Phil Rumbol Profile

By The Drum, Administrator

March 12, 2002 | 9 min read

The world of marketing is famous, or infamous even, for its fondness of drink. And, as such keen purchasers of beverages, people working on both sides of the agency/client fence are often to be found clamouring for the chance to work on drinks brands. Over the last couple of years alcohol slogans have been some of the easiest to remember - whether it's the irritating 'Waasuup?', the idealised 'How Refreshing, How Heineken' or the unapologetic 'Reassuringly Expensive', the campaigns promoting alcoholic drinks seem to give agency creatives and marketers alike the chance to come up with a campaign and strategy a little more off the wall than normal.

The drinks market is also one of the most competitive in marketing terms, and while the campaigns may be some of the most fun to work on, they are also some of the most demanding. Getting one brand name to stand out in a market as cluttered as the drinks one is no easy task at all.

Which is something Phil Rumbol discovered when he joined Interbrew in 1996.

The marketer had already chalked up a number of years' experience, working straight from university on brands like Hovis and Mother's Pride, and then spending five years at Kraft Foods working with such well-known names as Philadelphia and Dairylea by the time he first walked in the door of Interbrew. However, despite his years of experience, Rumbol was about to find out that drinks marketing was a whole new world.

"It was a big change, but interesting," says Rumbol. "The last brand I worked on was confectionery. My background is classic FMCG branding and it was when working with confectionery I first started to realise that image is very important."

After a while the product was so well-branded we could actually remove the branding from the ads. Three-quarters of people were still correctly identifying it as a Boddingtons ad

Rumbol's finest moment to date had been the transformation of the Philadelphia brand and switch from decline to profit. He recalls: "This was a brand that was in double digit growth for as long as anyone can remember. I had the misfortune to inherit it during its first downturn. I had to sort out what to do and the decisions went all the way to the managing director. I remember someone saying to me 'You'd better get this right.'"

Despite the pressure heaped on his back, Rumbol solved the problem.

"In the end it was the simple thought about using it in hot snacks. It was very simple but people looked at the ads and thought 'Ah, interesting...' Within four or five months it had gone from decline to profit."

When Rumbol joined Interbrew (then named the Whitbread Beer Company) it was to work on Heineken. During his time working on the brand he was responsible for the aforementioned 'How Refreshing, How Heineken' campaign, before moving to work in sponsorship. This move saw him establish the sponsorship deals for the Stella Artois Tennis Championship and the Heineken Cup.

Now, as Interbrew's UK brands director, Rumbol is responsible for marketing the entire Interbrew brand portfolio in Britain. For the uneducated, this includes Stella Artois, Heineken, Murphy's Irish Stout and Boddingtons.

The latter was the topic of a recent Marketing Society event at which Rumbol was the guest speaker. The event, held at the prestigious Mere Golf and Country Club on the outskirts of Manchester, took the assembled audience through the evolution of Boddingtons from small Manchester brand to national household name.

The rather impressive story began in 1989 when Whitbread bought the Boddingtons brand. At that stage the bitter's advertising had featured the 'titter-ye-not' stylings of the late, great Frankie Howard and the strapline 'If you don't get Boddingtons, you just get bitter.'

The brand was enjoying success in the North West, perhaps personified by one Liverpool resident once being quoted on Radio 5 Live as saying: "There are only two good things to come out of Manchester: Boddingtons and the M62."

The take-over by Whitbread caused a stir, however. Boddingtons drinkers were worried that the 'evil Whitbread' would corrupt their beloved bitter. Whitbread faced a problem: turning its newly acquired brand national whilst still retaining its traditional roots.

From the outset the local agency's fears began to be realised when Whitbread appointed a London advertising agency to the Boddingtons account. "We chose a London agency for a number of reasons," says Rumbol. "From the outset we had aspirations to make it a national brand and we needed someone who was capable of turning it into that. Also, we had an existing relationship with an agency and thought it made sense to use a roster agency rather than a different one for each brand."

