Monday, August 22, 2011

The Captain Morgan Spiced Rum campaign, and why it's never gonna work...

Give the gang at Diageo credit, the concept behind the 'Captain and Cola' campaign is subtle and clever. It shows an ambitious strategy and the potential to greatly increase their market distribution.

Too bad it will never work...

The concept is clever. Instead of trying to sell directly to the consumers, convince the liquor purchasers at drinking establishments to carry Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum. If you can convince the customer to show a brand preference, then the liquor establishment will have pressure to carry that specific brand. For an example of how effective this can be, think of how many times you've heard someone order a "rum and coke" versus a "rum and pepsi." A significant amount of Coke's market share can be attributed to the fact that it is in the common vernacular to order a beverage with cola by saying "_____ and Coke." Another testament to that is the verve Pepsi fans exhibit when they order a "______ and Pepsi." It is much less common to hear, but it speaks strongly to brand loyalty.

"If only people ordered Captain Morgan Spiced Rum by name," ponders the marketing executive, (or by nickname as the case may be) "then more bars and lounges will feel pressure from their consumers to be brand selective. More purchasers will buy our brand." Sure, brand to the end-user, to increase sales to the distributor.

However, there are three problems with this approach. In fact, let me be so bold as to say three reasons why it will never work:

1) Mouth Economy - Okay, I just made up this phrase, but it's been known for a while that people like to use as few sounds as possible to name things. (If you don't believe me, ask yourself how many people you know that have nicknames.) Sometimes it comes down to flow of words. Sometimes it's sound and how easy it is to annunciate. But most of the time, it's the number of syllables. Try it: Say "I'll have a spiced rum and coke" out loud. (Apologies for strange looks you may get in your coffee shop.) Now say "I'll have a Captain and Cola." Odds are that the "Captain" version will not feel as comfortable in your mouth. Count the syllables. "Spiced rum and coke" is four. "Captain and Cola" is five. Subtle, but it's been proven that it makes a difference.

2) Ordering a 'Captain' - Other than the irony, have you ever ordered a 'Captain' anything? It's a little strange. If you said "I'll have a Captain and Cola" and the waiter looked at you funny, not understanding what you meant, how silly would you feel. Maybe a little, maybe a lot, but it is still one more reason that people would be resistant to ordering a "Captain and Cola."

3) Rewriting Behaviour - The biggest irony of this campaign, is that while trying to 'code' their customers with a specific behaviour, they are simultaneously trying to erase the identical behavior with the word "coke." Diageo has no affiliation with Coca-Cola, so they can't say "Order a Captain and Coke" (which might have a better chance of succeeding). They have to say "_____ and cola." So, while trying to get customers to start saying something they were not saying in the first place, they are forced to try to get customers to stop saying something that's been part of the vernacular for decades. "Hey people, that thing you've been doing with 'Coke' for years? Stop doing it with coke and start doing it with our product!" Does this sound unreasonable to you?

I was briefly involved with a Captain Morgan Parrot Bay promotion a long time ago (late nineties) when Seagram's still owned the brand. This strategy has been running since then. It's at least a dozen years long in the teeth, and to my knowledge, with my highly scientific research of asking the handful of wait-staff I know, no one has ever actually ordered a 'Captain and cola.' Yet they're still pushing it.

At its core, this strategy is about being lazy and demanding. They are trying to get their end customer doing the branding of "Captain" for them. I'm sorry, but that's not your customer's job. Customers will take a brand and run with it, but they do it at their own speed for their own reasons. You cannot expect a customer to do the work of developing your brand for you, according to your direction. The net result is that Diageo is telling people to be loyal to Captain Morgan and trying to dictate how people should show that loyalty. It's an imperative. A command.

And customers never respond well to commands.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. The other place this campaign fails is that it does not place the customer at its heart. There's a huge "What's in it for Captain Morgan's" but there's very little benefit for me. What's in it for me to order a Captain and Cola? A blank stare from the waitress, and nothing else.

  2. Absolutely. This campaign is about how the customer can solve the advertiser's problem. Advertising should be the other way around.