For Diageo’s Robinson, The Right Mix Fuels Brand Purpose

Anita Robinson, European category marketing director for vodka, rum, and gin at the drinks giant, says it’s important to the brand that people are having the best experience when they enjoy its drinks.

For Diageo’s Robinson, The Right Mix Fuels Brand Purpose

by Sean Hargrave

Posted on 11-07-2017

Anita Robinson believes the best way to grow a brand is through purpose—a brand with clear meaning connects with consumers and grows three times faster than a brand without. As European category marketing director for vodka, rum, and gin at drinks giant Diageo, she also believes gender stereotypes in advertising are starting to be eroded. This makes it more vital than ever that a brand speaks to its market in a gender-neutral way.

So when we caught up with her at the Festival of Marketing in London recently, we started off by asking her about the purpose of each of its brands and whether these values are changing as the sector becomes more gender-neutral.

Anita Robinson: We work out what each brand’s purpose should be through really understanding our brand and insights about our consumer, including how they enjoy our drinks and under what context. The overlap between these gives us the brand’s purpose.

So, with Gordon’s Gin, for example, the idea is enjoying the zest of life. It’s positioned as that lovely drink to have at the end of the day, say between 5pm to 7pm. Tanqueray speaks more to people who are curious, yearn for discovery in life and their brand choices—Tanqueray was voted the bartender’s favourite gin in the world’s top 50 bars.

Captain Morgan is the champion of fun and, most importantly, fun you remember with friends. It speaks mostly to millennials who are working hard and finding it harder to get on in life than their parents would have, but still love to have fun and enjoy new experiences.

With Smirnoff, we are talking to a younger vodka audience, normally aged 21 to 35, for whom inclusivity is very important. That’s why we’ve partnered with Pride and Tesco to offer limited-edition bottles with same sex couples under the strapline “Choose Love.”

Baileys is all about having the perfect adult indulgence, being part cake, part booze, making it the ideal treat. Smirnoff recently exclaimed “labels are for bottles” in support of diversity and inclusivity, and also created exclusive “Choose Love” bottles. Do you believe some of the older assumptions about who enjoys which drink should be challenged?

Robinson: That Smirnoff campaign was hugely successful because we worked with Tesco and Pride, who were hugely supportive. The younger drinker, who will typically prefer Smirnoff, is open to that message and believes that we wrongly label people vs accepting them for who they are. So there are still some demographic differences in some categories, but, generally, gender and sexual differences are starting to erode.

Whisky is still enjoyed more by men in the U.K, but, in other countries, such as Spain, there’s a far more even split. But our messaging is still gender-neutral. With Haig Club, for example, we’re running campaigns that show that whisky is for everyone and can be enjoyed any way you like it—no rules. What about brand experience as well as meaning? Does your strategy to affect customer experience vary, according to the meaning for each brand?

Robinson: Customer experience is fundamental to our brands, we get out there as much as possible with consumers in appropriate settings through pop-up bars and brand experiences. The key is it must tap into how those customers want to enjoy your drinks and how that fits in with each brand.

With Smirnoff, we have a partnership with Live Nation, and so it’s all about engaging with people at festivals who want to share moments enjoying the world’s biggest spirit brand and the excitement of a live music event.

We also have Captain Morgan events, where our buccaneer Henry Morgan will turn up with his crew, introducing people to the brand and showing how it’s all about having fun with like-minded people.

We also run Tanqueray Terraces at popular bars, where our gin experts will set up a pop-up bar and explain how the gin’s made and how to enjoy it to its fullest. What about the day-to-day experience, outside of experiential marketing? How can you ensure your brands are enjoyed to the fullest?

Robinson: We offer training every year to more than 90,000 bar staff in 20 countries across Europe through the Diageo Bar Academy. The focus is on making sure they give customers the right experience through the perfectly made drink.

I’m sure many people will know how underwhelming it is to be offered a bad G&T, so we train bar staff to create amazing drinks in lovely Copa glasses, with fresh lime and filled with ice. It’s a world away from the type of gin you might have been given at a bar a decade ago.

We also have a lot of help and advice through our consumer site,, which tells people about our drinks, and how to serve them best, and how to mix fantastic cocktails. It’s so important to us that people are having the best experience when they enjoy our drinks. How do you feel about the craft movement, particularly gin? How can you compete with startup micro-distilleries and stay relevant?

Robison: We love what we call “noise” in our categories. It’s great that there’s been so much excitement around gin in the past few years.

What we’re finding is that people get really into finding out about different types of gin and how they’re made, what they go with. Then, they also go back to their favourites such as Gordon’s. That’s why we’re seeing double-digit growth in our gin brands. Will this discovery of new gins carry on or will another sector become “hot?”

Robinson: My prediction is that just as people have enjoyed finding new gins and then coming back to what they know best, we’ll see the same in rum over the next couple of years. Just as with gin, that is good for the category, which is the second-fastest growing spirits category in the world.

We’re already seeing double-digit growth for Captain Morgan’s, and so excitement in rum, I predict, can only be good for us too.

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