The resulting 'Cream of Manchester' campaign began running on magazine back covers using particularly strong imagery.

"We advertised on the back covers of magazines to try to reach people when they're in those relaxed consumption moments in the home," said Rumbol. "After a while the product was so well-branded we could actually remove the branding from the ads. Three-quarters of people were still correctly identifying it as a Boddingtons ad."

After the initial press campaign it was time to establish a presence on television. This, again, posed a problem. With such a heavy presence of alcohol advertising on the television, Boddingtons was going to have to be very different to stand out.

The main rivals in the sector at that time were John Smith's and Courage Bitter - both of whom used the traditional in-pub setting for their advertising.

Boddingtons, already taking a different route with its magazine ads, again found a way to differentiate itself. In a move which Rumbol describes as 'un-ale-like', the brand selected a female as the key figure of its television campaign. Having a female as the cornerstone and sticking close to the Manchester origins of the brand, the resulting ad ('By 'eck, Peryl, you look gorgeous tonight, luv') was, quite literally, entirely different from anything being produced by the other ale brands.

Now, with a strong advertising campaign backing it, Boddingtons really began to take off. But Whitbread/Interbrew wasn't content to stop there. Until then, in the mid-1990s, the prime rule of ale brands was that they didn't work in the home. Try as they might, ale brewers just couldn't match the draught taste when they bottled or canned their drinks.

Boddingtons, again, strove to be different. This time, though, the difference had to relate to the drink itself.

The result was that the company was the first brewer to introduce a 'widget' to its cans - meaning that for the first time consumers could enjoy draught taste in their own homes.

Within 18 months Boddingtons became the market leader in take-home ales - with a lot of consumers actually discovering the brand through its placement in Tesco stores.

This resulted in the brand shooting from number 19 in the ale sector to number 4, establishing strong consumer loyalty and managing to keep the local Mancunians happy as it went.

Success, it seemed, had been well and truly achieved.

Until 1996, that is, when things started to take a turn for the worse. By this time Boddingtons had reached its 'ceiling for profitability'. The ale didn't have as many outlets as some of its competitors, the ale sector in general was in decline and, to top it off, a new player, namely Caffrey's, had come in and stolen a chunk of the consumers.

Rumbol says: "We did some research and what we discovered was that people in the 1990s were not confined to drinking one type of drink, as they had been in the past. Drinkers were now consuming across lager, premium lager, ale, beer and spirits."

Being smoother and not as bitter as some of its competitors, Boddingtons already had an advantage in reaching the lager-drinking fraternity. With a new, chilled, version of the drink now available the brand was ready, once again, to change its marketing strategy.

By this time (the late 1990s) adult cartoons were all the rage. The Simpsons, King of the Hill and Southpark, to name a few, were at their peak. And it was then, while the nation was caught in the grip of animated innuendoes, that Graham the Cow made his udder-swinging debut.

With the help of Manchester-based PR consultancy Communique, Graham enjoyed one of the most high-profile advertising launches ever. He made the front cover of national newspapers, magazines did mock interviews with him, and the television ads were Boddingtons' most successful to date. By diversifying its marketing from its competitors, Boddingtons had well and truly done it again.

And now, within the last few months, Boddingtons has once again endeavoured to keep its profile high by signing on as a sponsor for the Commonwealth Games.

"I think when we were approached the thinking was that if there was going to be a drinks sponsor for the Commonwealth Games it would have to be Boddingtons," says Rumbol. "It was really to reinforce Boddingtons as a Manchester brand."

A brand which has continued to evolve over the last 13-odd years in its ever more competitive market. Indeed, by the time this issue of The Marketeer hits desks the latest Boddingtons evolution should be common knowledge, with Graham's successful TV presence being replaced once again by live actors.

Who knows, maybe future evolutions will see Whitbread recognising the sense in building a Mancunian brand with a Mancunian agency.


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