
codes which can help to create more powerful,
differentiated brand values. More of that later.
FreshMinds is a research company. We help clients
gather and analyse information on competitors,
market dynamics and consumer perceptions.
Our research expertise covers luxury goods, the
drinks industry, retail and FMCG markets. In this
report we have focused on super-premium spirits,
which for simplicity we have defined by reference to
retail prices.
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An insight into print advertising

Super-premium spirits FreshMinds’ Approach

The category of super-premium is not We have analysed the adverts of around This overview provides a starting point
unique to the spirits market. Indeed, with 20 super-premium brands1 placed in UK from which to analyse the prevailing
the growing appeal and accessibility of consumer magazines between 2004 and marketing strategies of categories and
luxury products to the mass market, 2005. The headline, body copy, image, brands within them. It provides a platform
super-premium categories have arisen and layout of each advert was evaluated for brands to assess their desire for
across many sectors. to determine the structure and content of conformity or differentiation from the
the marketing message. Each of these current ‘way of doing things’. In addition,
Achieving super-premium status and it is worth noting that the clusters are
elements was scored on both aspiration
commanding correspondingly high prices dynamic and thus analysis of how each
and education scales using the basic
in a category can be accomplished in two category has evolved can provide clues for
definitions given above. We found that the
ways. The first is by educating the future trends and opportunities.
majority of drinks in a specific category
consumer. Educational messaging covers
were clustered closely together.
quality, craftsmanship, heritage and
production techniques used to create the Cognacs behaved most homogeneously,
product. The learnings can create both hence forming a more concentrated cluster.
real and perceived benefits in a The clusters are shown below, in Figure 1.
consumer’s mind. These in turn drive
brand differentiation and super-premium
positioning. For many consumers, it is Figure 1
the feeling of being ‘in the know’ which Super-premium category clusters
instils pride in being a connoisseur,

deserving of quality.
Alternatively brands appeal more directly
to emotions through aspirational marketing
messages. Products are positioned as a Cognacs
step away from the ordinary and the
gateway to a far more luxurious life.
Both messages can be effective in
increasing the desirability of a product.
Each, or a mixture of the two, can be
deployed to great effect.
This white paper looks exclusively at the

consumer-focused print media advertising

of super-premium spirits brands. It does Vodkas Blended whiskies
not take into account billboards, trade
press, web communications, on-trade
promotions, off-trade promotions or event
sponsorships. It should be kept in mind
that super-premium spirit brands may be
educational in their print media and Gins
aspirational in their below-the-line
marketing or vice versa and hence may
demonstrate a more complex strategy than
illuminated here. In commissioned studies Malt whiskies
FreshMinds recommends an analysis of all
these communications, which are then
placed in context by scrutinising product
portfolios, drinks prices, volumes, annual

reports and other financials.

– Educational +

Courvoisier XO, Remy Martin XO, Remy Martin Louis XIII, Martell (no product identified),Ian Macleod’s Isle, Chivas Regal (12
and 18 year old), Johnnie Walker (no product identified), Glenfiddich (no product identified), Highland Park, Balvenie Malt,
Bruichladdich, Laphroaig 16 year old, Belvedere, Ciroc, Grey Goose, U’Luvka, Slava, Millers, Blackwood Vintage Dry Gin.
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The trade-off that brands make between education

and aspiration is often a passive or reactive ‘me-too’
move. Making a conscious and strategic change can
provide significant opportunities for differentiation.

