Bacardi’s Bombay Sapphire is expanding its ambassador program across the country in order to introduce gin to more bars and consumers based outside of the coastal cities.
Despite the martini boom of the 20th century, consumer tastes have seen Americans’ consumption of gin lag behind the UK’s. The latter leads the world with gin sales of just under $4bn, compared to US revenues of $2.9bn.
However, the American market is set to grow annually by 1.4% thanks to a number of factors. Alcohol industry tracker IWSR cites consumers’ interest in plant-based diets as a leading cause of the rise, while the popularity of clear spirits, ‘pink gin’ and the negroni have also been put forward as drivers.
Based out of Miami, Bombay Sapphire is in a position to take advantage of this trend with a heritage brand. Tom Spaven, the company’s brand director for North America, has spent the last two years whittling Bacardi’s “increased investment in the brand” into the platform ‘Stir Creativity’.
The campaign extends into the on-trade as well as the consumer space. Getting bartenders on board is critical for Bombay Sapphire, particularly in places where gin is still seen as “a little bit of an intimidating category”, according to Spaven.
“A lot of ... consumer uptake in retail comes from what they experience in the on-premise – in bars and restaurants,” he said. “Because of the strong relationships we have with top bartenders, that influence trickles down. We also have a team of brand ambassadors, who, for the first time, are actually now spread out across the US."
This growing team is tasked with driving recommendation in bars and restaurants and building Bombay Sapphire’s brand as “a long-term icon”. On launch it set out to target influential, world-leading bars in cities such as New York; now it has expanded into places such as Minneapolis, Chicago and Atlanta.
Spaven describes the program as a “grassroots” channel assessed against long-term ROI metrics. To be a Bombay Sapphire brand ambassador is to be the face of the brand in a city’s trade scene – driving trial, landing cocktail menu placements and encouraging mixologists to enter the company’s flagship sponsored event, the Most Imaginative Bartender Competition.
Perhaps the most vital job of an ambassador, however, is educating the trade in gin itself.
“We find gin is still a very young category in the US – the general bartending community in certain European markets has a lot more knowledge in and around it,” said Spaven. “So we have to ... just walk through the door, introduce people to the brand and introduce people to what gin is really is.
“That is a big driver of volume for us.”
To help the ambassadors with this mission, Bombay Sapphire is adapting its suggested serves for these immature markets, too. The G&T may be the gin drink de rigueur in the UK, but in the US, only 50% of gin drinks are mixed with tonic.
“That means there’s a huge opportunity for us to push the approachability and the versatility of Bombay,” said Spaven. “For instance, lemonade is obviously a cultural icon within the US and the citrus lemon peel within Bombay Sapphire pairs beautifully with a fresh lemonade.
“That’s one example of a great way to drive people into the category – to recruit people into gin and get them trying something that they previously probably would never have thought about.”