Grey Goose’s decision to ditch its “austere” reputation in favor of the more approachable ‘Live Victoriously’ platform is beginning to nudge sales of the premium vodka, according to its global chief marketing officer.
Lee Applbaum, the marketer charged with heading up Grey Goose alongside his initial charge of Patrón, unveiled ‘Live Victoriously’ to the market in April. The platform was devised not to reposition the Bacardi brand per se, but to get consumers to rethink their approach to luxury vodka as they slide towards cheaper labels en masse.
“The issue we heard was, ‘I just don't know if it's worth paying more for’,” Applbaum said. “And ‘worth paying more for’ isn’t about quality – it's about relatability.”
The marketer and his team – many of whom he had brought with him from Patrón –sensed Grey Goose’s French, premium heritage was bordering on snobbish and playing against it; too many consumers were saving it for “big, austere special occasions”, creating a void of sales exacerbated by a squeezed middle class and the premiumization of almost every other spirit in the category.
These issues had been stamped across Bacardi’s bottom line for some time: Grey Goose case sales fell by more than 13% between 2014 and 2017.
Applbaum swiftly swapped agency of record BBDO out for his agency partners at Patrón: MullenLowe and Publicis Sapient, and rolled out ‘Live Victoriously’ less than a year since he took on the dual role.
The campaign’s ask is, essentially: why save a few dollars on your midweek cocktail? Aren’t you worth more? This plays nicely into the insight that millennials are drinking less alcohol, encouraging them to purchase the best when they do go out for a cocktail by heavily investing in digital to “transparently” market the brand’s artisanal roots.
Three months into the overhaul, Applbaum is buoyed by early indicators and feedback (caveating that if he wasn’t, “I would tell you – you could say I’m a PR nightmare”).
“It takes a while to get a big brand with a lot of inertia to turn ... but we do have very early indicators – like monitoring the social conversation, looking at earned media and some very early, albeit anecdotal sales data – that suggest that this messaging is resonating.
“The tenor of the sentiment that we're hearing – especially on social media with influencers, and mixologists – has been nothing but positive. The truth is that the answer was in front of us for a decade. We just didn't listen to it.”
‘Live Victoriously’ is now live in the majority of Bacardi-served markets. Applbaum and his teams have had to make adjustments as global marketers from country to country, particularly in “dark markets”, such as the vodka-loving Russia, where above-the-line advertising of alcohol is illegal.
Elsewhere, the phrase ‘live victoriously’ has not translated easily.
“But the important thing is this will all hang together with a very consistent brand visual identity that will be unquestionably connected across the globe – especially through things like our digital ecosystem, where you're only one click away anywhere in the world to how the brand shows up,” said Applebaum.
“Within 12 months from launch, which happened in April, you will see a complete switch over to ‘Live Victoriously’ as a global platform.”
Like most brands eying growth, Grey Goose has also been focusing more on innovation. Yet Applbaum is staying away from innovating the liquid itself and concentrating on the ecosystem around it – namely, the way it is served and presented.
One of the more ambitious launches from the past few months was its sub-zero draught tap system, designed to capitalize on the UK’s penchant for the ice-cold espresso martini.
This serve-focused strategy is one that takes both the sanctity of the vodka and the costs involved with new product lines into consideration.
“We have to be very, very thoughtful and strategic and, with a brand like Grey Goose, which is looking to reassert a leadership position, you don't do that through ... [creating] a new product 'just because',” Applbaum explained.
“There are a lot of other ways that we can create disruptive innovation – [we ask ourselves] how can we present Grey Goose cocktails in new and meaningful ways before we necessarily have to exploit brand or line extensions, which is the cheap way of getting at it.”
Ultimately, Applbaum was handed the Grey Goose turnaround challenge on the back of his six-year success with Patrón. He believes the similarities between the two to be based in their legacy and premium status, but knows their differences lie in consumer perception.
Unlike Grey Goose, Patrón has swagger – an assertion that lives in Patrón’s pop culture status.
“You find it mentioned in rap and hip-hop and rock, in movies and in television,” Applbaum said. “All – by the way – earned media.”
Indeed, on Complex’s 2013 list of ‘most name-dropped liquor brands in rap history’, Patrón came in third just behind Hennessy and Cristal while Grey Goose came in ninth.
So, sales notwithstanding, perhaps ‘Live Victoriously’ will be considered a success when Lil Nas X starts obsessively making reference to the French stuff.