Categories, and the brands within them, real and perceived differences. Super- gloved women’s hands, it used a code
are subject to both physical and historical premium brands seek to differentiate familiar from perfume advertising. This was
constraints. Cognacs, for example, are themselves firstly against lower price bands effective because both bottles contain
expensive to produce and the consumer (standard and premium) and secondly precious, desired and luxurious products.
‘expects’ to be spoken to in a manner
reflecting the accumulation of decades of Our findings indicate that the exact mix of educational and
advertising culture.
aspirational marketing messages for super-premium spirits is
Education or aspiration partly strategic and partly reactive. The strategic need for
There are three broad drivers for the choice
differentiation drives changes in brand expression however
between an education or aspiration-based
campaign: category, history and current and historical market expectations impose rules that
composition, brand differentiation and brands cannot afford to ignore.
changing consumer codes.
against each other. If an adjacent price Chivas Regal’s 12YO whisky, a premium
The history of a category is of great band is positioned as aspiration-focused (as product, has focused on friends sharing
importance in the education/aspiration is the case with premium gin) the super- magic moments surrounded by natural
trade-off. Brand new, trailblazing products premium brands can choose to play the wonders. This is a trick previously well
that are creating categories for the first same game at a higher level or change developed by the luxury travel industry.
time frequently have to expend efforts tack. In the case of gin most super-premium
Brand managers need to be aware of
educating consumers before focusing on brands have decided to change tack,
emerging codes and understand how they
anything else. A consumer will not creating desire by educating consumers as
can affect both the educational and
demand a product before they first to what makes these products different from
aspirational aspects of their marketing
understand what it is and what it can do the Tanquerays and Bombay Sapphires.
messages. Spotting a code early provides
for them. It follows that only after a
Semiotics: the cultural meanings we the opportunity to ride on the crest of a
category is understood, does the
attach to signs wave and transport a brand to the
opportunity for aspirational campaigns fully
The third driver comes from changing forefront of the consumer mind.
present itself. Hence the relatively new
category of super-premium vodka is more cultural codes. This is best explained Best Practice
educationally-focused than the well- using the language of semiotics. Semiotics
So what is best practice? Education,
established cognac category. is the study of how people and groups
aspiration, a mixture? There is no definitive
attach meanings to signs. For example the
Super-premium categories have generally answer as each category and brand must
heavy glass of cognac bottles signifies the
started life with educational marketing and balance history, relative positioning and
value of the liquid contained inside and a
then steadily shifted towards more consumer expectations. It seems that
logo in the form of a signature, such as
aspirational advertising. The move can be there are nonetheless two main strategic
Johnnie Walker, is a code for the individual
led by just one brand which drops options: embody the characteristics of
and personal care and attention invested
education in favour of a strongly your category and price band or choose
in the preparation of the spirit.
aspirational brand. Examples of this can to differentiate. However this perennial
be seen in a variety of luxury sectors; in Codes develop over time and this marketer’s dilemma of conformity versus
the fashion industry this is what created provides both an opportunity and threat. A differentiation can be negated through
Prada’s success in the 80s and Jimmy brand that targets an emerging code market-leading early recognition of code
Choo’s huge growth in the 90s. ahead of the pack can be responsible for dynamics. This approach is not the same
leading the development of a category as the traditional inside-out analysis of
The composition of a category also has an and will benefit disproportionately as a consumer understanding; rather it is
impact on print communication. In a result. Conversely a brand which becomes outside-in, looking at how values and
category made up of mostly large, wedded to an ageing code may become beliefs reach the minds of consumers in
international brands, product recognition is outdated. In such a case, it may only the first place. Understanding this, and the
no longer a significant issue and the codes survive by clinging onto a small (and often current dominant codes, Brand Managers
can become more abstract and playful. old) consumer group that is equally stuck are in a stronger position to influence their
Johnnie Walker’s “Keep Walking” in the past. audience and drive growth.
campaigns are an example of this.
There is no need to reinforce the quality Emerging codes may be most easily
of the product by educating the consumer recognised by studying the trends in other
about its characteristics or heritage as markets. Importing connotations can be
these are known. very successful if the associations hold up.

The second driver is differentiation. When Courvoisier created the image of a

Category and brand identities are based on beautiful and delicate bottle held by two
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This approach is not the same as

the traditional inside-out analysis
of consumer perceptions; rather it
is outside-in, looking at how
values and beliefs reach the
minds of consumers in the first
place. Understanding this, and
the current dominant codes,
Brand Managers are in a stronger
position to influence their
audience and drive growth.
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A well-established category generally starts with

educational advertising and shifts to aspiration-
based advertising as the category develops and
product recognition improves.

