The alcopop bubble appears to have burst. Once-fashionable brands are haemorrhaging sales, and none more so than one of the category's originators - Bacardi Breezer.
The brand was launched in 1994 with an iconic ad campaign featuring a nightlife-loving cat called Tom. It quickly became the drink of choice for consumers in their late-teens and early-20s, though its appeal to this age group was one of the factors in the controversy that has gone on to engulf the category.
Because its fruit flavours and sweetness make it more difficult to taste the alcohol, it has become something of a pariah brand, with both parents and pressure groups claiming it encourages young people to abuse alcohol.
This has made price and quantity deals off-limits, while new laws and advertising rules have been brought in that severely restrict the ways in which Bacardi can promote the brand.
Sales are suffering. In 2002 it was the biggest brand in the market, but its value share had slumped 62.5% by 2005, according to Mintel. It has slipped to third place behind Smirnoff Ice and Beverage Brands' WKD, which enjoyed a rise in value of 33.8% over the same period.
While Bacardi Breezer's figures are worse than most, the category as a whole is suffering. Total flavoured alcoholic beverage (FAB) sales between 2002 and 2005 were down 22.4%.
The biggest reason for the continued decline in the category's value sales is the pressure put on prices as a result of a heavy discounting war among supermarkets. This, coupled with the increased controls on advertising and promotions, have heaped further pain on the market.
Bacardi has taken action in an attempt to reverse Breezer's decline.
It has been developing the range and last year launched a half-sugar version. After splitting with McCann-Erickson, the company commissioned Campbell Doyle Dye to create a campaign with the strapline 'Half of me', but it appears to have done little to stem losses.
We asked Andy Edge, marketing director of The Tussauds Group, who launched lager-based ready-to-drink beverage Fusion in 2002, when he was marketing director at Holsten, and Mike Branson, managing partner at branding agency Pearlfisher, who has worked on drinks brands including Absolut, how Bacardi Breezer should set about boosting sales.
VITAL SIGNS - FLAVOURED ALCOHOL BEVERAGE BRANDS BY VALUE 2005* 2002 % chng pounds m % pounds m % 02-05 Smirnoff Ice 413 34 399 25 3.5 WKD 364 30 272 17 33.8 Bacardi Breezer 157 13 419 27 -62.5 Reef 85 7 93 6 -8.6 VK 61 5 41 3 48.8 Archers Aqua 29 2 99 6 -70.7 Source: Mintel *Estimated
DIAGNOSIS 1 - ANDY EDGE SALES AND MARKETING DIRECTOR, THE TUSSAUDS GROUP
When I was at Holsten we used to debate whether the Bacardi team really planned to create the premium packaged spirit category in the late-90s or whether it was just a brand extension that went ballistic. Whatever the truth, the brand had huge success and changed the drinking habits of a generation.
The insights behind the brand were clear. Not all young people actually like the taste of lager, premium packaged lagers had lost some image appeal and for many consumers Bacardi Breezer was a way to 'get there' easier and faster.
As soon as the brand became a part of the staple diet of both stag and hen parties (as well as kids on street corners) its credibility was lost and sales started to slump.
There can be no doubt that the brand is in terminal decline in the UK.
The premium packaged drink consumer base is fickle and will constantly be looking for the next thing. If you contrast this with a general trend toward authenticity and provenance, the challenges are clear, but substantial, for this category.
- There is still huge growth potential globally. Accept that the UK profit potential has been largely banked and look abroad.
- Ensure that the brand holds distribution in enough trendy places for cool consumers to still see it.
- Consumer price promotions will be the best way to drive volume sales.
- Bacardi can extend its brand further by combining the authenticity and heritage of the parent in a new credible brand.
DIAGNOSIS 2 - MIKE BRANSON MANAGING PARTNER, PEARLFISHER
Bacardi Breezer can get you drunk in an easy, uncomplicated way. Dismissed by most people over the age of 13, it's the brand everyone has tried but no one acknowledges.
Like your first pair of Speedos, you look back and cringe.
But that's not necessarily a bad thing. RTDs have always been transitional or alternative drinks, an easy substitute to drinks such as wine, beer or cocktails that have an inherent credibility. Bacardi Breezer has fulfilled that role successfully for many years. So what's changed?
Critically, the drinks market is becoming increasingly premium. A new generation of RTD competitors are targeting men to gain more edge and more credibility. With its laddish sense of humour, WKD is able to successfully communicate its truth - that it can get you drunk quickly and easily. But Bacardi Breezer selling the same message to women is about as palatable as cranberry rum refresher.
In this new environment, Breezers are looking dated, girlie, sugary and cheap - more sex in an alley than Sex and the City.
- Reinvent the category. Redefine what premium means for RTDs.
- Launch products that go beyond predictable flavour extensions.
- Don't try to make it something it's not.Play up the brand's Latin roots to give it some depth, soul and warmth.
- Move on from the binge bandwagon to gain respect through innovation.
- Use Bacardi's influence to advocate a more responsible attitude to alcohol.
This article was first published on Marketing