Client Profile: Famous Grouse

By The Drum, Administrator

March 9, 2006 | 10 min read

(Left) Emma Heath; (right) Bob Dalrymple

An evening like it is not one you forget easily. The massive underdogs, Scotland fended off the marauding English to announce their return on the international rugby stage. That night Edinburgh was, literally, drunk dry. And, as the revelry stretched on long into the night, another team was also no doubt celebrating, but perhaps for different reasons.

Famous Grouse has now been sponsoring Scottish rugby for 15 years – arguably the longest running sponsorship of a sporting team. Through good times and bad, disappointment and jubilation, The Famous Grouse has stood by Scottish rugby, offering a celebratory dram or a nip to drown sorrows.

Rewind 48 hours. It is the Thursday before the match and Maxxium’s Emma Heath (Famous Grouse’s senior marketing manager) and Bob Dalrymple (the whisky’s senior brand manager) have taken time out their busy schedule to talk The Drum through what has been billed as ‘The Famous Grouse’s most comprehensive marketing blitz to date’.

The pair work as part of a four-strong team alongside Lee Walker – brand manager, responsible for the day-to-day implementation of the campaign – and Deirdre Lamont, implementing the marketing strategy for the brand’s owners, The Edrington Group.

“The relationship works well for the brand,” says Dalrymple. “Scottish Rugby has a good brand fit. Sponsoring the Scottish rugby team supports our ‘number one in Scotland’ credentials – a very important element for the brand, not just here, but around the world. It evokes the heritage and the Scottish provenance. There is something about rugby we feel that is a particularly strong fit with the Famous Grouse.

“Rugby is a team game – we like to think that the Famous Grouse is a very sociable brand, evoking ideas of kinship. Also, the atmosphere that is generated at rugby matches; it’s not confrontational, it’s not awkward, there’s a real bit of camaraderie... It’s a party atmosphere and everyone comes together. And there is obviously the big consumer appeal too.

“The brand ambition is to embody the spirit of the game. Yes, we support the Scottish team, and we are very proud of our background and our team... but it’s about more than that, it’s about the kinship and camaraderie that surrounds the game itself.

“Sharing is at the very heart of the brand identity and the brand’s benefit. We seek to become an integral part of the experience when rugby minded people come together – whether they are Scotland fans, or not. We want the brand to be relevant to and enforce that experience. The creative idea that runs through the sponsorship is ‘the perfect union’, which is very useful to us as it speaks a number of brand truths, embedding the value of the relationship even more.”

Famous Grouse is the number one blended whisky brand in Scotland, with Bells the biggest UK-wide. The latest AC Nielsen data reveals that Bells shifts around 1.21 million cases, with Grouse at 1.05 million – although Heath is quick to point out that Nielsen often underestimates, and the figures are under Grouse’s actual depletions.

The blended scotch market, despite being overtaken by vodka in Scotland, still remains the number one spirit category in the UK overall, at 7.5 million cases.

However, the biggest issue for blended whisky is that the market is in decline, and it has been for a number of years. The latest decline rate is 3.7 percent year on year, which is a worrying trend.

“Famous Grouse has bucked the trend and has grown ahead of the market and ahead of last year,” continues Heath. “At a total level, we grew around seven percent year on year, which is fantastic for a declining market. And, looking at the latest Nielsen data, our combined market share figure is now at an all-time high of 14.6 percent.

“We’re delighted in how the brand’s been performing, the key three drivers of which being a competitive pricing plan which saw the brand do very well at Christmas, particularly in retail; the fully-integrated communications plan that is largely grounded in rugby – we have taken that at all levels into the on and off-trade; and The Famous Grouse television advertising campaign returning with a couple of million pound over a six week period at Christmas.

“One of the difficult challenges for us was to continue being incredibly proud of our sponsorship of Scottish rugby while also showing that it’s not just about Scotland – when we are talking to people in England and Wales, seeing Gilbert [the animated Grouse] with a Saltire on his face is going to alienate fans, so we developed the rugby splash creative to give an all-round broad appear. We still use the icon in other areas, however we are moving from a cartoon animated icon to the bird in flight. It’s a lot more modern, it’s a lot more dynamic and it’s extremely premium. There may well be changes in the future in the global above-the-line, however I don’t know yet, so that is something we are not able to comment fully on just now. But it certainly works very well in achieving our aim of being more accessible.”

