Magazine article Marketing

ANALYSIS: Diageo Puts Spotlight on Drinks Innovation

Magazine article Marketing

ANALYSIS: Diageo Puts Spotlight on Drinks Innovation

Article excerpt

The world's biggest premium drinks firm is embracing change. Emily Rogers visits its UK innovation lab to investigate further.

Three PRs and a smattering of staff are waiting outside Diageo's high-security innovation lab in the wilds of Essex. There is a sense of anticipation, and the drinks giant's employees seem slightly nervous at the prospect of the press nosing around their inner sanctum.

Standing in a spotless lab reminiscent of a school chemistry classroom, Diageo brand innovation group director Steve Wilson explains how the company is finding ways of taking existing brands and making them accessible to new consumers - or to consumers in different drinking situations.

It has developed Baileys Glide, for example, to encourage drinkers of the cream liqueur to enter into the culture of buying rounds with friends. Baileys itself is drunk in small measures, meaning it doesn't last as long as a pint of beer or glass of wine. So Baileys Glide was created to 'lengthen' the drink - diluting its ABV from 17% to 4% to allow people to drink more.

This unusual factory tour is designed to showcase the fact that Diageo is not lacking in scientific know-how when it comes to creating drinks.

There is the Flavour Library - reminiscent of Damien Hirst's Pharmacy - with numerous chemical reproductions of natural tastes. There is the eerie red lighting, blue glasses and computers of the Sensory Booths, where 'supertasters' help identify flavour fingerprints for drinks. And finally, there is the Pilot Plant, with scaled-down versions of machines designed to produce small quantities of drinks so they can be tested.

In the Pilot Plant, Wilson points to a machine that takes flat beer and removes colour and flavour, allowing Diageo to add its own. 'We can turn water into wine,' he says.

Magical charm

Such mysticism is central to what Diageo is trying to communicate. When asked exactly what is added to Baileys to make Glide, Wilson refuses to answer. 'There's a lot of value in the magic,' he says. 'We want to create an experience. Listing ingredients would ruin that.'

So why was Marketing invited inside the factory at all? The answer is a newfound dedication to self-promotion. By its own admission, the company is keen to be more open with the press.

Diageo's PR agency Cohn & Wolfe, which organised the tour of the lab, has been briefed to 'raise the profile of the Diageo brand'. But one stumbling block is that the word 'Diageo' lacks personality.

It is one of those names - like Consignia, Centrica, Accenture and Ocado - that is deliberately meaningless, but as free of negative associations as possible.

Yet this is the world's biggest premium drinks business. Its GB arm alone boasted a turnover of pounds 847m in the six months to December 2003, but its brands - some of the most famous names in the country, from Archers and Smirnoff to Gordon's and Guinness - completely overshadow the identity of their parent company. Which was fine. Until now.

Diageo head of brand communications Alicia Tetlow explains: 'For the past five years we have been focusing on mergers, acquisitions and separating Burger King from the business.

'Now we have one name, one agenda and a focus on premium drinks. We want to be seen as one of the world's most respected consumer drinks companies - which means letting people know what we stand for.'

In short, Tetlow wants Diageo to be famous for its innovation. So does this focus on brand mean we can expect to see it follow Nestle and Unilever by stamping its logo across its product portfolio? …

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