Blended Whisky Single Malt Whisky Gin

Constraints Constraints Constraints
• Heavy presence of standard and premium • Relatively low volumes • Strong aspirational advertising in premium

brands obscures super-premium level • Many brands in the marketplace categories (e.g. Bombay Sapphire)
• Blended so can’t use heritage messaging • Many small competitors with similar • Limited drinking variation (mostly

in quite the same way as single malts products associated with gin and tonic water)
• Historically older consumers • New category with limited consumer


Dominant codes Dominant codes Dominant codes

• Warm colours and dark, evening • Bottle is usually prominent • Fresh crisp colours, usually green, associated

backgrounds • Bottle is copy-heavy often with a traditional with botanicals with a white background
• Prominent bottle – it’s all about the drink look and feel • Clear glass bottles

after all • Copy is educational, focusing on the time • Open and uncluttered layout
• No or little copy on advertisement and effort put into production • Minimalist and modern photography
• Simple, clear and uncluttered layout • References source and heritage • Strongly educational copy and taglines to
• Taglines are simple and strong • Traditional recipe contrast with premium category
• Modern rather than traditional styling • Ageing as a badge of quality • Similar to single malts in terms of production
• Text is often a narrative of product history and ingredients focus (this association is
• Traditional fonts, white text explicit in some Millers advertising)
• Images represent Scottish wilderness • No association with drinking opportunities

or production • Messaging is addressing a discerning

• Warm and natural colours of moss and connoisseur
peat dominate

Emerging codes Emerging codes Emerging codes

• Making shared moments special • Drinking occasions that denote shared • Simple, plain bottle labelling using
• Aspiration through uniqueness of shared moments with friends translucent and minimalist stickers to keep
experiences • Drinking occasions that signify luxurious bottle clear
lifestyles • More education, heritage and quality
• Images and taglines which younger association expected
consumers connect to enjoying life • This will be followed by increasing focus

on drinking opportunities

Vodka Cognac Jargon

Constraints Constraints Semiotics
• Consumer expectation of price is relatively low • High production costs The theory and study of signs and symbols.
• Rarely drunk straight for its own taste in the UK • Relatively high price We use it to understand the meanings that
• Broad mixing opportunities • Historically older consumers individuals and groups associate with the
• Strong aspirational advertising by some • Traditionally un-mixed attributes of a brand and its marketing.
premium brands (e.g. Absolut)
Communication codes
Dominant codes Dominant codes These are unspoken connections between
• Clear glass bottles • Luxurious image-heavy advertising words and images and the meanings
• Blues, greys and whites dominant • Opulent bottle design attributed to them. A woman in fur connotes
• Images of cold, natural outdoor environments • Dark backgrounds and evening settings wealth and luxury. However these codes shift
• Simple bottle design • Golden browns and reds centre stage over time and when a code has lapsed the
• Educational copy regarding batch size, • Heavy and flamboyant fonts in tagline meaning no longer holds, e.g. in the eighties,
distillation and ingredients • Gold text to many individuals, fur was a sign of crass,
• Aspirational copy focuses on extravagance uncaring opulence.
and luxury
• Frequent use of cocktail glasses to
Dominant codes
This is the set of codes most used today.
reinforce mixing
• Modern and contemporary fonts
They each signify an important message in a
way that resonates with today’s consumer.
Emerging codes Emerging codes
• Botanical credentials explained through • References to other luxury markets such
Emerging codes
This refers to codes starting to be used
copy and shown through images of grain as jewellery, perfume and handbags
• Thin, delicate bottles denoting the fragility • Arrogance and playfulness in advertising
which could supplant some or all of the
dominant codes in the future.
of the product • Images and taglines which younger
• Aspiration-focused images will develop consumers connect to prestige
more in the long run
• Associations with fashion may migrate into

print campaigns
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Future category developments

