How a shot of coffee culture rejuvenated Tia Maria

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Tia Maria needed to be part of the conversation around coffee-based cocktails.

When Mercieca inherited Tia Maria we faced an exciting challenge. A long-established liqueur, Tia Maria was popular with its existing older audience but wanted to engage with a younger demographic.

Despite the global explosion in coffee culture and growth in consumption of alcoholic coffee-flavoured drinks - and the fact that Tia Maria is one of the few well-known drinks on the market that is literally made from coffee - Tia Maria simply wasn’t part of the conversation taking place online and in cocktail bars around the world. It quickly became apparent that a lot of Tia Maria branded communications, including the bottle, didn’t even include the word ‘coffee’, which obviously had an impact when it came to online search.

We set about changing that by thoroughly researching the look, language and feel of the ‘coffee culture’ scene and then feeding our learnings back into a fully integrated multi-channel strategy (incorporating design, print, digital, PR, social, experiential and advertising).

In with the in-crowd

At Mercieca our proposition is ‘integrated not complicated’. So that’s how we set about creating a linguistic and visual design guide that would be a consistent thread throughout the multi-touchpoint campaign, the ‘Tia Maria + Coffee Project’. A global creative platform to align Tia Maria with modern coffee culture. We created worldwide brand guidelines and marketing assets, featuring a unique graphic style and tone of voice to resonate with millennials.

Having identified who we were talking to, it was crucial for us to communicate with them via their platforms and real-world locations of choice. We created original still and moving content for Tia Maria’s Facebook feed, increasing average monthly organic reach from 3,700 to 31,000 per post, an increase of 741%.

Our biggest digital task however was designing and building a fully responsive global website, featuring scrolling parallax, live social feeds, ‘how to’ cocktail videos and, most importantly, a considered approach to SEO that keeps Tia Maria part of the conversation going on online.

Aligning with café culture, we also created an interactive Tia Maria café through Facebook Canvas taking fans through the bricks and mortar coffee shop journey.

We made a series of videos to replicate the welcome of a coffee shop, followed by a carousel of photography shot by our in-house team showcasing the Tia Maria cocktail menu.

We activated a pop up experience at last year’s London Cocktail Week, serving up our signature Tia Maria coffee cocktails in a specially designed ‘bar’ to over 10,000 cocktail fans.

In with the off trade

While younger drinkers can often be reached online, it was important to ensure the campaign was also highly visible in bars and the off trade. We designed limited edition summer value added packs (VAP) exclusively for key off trade outlets. 65,000 special packs were rolled out nationwide, featuring a free ceramic coffee cup which could be customized using chalk.

To support the brand in bars, we made and launched the Tia Maria + Coffee Project Academy: a training program dedicated to spreading knowledge on the craft of coffee cocktails to bartenders. Academies are held globally and led by some of the world’s finest bartenders and baristas, helping to embed Tia Maria as the ‘go to’ recommendation for coffee cocktails.

The multi-pronged campaign threw up lots of opportunities for great content and PR coverage, including Metro, Sunday Telegraph, Stella Magazine and Stylist, generating over 200m opportunities to see.

Last, but by no means least, we created a city-specific advertising campaign. Working with renowned still life photographer Eugenio Franchi, we created our very own Tia Maria coffee capital, replicating the London skyline using only coffee and cocktail paraphernalia.

The campaign, Coffee Lovers Unite, was a visual representation of the union between coffee and cocktails. It featured in all channels from traditional print media nationwide to global social media paid-for videos. It ran in national print titles including The Guardian, Elle, GQ and Glamour for three months in 2016 and a further two months OOH summer campaign in 2017, reaching 150m impressions across the UK.

It has already started to spread globally, with the creation of the Amsterdam skyline for the Dutch market and future plans of more cities across key markets.

Key lessons include working hard upfront at learning the rules of ‘the conversation’ before you try to join in and then make sure your messaging and design is consistent across all touch-points where your target audience will be found. Sure, younger consumers expect a strong, engaging digital element but it’s clear that great design and execution of traditional advertising and PR still have a part to play in a brand campaign of this scale.

Think of it like a cocktail.

Pete Calvert is creative director of Mercieca

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