How Bombay Sapphire Is Shaking Up Digital

Gin is on the upswing. Gin accounts for just a single-digit percentage of US alcohol sales, but new brand entrants and a renewed interest in its bright flavors are making the category grow faster than many other spirits.

Bombay Sapphire, as one of the classic gins on the market, is increasing its marketing investment to capitalize on this trend.

It’s not bothered by new brands – such as Ryan Reynolds’ Aviation Gin – because they bring more attention to the category overall.

“Gin is on a much faster growth trajectory than most other liquor categories,” said Bombay Sapphire brand director Tom Spaven. “We embrace new entrants because it gets people writing about gin and thinking about us, a quality London dry gin.”

The Bacardi-owned brand takes a disciplined approach to marketing. Every campaign has an “M&E,” or marketing and evaluation, plan, that ties a campaign to precise short-term or long-term objectives.

Though events are hallmarks of spirits brands, Bombay Sapphire marries its events with digital advertising. Content from an event is distributed online or in social media, extending the impact of an event, which may be a search for the best bartender or an art fair.

The installation “Painted by Everyone”, for example, allowed people online to instruct a robotic arm to paint part of a canvas. The finished piece was showcased at The Other Art Fair LA.

Spaven spoke to AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: What role does digital play in your marketing?

TOM SPAVEN: It’s a core part of our plan. Our overall strategy starts with the consumer. We put them at the heart of everything we do. We know they are living in a digital world. I find it unhelpful to look at old categorizations of media like out-of-home and TV. Everything is digital these days, regardless of the medium used to display it.

What’s your approach to measurement?

We are very clear about what the short-term and long-term growth drivers are. You can’t boil the ocean and try to do everything in one go.

If your core objective is to drive buzz and relevance, you can’t have a corresponding commercial goal attached to it immediately. If you have the goal of driving earned media and PR, for example, we can get a quick read on whether we’re talked about or written about.

Is programmatic part of your online marketing strategy?

Programmatic is key. It allows us to reach our audiences in premium, contextual environments at scale. We’ve seen better engagement and attitudinal performance with programmatic. We see uplift in perception of the brand and active number of engagements.

Have you tested ecommerce?

We are getting learnings now off a small base. We have shoppable social ads going out through Facebook and Instagram to get Bombay Sapphire delivered to your door in an hour. It’s linked to the nearest ecommerce partner. 

What potential do you see in alcohol ecommerce and delivery – such as Drizly or Reserve Bar?

We look at that as a new source of growth in the future. There are several partners emerging right now, which is opening up massive opportunities in the digital commerce space. It’s not just triggering a purchase online, but understanding our customers through data. Once we develop a one-to-one relationship we can of course drive a transaction. But we need to know when is the right time to push an offer vs. a piece of editorial content to inspire them. 

Do you have your own first-party data?

We have a database of consumers that we’ve really built up over the past year. Some of the partners we work with share consumer data on an opt-in basis, but we can use that data and have more meaningful relations with a huge audience that has opted in to be part of our brand and creative experience.

What role does social media play for you?

We know it’s where our target audience spends the vast majority of their time. With our focus on visual art and visual creativity, Instagram is important. It’s effectively an art gallery for everyone. We know there is an audience on Facebook. We have our eye on TikTok, if the audience is old enough. There isn’t a right or wrong channel, it has to do with the objective we’re driving, and if we can have a conversation that makes our brand look and feel human.

Why target the art world in your event sponsorships and ads?

We are a brand that wants to inspire and awaken the creative potential that lives in all of us. And we’ve been known and embraced by creative communities around North America. We use attitudinal targeting measures. Our profile of the consumer we call the “expressionist,” people who are interested in the arts and culinary world.

And we have a long track record of supporting upcoming artists and bartenders. We have the Most Imaginative Bartender competition and the #StirCreativity campaign.

Where do you stand on the in-house marketing trend?

I see our media and creative partners as much more than people on the other end of the line taking a brief. I see them as strategic partners. We are happy where we are, and I think we have a good balance with our own internal ideation.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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