Famous Grouse appointed Glasgow-based BD-Ntwk, without a pitch, two years ago to work on the UK business. And, after the success of last year’s rugby activity by BD, the agency was appointed by Edrington to work on projects for The Famous Grouse across the world.

This year’s Six Nations was The Famous Grouse’s most comprehensive marketing blitz to date.

“The activity was certainly a step-up on last year, which was a step-up from the year before that,” says Heath. “Last year was the first year of taking large-scale implementation into the on-trade, for example. We have stepped that up again this year... and not just because it was our fifteenth year of sponsorship, but because with each year we are happier and happier with how it is progressing.”

The campaign featured a mix of on-trade promotional activity, including over 2,000 kits and outlet sampling of The Famous Grouse’s signature drink [Ginger Grouse] combined with extensive matchday ‘ownership’ in and around Edinburgh. A combination of hard-hitting presence at key locations including Glasgow and Edinburgh train stations, Rose Street, the main concourse to Murrayfield and the stadium itself ensured Scots (and everyone else in the capital on matchday) were under no illusion that a rugby match is taking place, or indeed who the team sponsor is.

“ We managed to buy, and I think it’s a first, the Haymarket Domination Package,” says Heath. “That covers every four-sheet, six-sheet and 48-sheet poster site at Haymarket station, along with ad-gates at the turnstiles... the impact of which is amazing. We have that booked for eight weeks, so it will run until after the completion of the tournament.”

Domination of Edinburgh city centre and the routes leading to the stadium were further enhanced via posters, bus-sides, roving scooters and branded taxis, plus promotional staff distributing maps, flags and banners. Meanwhile, a massive ‘Grouse Tent’ marquee in the grounds of the stadium provided live music and sampling to fans.

“Last year the marquee was fairly large, but it was one of the most successful elements of the campaign, so this year, the tent was bigger still – double the size,” she continues. “We had a fully branded bar running down one side with professional bar staff creating the perfect Ginger Grouse [a tall glass filled to the top with ice, a generous measure of Grouse, a good squeeze of lime, topped up to the brim with cold ginger beer] for visitors.

“The tent is so important to us as it is one of our key recruiters for the Ginger Grouse. If you just serve someone with a drink that was half-heartedly made, all the effort would be wasted.

“The Ginger Grouse is our global signature drink for the Famous Grouse. As well as reinforcing The Famous Grouse’s ‘Perfect Union’ tagline we are using the Ginger Grouse to dispel the myth that scotch is a drink that needs to be drunk neat by older people.

“Given the state of the general whisky market, we have to bring younger users in to ensure the long-term success of the category and the brand. The activity on Ginger Grouse, for example, is hopefully just one of many ways that will bring younger drinkers to the brand and the category.”

The main focus of the activity outside Scotland was in-bar promotional kits running in England and Wales, with further, but still limited, activity in Cardiff.

“Next year the challenge is to identify how, or if, we can activate Twickenham in a similar way to that of Edinburgh. Obviously it will be difficult as we don’t enjoy the same relationship with the RFU as we do the SRU, or with the councils and police in London – it’s a real challenge, but certainly something that we want to look at for next year.”

On the subject of future campaigns, the sponsorship agreement is up for renewal in 2007, although Dalrymple refuses to be drawn on any negotiations that might [or might not] be currently underway. “The contract is held by Edrington. It’s held as a global property. I’m pretty sure they will have first refusal on it. We are very happy with how this contract is running. As far as the status of any negotiations that might be underway, I’m afraid there are the usual commercial sensitivities.

“Famous Grouse has stuck by the SRU through thick and thin in its 15-year relationship and as a brand we have got great credit from that. I’d like to think that The Famous Grouse is now synonymous with Scottish rugby. Our tracking study certainly shows that there is a really high awareness of Famous Grouse’s link and association with Scottish rugby. But there is always more to do.

“What’s fundamental is that you can spend a very large amount of money on the actual sponsorship of a team, but you have got to spend an equivalently high amount of money activating that sponsorship it to make it work.”

Heath interjects: “Almost £1m [the cost of the campaign] – essentially spent between November and February – is a lot of money to spend in such a short space of time.

“We work really hard to evaluate what we’ve done, from year to year. It is a significant but efficient spend. We hope, that if we are doing things right, we will see the benefits in the short term, but also a longer-term progression.”

“The commercial performance of the brand has allowed us to spend more on the rugby push, and we believe that the two are connected,” says Dalrymple. “If a brand is performing well, then you have that money at your disposal. If it’s not, sponsorship is one of the first areas to be cut.”

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