Given the advertising histories of each We also expect to see more on-trade
super-premium category and the growing venues encouraging consumers to buy
presence of some emerging codes, we super-premium drinks to increase bar
expect some shifts in the positions of the spend. The adjacent image shows a
super-premium spirits categories. recent example: the cocktail menu of a
London club which encourages
Cognacs are likely to retain their
consumers to upgrade from “standard” to
aspiration-focused position in their print
“business class” and “first class” cocktails.
campaigns. There is the potential to
Coupled with the growth of brand calling,
increase education; in particular to attract
this will further strengthen brand
the increasing raft of high-net worth
perceptions and the consumer
consumers who are new to the market
understanding of category differentiation.
and to react to the growing threat of white
Reproduced with kind permission of The Player,
spirits. However, this could also effectively Figure 2 shows how we expect the
take place through other marketing aspirational and educational trade-off to
channels (e.g. on-trade). develop for each super-premium category. Through an analysis of semiotic codes and
an understanding of category maturity and
Vodka may increasingly shift towards A more general trend may be the widening
brand differentiation, the future super-
increased aspiration and reduced of the gap between premium and super-
premium market leaders will evolve.
education as it becomes more established premium categories across all luxury
and confident about its differentiation from product categories. This may be
lower price bands. However we also enhanced through partnerships between
expect some brands to focus more fashion products and super-premium
strongly on the emerging codes that drinks. The brands reinforce each other’s
connect ingredients to purity. Originally led brand equity and create increased
by the organic foods movement, botanical desirability if appropriately partnered.
credentials and a simple focus on basic
ingredients now send a powerful message

about quality through purity. This emerging

code has been used by Blackwood’s in
the print advertising for their gin. Cognacs

Gin is the spirit to watch as we expect it to

emulate some of the success of the vodka
super-premium category. In a similar way
to vodka, and in contrast to cognacs, we Blended Vodkas
expect gins to build on an emerging code whisky
for purity: the use of clear and relatively
thin glass bottles. Gin will increasingly
establish itself as a super-premium choice,
but will continue to struggle against the

limited ways in which it can be drunk. This

may spark the need for increased on-trade Gins
education and integration of the drink
further into the cocktail trend. Association
with lifestyle by carefully targeted
sponsorship may additionally increase
category and brand awareness. Single Malt whiskies

Figure 2

Future positioning – Educational +

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Professional, insightful FreshMinds is an innovative research Luxury goods case study

“ and very energetic. You
just know that you are
consultancy providing a flexible,
responsive and creative resource for our
clients. We have built a team of Minds –
The need
Our client, a luxury diamond retailer,
wanted to understand how important
a network of the brightest analysts in
branding is to the luxury consumer.
going to unearth Europe. Together with our research
This research was commissioned to help
management team, they will find
something that will help information on your consumers, our client decide whether or not to launch
competitors or markets; whatever you a branded diamond collection.
you refocus your need to drive your business forwards. The solution
priorities. Their thinking FreshMinds' core strengths lie in helping The project had two phases. The first phase
was to review the diamond market as a
is often a blend of the our clients to better understand their
whole, with a particular focus on the US.
competitor strategies, and giving them
analytical and creative, actionable recommendations regarding This involved looking at key competitors'
product launches, new market entry or diamond ranges and their target market.
helping you to brand repositioning. The second phase looked at the 'luxury
consumer' and the role of branding in the
understand how you Our mixed methodology approach uses a purchasing decision. We compiled
need to move to stay combination of competitor interviewing overviews of fifteen different luxury
(complying to SCIP guidelines), internet segments including leather goods, wine,
ahead of the pack.
Brandsmiths ” and desk research. We find that this
holistic approach means that we can give
you customised research and analytical
solutions to meet your specific needs.
cigars and sound systems. This phase
profiled the consumer and the role of the
brand in sponsorship deals and advertising.
The result
Fast, accurate and cost-effective Our report enabled our client to make an
Project Managers co-ordinate research informed decision as to whether to
tasks in-house, providing support, quality introduce a branded diamond collection.
control and additional help from our Our next project will be looking at where
proprietary databases. the most effective retail outlets are in the
What we can help you to answer: US market to enable our client to expand
What strategies have my competitors their business.
used to increase customer loyalty?
How can I improve my market share?
I'm looking to expand into a new market.
Can you help me to find out where would
suit my business best?

Claudia Brendel
tel: 0207 692 4300
Copyright FreshMinds Ltd FRESHMINDS

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