Luke Di Rollo By Luke Di Rollo
Senior Account Director
4th October, 2021

Packaging has to work harder than ever to deliver brand impact, because consumer behaviour is changing faster than ever, and retail/ hospitality restrictions are curtailing the amount of promotion we normally have in our arsenal. For a short while (we hope), the ultra-competitive back bar environment is being swapped for the ultra-competitive off-trade shelf or e-commerce shop. Kick-ass packs and attractive flavour propositions are essential as consumers look to experiment and try new things at home to break the monotony and replace the lack of stimulus from not going out.

This is backed by great thinkers. Seth Godin said that ‘Being safe is risky’ in his book Purple Cow back in 2003. This is a great theory, but the acid test I believe in any core pack update, new product development or range extension is: Will a significant % of the target audience want to buy it? Consumer validation is something we pride ourselves on at Guy & Co. We fuse a creative agency with a research agency approach to plan, create, test and reiterate propositions and pack concepts that positively trigger purchase intent and interest among target consumers. Early in a project we challenge our creatives to approach briefs from a safe-ish, pushing it, to out-there brave creative aesthetic. Being safe is not a space we tend to find works for consumer interest metrics. Particularly with our one of our favourite client brands, Smokehead whisky: ‘The wild one of Islay Single Malt Whisky’.

Following a repack across the original Smokehead and Cask Strength expressions (High Voltage), we developed confident and disruptive brand assets: bold typography, an iconic skull and textured backgrounds. But we needed to push where the brand could take new flavour propositions to extend the range and bring in new drinkers.

Our first discovery was experimenting with a rich Sherry finish, and ‘Sherry Bomb’ erupted – a Smokehead that had been boldly blasted by Oloroso Sherry casks. A brave concept in the Single Malt category, perhaps not in flavour expression but in name and attitude. ‘Sherry Bomb’ caused quite a stir and although validated by fanatic target UK and US drinkers, we iron-cast our proof of global appeal before any bottles were filled.

“As the name suggests, the bottle is the embodiment of the name Smokehead. It sounds explosive and full of flavour.”

Guy & Research, panel of 200 US consumers.

And it blew up in exactly the way consumer research said it would. Sherry Bomb sold double its allocation across UK, US and German key markets in 2018. We’d set a high benchmark for new expressions, we had vindication of being brave, and Smokeheads told us they wanted more…

So, amid the 2019 ‘rum-volution’, a rum cask finish was next in line – a collision of Smokehead’s award-winning whisky and Caribbean rum casks. This riot of flavour, a simple yet disruptive analogy, became the backdrop for Smokehead Rum Riot; a riot of colours and patterns, reflecting the clashing of two heavyweights of the spirits world. The distinctive pack and launch activation caused a riot in Cannes where it won ‘Best drinks launch’ at the Cannes Travel Retail awards.

Based on these insights, there are more exciting and disruptive expressions launching in 2020/ 21. Being brave includes category hopping flavour expressions we may experiment in. But we will never be blindly led by a brave idea; our creative bravery only works when tested.