The Brand Union CEO Toby Southgate and creative director Ewan Ferrier take a look at what AG Barr's merger with Britvic means for the unmistakably Scottish soft drink Irn-Bru
Iconic, brilliant, unforgettable. Sticky, you could say, like the ambrosia itself. I might have been 5 or 6 when I first tasted Irn-Bru. My grampa, a Weegie who retired to Somerset, used to bring bootfuls of Irn-Bru and oatcakes back from visits to the motherland. I think it's one of the reasons I went to University back in Scotland, and stayed for a decade. We all know the rituals, the myths and the magic of this brand. It's an experience its fans know, love, and will always want more of.
Over the years AG Barr and Irn-Bru have been responsible for approving some of the best brand campaigns ever - Gerry and the guys at The Leith are still doing a phenomenal job. The 'fanny' TVC has more youtube views than Coke's 2012 'move to the beat' spot - the one with all the banging and the athletes and Mark Ronson. Which client got the best work and the best value?
Can the brand be 'Britvic'd'? I'm not even sure what that means. A bigger distribution network, sure. Better leverage with retailers, maybe. But there's something iconoclastic about Irn-Bru. As a consumer product it's almost self-selecting, it shouldn't be for everyone. Some nations and their people have palettes more delicate and in less frequent need of a hangover cure than us Scots. OK, half Scots - you get my point. Not everyone loves it, so as a result those who do, love it even more. It's a cult, and it should be left well alone.
It's great to see the Barr's CEO will become the boss of the new, merged business. Good on him. I have faith that he'll leave the 'Bru be.
When I think of the sticky McAmber nectar I recall one particular realisation. In the 80s there was a film called The Coca-Cola kid and the basic plot was about a Coca-Cola marketing guy who's sent to Australia to discover why it is that there's a small town where Coke isn't the number one drink… well there's an entire country where this scenario exists. Scotland!
Also, when McDonald's came to Scotland they had to break their strict partnership with Coca-Cola and build 'restaurants' that for the first time sold a carbonated drink that wasn't a Coca-Cola product. Irn-Bru! If you sell it, they will come. There can't be too many brands that target such a narrow market (for now) yet who have such a market dominance. In a country as fractured as Scotland - East/West, Highland/Lowland, Catholic/Protestant - Irn-Bru represents a unifying force.
It's also one of the first brands that I was aware of to have duel-branded packaging. Bell's Whisky and Irn-Bru, it wasn't very successful and I can't find an image of it, but clearly WKD got their idea from it.They mix vodka with IrOn Bru (see what they did there?) but I think more interestingly than that, WKD adopted Irn-Bru's advertising style of wicked humour (see tumblr link) in an attempt to inaccurately create an association with Irn-Bru… which must surely have given them them their product and brand name.
It's quite something that by merely altering the spelling another brand can just use the name, but this (I believe) simply reinforces the authenticity of Barr's Irn-Bru.