'That shit will never sell': Baileys Irish Cream creator on how new brands can avoid failure

Most new product developments fail miserably. Over 95% of new products, each one carefully considered, logically developed, lovingly designed and meticulously researched, nosedive in expensive flames.

In a hazardous environment, it takes a tough and uncompromising personality to succeed. And David Gluckman, a maverick of distinction with a brain full of outrageous views to match, has succeeded more than most. David has dedicated his career to defying the glib claptrap (‘breaking paradigms’ and ‘thinking outside the box’) that peppers the world of NPD, controversially claiming: "I believe in decent groundwork and common sense. Most of my ideas originated inside the box."

At this stage, I declare my interest. Although we never actually worked together under the same roof, David Gluckman and I served our advertising apprenticeships in South Africa, our country of birth, and arrived in Britain at the very same hour on the very same day. While I was trying to build some reputation as a writer, David, after adventures as a suit at Benton & Bowles and Lintas, managed to engineer a transition into new product development. Then, decades later, I helped develop advertising campaigns for some of his most stellar brands. Recently, I asked him:

Len Weinreich: How did a Lintas account person become a successful new product developer?

David Gluckman: As an ad agency trainee in Johannesburg, I was given no choice and pushed into account handling. When, eventually I wound up as a suit at Lintas in London, I was so demoralised by the dire work I was given to present to clients that I managed to convince the agency to set up Presight, a new product development department. I spent two years at Presight, a terrific opportunity to create while avoiding the obstructions of Lintas’ not-very-creative department.

During that time, I attended a Unilever seminar in Stresa, Italy where I met Tom Jago from International Distillers and Vintners (IDV, a wine and spirits company, now part of Diageo). Tom was a valuable new business opportunity and I was delegated to entertain him. We spent a brilliant evening at the bar talking labels, brands, heritage and heraldry. I guess we hit it off because, eventually, I persuaded him to become a Presight client and I became consultant to IDV.

A year later, together with my partner Hugh Seymour-Davies, gentleman copywriter, we seized the opportunity to go independent and also seized IDV contract.

LW: How long did it take you to hit paydirt?

DG: Sitting in our Soho office, fully aware that we both had families to support, we were contemplating an unpromising brief (“we want a new drinks brand for export”) from Gilbeys of Ireland, a smallish outpost of IDV’s empire. Years before, I’d been a member of the Benton & Bowles team that helped create the Kerrygold Irish butter brand and was urging Hugh to ramp up his imagination, I suggested: “Can we take anything from my past Kerrygold experience, all those lush green rain-sodden pastures and contented cows?”

Hugh mused: “What happens if we put Irish whiskey and cream together? It might be interesting”. Then we marched into a local grocery store to buy the ingredients. That was our first month in 1973.

LW: As a matter of interest, where did you find the name?

DG: Tony O’Reilly, who’d been my Kerrygold client, once said that many Irish names sound quaint when applied to brands. We’d spotted a restaurant in Greek Street, Soho, named Bailey Bistro (it also fitted a false memory of a dairy I half-remembered in faraway Port Elizabeth, where I was born). “How about Baileys Irish Cream?” I suggested. It sounded right. A humble start for the world’s largest selling liqueur brand.

LW: Then, as now, decisions were supported by ‘research’, often extremely unreliable. Any opinions?

DG: Research, ‘the creaky crutch upon which marketing leans’? A waste of time and effort. Companies do too much of it. A single focus group will give you about 90% of what you’re after and, after that, returns diminish frighteningly fast.

And it wastes money too. For some unexplained reason, marketing people always have to have half-a-dozen of everything: six product ideas, brand names, pack designs and advertising ideas before they venture out to ask a bunch of totally unqualified people to tell them which way to go with a totally unfamiliar product.

Companies want instant success, but life’s not like that. It takes years to engineer the social reasons for consumers to buy a product. I once presented a great idea to a client and before it was even considered, I was asked the question “Where are the other options to go into research?”

LW: Many years ago I presented ads for Pentax cameras which were greeted with: “How do I know it’s right? No one’s ever done it before.” Probably a good working definition of creativity? Eventually it ran successfully and won stacks of awards.

DG: Rather than depend on the research industry, I’ve spent most of my career researching my own ideas. On occasion, I’ve ignored findings and gone ahead anyway. Once, I even took the comment of a single respondent to change a brand.

LW: At the time you started developing drinks brands, the booze industry was extremely conventional and conservative. Did you have problems?

DG: I believe that the real heroes of ideas are not the people who have them but the people who buy them. In other words, great clients are the vital ingredient. Every so often, one comes across someone who ‘knew it when they saw it’, the sort of person who could buy an idea off the back of an envelope. Every good idea I ever had was created for people like that. As clients, IDV were very enthusiastic and encouraging and got their top technical experts involved. But you can read the entire saga story in my new book.

LW: I was anticipating the plug. Title?

DG:“That s*it will never sell!”

LW: That’ll raise a few eyebrows. Who said it?

DG: Exclaimed by a US pundit after his first sip of Baileys. My book covers a lot of ground: my controversial approach to new product development (one solution only. No Plan B) and dozens of stories behind the development of brands like Sheridans, Le Piat d’Or, Aqua Libra, The Singleton, Tanqueray Ten and Cîroc vodka.

LW: I’m delighted you mentioned Le Piat d’Or, a brand that received sneers from the snobby drinks industry and the ad biz alike, yet was UK brand leader (plug: helped by our creative work at Fletcher Shelton Delaney, later Burkitt Weinreich Bryant ad agency).

DG: “The French adore Le Piat d’Or”. Even decades later, people still remember the strap line (even though the only place you could buy it in France was Boulogne duty free).

LW: In your book, you’re adamant about majoring on product differentiation. Does this raise difficulties?

DG: Yes, particularly with ad agencies who don’t share my enthusiasm for product differentiation. For instance, in the early 90s I created a perceptibly smoother vodka for Smirnoff that tasted better than both Absolut and Stolichnaya. Yet this real advantage was barely mentioned in advertising. Then, in the early 2000s, we developed a beautifully fresh-tasting gin from Tanqueray made with fresh botanicals. Same story again: barely mentioned in ads. I truly believe that, if you come up with a powerful product story for a brand, people will be motivated to try it.

LW: Most marketing memoirs concentrate on success and gloss rapidly over failure. Your new book celebrates some of your more spectacular failures (distilled Guinness, Bailey’s Whiskey). Why?

DG: Some failures are simply ideas whose time hasn’t yet arrived.

But failures are very instructive. Psychologist Richard Farson said: “Whoever makes the most mistakes wins”, a neat summation of my career. My first criterion has always been “how can I come up with a product that’s different”, interesting when you consider the legion of international products that have mimicked Baileys Irish Cream.

LW: I’ve always admired the fact that you emphasise striking design and visual appeal. How closely do you work with designers? Any advice for wannabee developers?

DG: To me, design stems directly from product concept. The design element was important, but not as vital as getting the basic idea right. Some product ideas led inevitably to great design: J&B Jet, Aqua Libra and Baileys. I’ve worked very closely with designers, but only the very best, as talented as the late Howard Waller and Gordon Smith. And as for advice for wannabees? Read my book, now available at www.thatshitwillneversell.com

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Leonard Weinreich

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