The power of partnerships

Terry van Rhyn reminisces on the magic that happens when brands and agencies truly work together.

Sometimes the stars align to create an advertising campaign that is extra special. When this happens, one must recognise all the people who helped to create the magic, not least the client. (As ad people, we often forget the important role brave clients play in the successful outcome of a campaign!)

This is a story of one of my first such occasions. It goes back many years to my agency in South Africa when my client – a very large national liquor distributor and marketing company – was working on a new product. At the time, we enjoyed working on other brands in their stable – such as Moet et Chandon, Bailey’s Irish Cream, and Cinzano.

We may have enjoyed these a little too much but we were in the fortunate position that the client saw their ad agency as an extension to their own marketing department. We were truly integrated with their business to the extent that we regularly accompanied the brand managers to meet the local sales managers. This gave us a deep understanding of how the brands we worked on were promoted and consumed on the ground.

We were also often involved at the early stages of product development to make sure we appreciated what went into the blending, distilling or brewing of the product and we worked hand-in-hand with their specialist packaging company. This was a true “across-the-line” collaboration.

What the client was looking for now was to position a particular brand in the very popular and profitable shooter category. The brand was Sambuca, which at the time, was pretty much confined to being a drink enjoyed after dinner in a fancy restaurant. It had a certain theatre about it with the three coffee beans and lighting of the alcohol which was then extinguished by a long silver spatula.

Well, what better product to turn into a messy shooter drink? Research further suggested that there was a huge section of the female market who would like to participate in the shooter rituals but did not particularly like the harsh taste of tequila and would prefer something sweeter.

So, after some wizardry from the client’s master blenders, Lupini Black Sambuca was born. With strikingly unique black packaging, its heritage and provenance were a nod to its Italian roots and we chose an ominous looking black scorpion to be our brand icon to confirm this product’s mysterious intentions.

We came up with the tagline “Set the night alight” which as well as appealing to avid party-goers everywhere, gave us a perfect opportunity to incorporate an updated version of the restaurant “flambé” ritual.

This involved setting alight the three coffee beans but using the palm of your hand over the glass to extinguish the flame. The vacuum this created was quite a party trick on its own and once all onlookers were suitable impressed you then sniffed the fumes through your nose as you gently broke the seal.

The client had ambitious sales projections for this brand and set the target for the first year at 76,000 cases. Their original idea was to create a 30-second TV commercial but we felt there was an opportunity to grow the brand organically and proposed that we keep it under wraps and only roll it out to a select few on- and off-consumption outlets that included the top night clubs and the bigger retail liquor stores in the major cities.

For the trade, we produced a cool product launch music video with very little “sell” and more “image and attitude” so the retailers could get a sense of the kind of consumer this brand would appeal to in their outlets and clubs. With them on board, we went ahead and employed “barkers” – today known as influencers.

We scoped out all the top nightclubs and, along with the managers, identified Lupini “ambassadors” who had the power to offer their friends free Lupini drinks. We even had a few black Suzuki 4×4’s complete with silver scorpion decal for the barkers to drive around the cities for a few months and to park outside the clubs.

For the off-consumption outlets, we produced some arresting gondola end displays and made sure we sent in a few barkers to make a fuss about the product during high store traffic times on a Saturday morning.

It was not long till our client starting to receive calls from retailers and club owners asking when would they be able to stock this amazing new product called Lupini? Word of mouth is a powerful channel and not quite six months after launched we reached our annual goal of 76,000 cases!

At that point, it was time to use this traction to go big and expose the brand on a national level with a TV commercial. The making of the ad is another story in itself but suffice to say we were determined to make an impact and engaged with a production studio and movie director who was known for directing big science fiction movies. Along with a 1.5 metre fibreglass scorpion, a lot of camera trickery and a specially composed soundtrack inspired by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, it was an epic shoot to say the least.

It was also extremely well received by consumers and we could see the impact in the marketplace as we rolled out the cinema version from city to city.

Looking back, the brand’s success hinged on the marketing strategy we put in place and the buzz we created. But that could only happen because we were working together with a client who understood the value of branding and marketing, and who was also brave enough to push creative boundaries.

Together we helped it become a brand that a certain age group during that time made their own and their stories became what gave the brand its cult status.

Ultimately it was a win/win/win. A great brand was created, producing a happy client whose target was exceeded. Happy consumers made memories and a happy agency enjoyed creating the magic!

I’ve been lucky to experience this kind of partnership with other clients over the years and it’s always been a powerful force, even on limited budgets and with other constraints. While money can help, it’s the shared understanding and ambition that really drives outstanding campaigns. So work together – and work close. Your brand will thank you for it.