A bitter taste: Has the Negroni's popularity turned things around for Campari?
Last week saw Campari – the bright red apéritif with a top secret recipe – open a two-week pop-up bar in London's hipster capital dedicated to the Negroni cocktail.
The concoction, which is available in 30 different guises at the bar, is having more than a 'moment'; countless articles have been written on its resurgence by the on-trade press (although none can really explain its sudden popularity) and Condé Nast Traveler [sic] went as far as dubbing it the cosmopolitan of the decade: "a zeitgeist-defining cocktail that’s as beloved as it is ubiquitous".
In its purest form, the bitter drink comprises just three ingredients: gin, red vermouth and Campari. This recipe list is a gift for the Gruppo Campari brand, according to its marketing director, Nick Williamson.
"You can play around with 1,000s of gins and vermouths but there’s really one Campari," he said. "According to Drinks International, which surveyed the world's top 50 bars, the Negroni is the number two classic cocktail."
Number one is the whisky-laden Old Fashioned. But, explained Williamson, "you can make a lot of versions of the Old Fashioned. Campari always needs to be in the Negroni."
As such, there's been a 58% uplift in in the number of 25-44-year olds drinking Campari in just four years. And without discrediting his own marketing work on the brand (he has been at the company for less than a year), Williamson cites the rise in popularity of gin and sister brand Aperol, as a factor in Campari's popularity – its bitter taste has become much more palatable than it would have been in the vodka-loving '90s.
But it hasn't always been this way.
"It’s a brand that was very popular in the 1980s, especially in the UK with its big TV advertising campaigns, and in more recent years - for whatever reason – it hasn’t been so popular," explained Williamson. "Traditionally it’s been seen as a drink for maybe a more mature generation so we needed to make it relevant to younger people."
Enter Campari's #RediscoverRed pop-up bar: located in the trendy Shoreditch district, branded to within an inch of its life with iconic Campari imagery (the brand has been around since 1860) and modern installations, and serving up a huge raft of Negronis with names such as 'The Red King' and 'Carpe Diem' to both consumers and its on-trade partners.
The pop-up, which was delivered by agency The Field, is built upon a similar concept launched in the capital last year and has a fairly simple communication aim. "A lot of people are aware of Campari but are not too sure what it tastes like or how to drink it," said Williamson. "The main measure of success is to recruit new drinkers to the brand. It’s about taking ownership and really getting that message out that there is no Negroni without Campari."
The brand's US team was arguably a little quicker at catching onto the trend of the blood red cocktail. It declared 2011 'The Year of the Negroni' and launched an annual 'Negroni Week', all but guaranteeing a wave of press attention. Now the UK has caught on and is going straight for the juiciest of demographics – the millennial.
The trendy Shoreditch location aside, Williamson explained the brand's preferred social media channel of choice is Instagram when amplifying experiences such as #RediscoverRed. "I think that’s where people are moving to," he said. "And with the red colour of Campari...it’s a very vibrant look and feel that we’re going for. Campari’s a brand that’s had a longer history with the creative community and the arts - it’s quite a visual thing, it lends itself more than Instagram to other channels."
The next step is to move the campaign beyond London, taking these visual creations to on-trade outlets throughout the UK Williamson said: "We’re going to be placing light boxes in a bunch of influential bars around the country - taking the classic artwork, putting it in a new environment and bringing it to life."
But, he added, Campari can't ride the Negroni wave forever. "We’re well aware that the Negroni alone isn’t going to drive the growth of the brand." So there's "big news" to come regarding its annual calendar later in the year, and the next push will come in the form of the Campari and tonic, which Williamson imagines as a cooler, international version of the G&T.
"It’s red, it’s from Milan, it’s sexy and it’s a bit different," he said.