Lambrini girls may just wanna have fun, but Richard Clark, top Lambrini boy, simply doesn’t have the time. Catching the head of marketing at Halewood International for a chat was harder than Mike Tyson with a diamond knuckle-duster. He was in, he was out, he was quite possibly shaking it all about, but he certainly wasn’t at his desk when we were due for a chat.
But such is life when you’re steering the fortunes of a brand portfolio that includes names such as Red Square, Sidekick, Caribbean Twist, Solaz and a fridge-full of other top line drink names. There’s a constant demand for solutions to slake various marketing needs, and you always seem to be the one on your feet getting them in.
Finally, after many false dawns, and a few apologies, Clark was reclining at his desk and ready to talk perry.
Or not, as it transpired.
“We’re seen as a perry by the authorities and industry bodies and that’s fine, we are a perry, but that’s not generally how the consumer sees us. The consumer sees Lambrini as a fizzy wine and I say let the consumer see it as they see fit. Why change their perception of a successful story?”
It’s not that surprising to hear Clark almost dismissing the intrinsic nature of his blue-riband product. After all, it didn’t sell 50million bottles last year on the strap-line ‘Lambrini girls just wanna have a fermented pear juice drink’. You could say it’s not the perry that’s important, it’s the perception.
“It is important that perry gains recognition,” Clark conceded, slightly against the grain, “but for Lambrini the proposition is very much ‘party fizz’. A drink that groups of girls can come together and enjoy, whether they’re having a party or having a few drinks before going out. To them it’s an accessible fizzy wine that’s not too complicated and easy to enjoy. That’s why we’ve stuck to a consistent message that demonstrates exactly what the brand’s all about: Lambrini girls just wanna have fun.”
This evergreen Cyndi Lauper-inspired strap-line has been around since many of the drink’s disciples were in (primary) school skirts. The product launched in 1994 and according to Clark the successful line has “only ever been tweaked” during that period. A case of “evolved rather than revolutionised” according to our man, providing a microcosm of the broader marketing strategy itself.
“The marketing, the brand and the consumer are all evolving and we’re ensuring that this happens appropriately, at the right time. The 18-35-year-old female owns the brand (with, as Clark coins it, ‘the hot-spot’ being the 18-24 sub-grouping) and we need to be aware of their changes and what they want to see. With that in mind we’ve reviewed the packaging, we’re reviewing the liquid, but I don’t think we’ll change it, and we’re looking at the type of activity we do.”
For a brand that’s traditionally had a heavyweight TV presence the next words tripping off his tongue were mildly surprising: “TV isn’t the be all and end all of marketing communication programmes is it?” But rather than being a presage of swingeing cuts in the schedule, this again backs up Clark’s theory of evolution.
“TV’s been very heavy and it will still have a presence, but it’s important that it fits in with and forms part of the overall communication mix.” Explaining, he added: “TV will work with consumer press, with radio, with PR, with texting initiatives, with our active sampling program to ensure that we hit the market where and when they want to access the brand. After all it’s their brand and we’re in partnership with them.
“Over the last 18 months we’ve switched to a much broader communications mix and I’m sure that that’s a trend that’s set to continue.”
So, it’s far from the end of the Lambrini girls having fun on our small screens, but keen extrapolators out there will come to their own conclusions about the scale of that presence. Whatever happens in that respect Lambrini is certainly upping the ante across other domains. PR-driven exercises like the Lambrini Hunks sampling tour (cowboy hat clad chaps keen to satisfy thirsty ladies) and the on-going search for the Lambrini Girl (the 2005 choice, Blackpool’s Sarah O’Byrne, a 22-year-old telesales advisor and aspiring model, looks like a worthy winner – www.lambrinigirls.com) apparently drum up column inches and demand in equal measure. A useful tool when you’re trying to conquer new markets.
“In the off-trade we have almost 100 per cent distribution and it’s seen as a true cornerstone of the drinks fixture,” imparted Clark with justified pride, before adding, “but the on-trade is a different challenge.”
“The on-trade has traditionally associated Lambrini girls with wanting to have fun at home. However, we’re breaking into that market and on-trade retailers are realising that we have a loyal army of 2.5million off-trade customers who love Lambrini; it’s something that they should be taking advantage of.
He continued: “The retailer is looking for excitement, theatre, brands that can renew their fridge and single serve products that appeal to customers, while we’re keen to get access to our core consumer group of 18-24-year-olds. So, we took expert advice on how to meet these needs and were told to sleeve the bottle to add on-shelf impact, and that’s exactly what we did. It’s working very well for us. It’s becoming a viable alternative to alcopops, cider, beer and wine.”
The bedazzling be-sleeved bottles seem to be going down rapidly at bar chains such as Brannigans across the UK, leading to more sleeved offerings and new product development for the off-trade: Lambrini Bucks Fizz and Lambrini Bubbly, both launched within the last six weeks. Clark again lauds these new additions as the result of “listening to the consumer and giving them what they want”: an ostensibly simple and effective marketing modus operandi.
But giving the consumer what they want and giving the consumer what the authorities want them to want are two very different things. And this brings us on to the sticky wicket of marketing to this, potentially vulnerable, group responsibly. Has this been a problem for Clark and co?
“We are members of the Portman Group and we work very closely with the ASA,” is the earnest reply.” In terms of the Drink Aware initiative it’s on all our packaging and we actively support it. Of course the brand’s about people having fun, but we’re encouraging them to do that both safely and responsibly.”
Fine sentiments. But what about the continued use of the word ‘girls’ and the associated connotations of youth?
“The word girls can mean women in their twenties or beyond, it’s not really an age related term anymore. Girls is allowed, and if we used the term ladies having fun... well I think that might suggest something else.”
If that was a sticky wicket Clark’s obviously a better batter than I am a bowler, leaving us with the final googly of Lambrini’s image. Is it not a shade downmarket?
“We’ve got 2.5million loyal consumers,” he responded, lofting the conversational ball over the boundary for a six, “I think that really speaks for itself. It’s a simple proposition and we don’t intend to overcomplicate it. We acknowledge both what we are and what we’re not. We’re not a £7 bottle of wine, we are a light, accessible fizzy wine and people enjoy it. That’s the essence of the brand and something that we intend to stay true to.”
Varieties: Original, Diet, Cherry, Baby, Bucks Fizz, Cream and Bubbly.
Agencies: CheethamBell JWT, Mediacom North and Brazen (in-house design team headed by Jane Lumby).
Fact: Has 60 per cent of the perry market.
Watch out for: Upcoming activity includes Lambrini Girls just wanna have fun in the sun and Lambrini World Cup wives.