Maker’s Mark: Attempted Brand Suicide

I was born and raised in the South and chose a big SEC football school for my college education. Go Dawgs! I am also the son, grandson, cousin, nephew, great grandson, great nephew, and more relations I care not to include of University of Kentucky graduates and current students. I’ve been to a few Kentucky distilleries to taste the local fare on a certain trail. So yes, I’ve been around my fair share of bourbon. Maybe this is why Maker’s Mark’s recent news that it would be diluting their bourbon from 45% to 42% to meet demand came as such a shock to me. Or maybe it was the ignorant choice of words used by their CEO following the event, or maybe I just jumped on the social media backlash bandwagon. Regardless, the news had me riled up. Thankfully the story ends with Maker’s doing the right thing consumers providing an excellent case study on how influential your consumers are on social media.

When new first broke, people took to the web to voice their humble opinions. Casual drinkers enraged by the fact they would now be getting less alcohol for their buck, marketers crying out brand suicide, and connoisseurs airing their grievances about changes that would affect the complexity and flavor notes of this storied bourbon. Everyone was pissed. In comes CEO for some defense. He goes on to say “they won’t be able to tell the difference,” referring to the minor change from diluted the bourbon.  Maybe so, but now you’ve insulted your entire consumer base as too stupid to tell you’ve been watering down their booze. Great job..

A supply demand doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I mean look your problem is essentially that too many people want to buy your product. Maybe if this happens again they will do the sensible thing and build up the scarcity issue that can help you increase your price as people will be willing to pay a premium, knowing they won’t be guaranteed their favorite bourbon in the future. Or they could repeat this same debacle. Who knows?

Luckily I am sitting here this morning happy that nothing will be changing to my family’s favorite bourbon. I don’t have to drive up to Loretto, Kentucky to steal the family barrel before it gets watered down. After a week of angry pushing back from our friends out in social media, Maker’s Mark came out, yesterday, with an apology and said they would no longer be diluting the bourbon to meet worldwide demand. This was a great first move but they still will have to fix the damage they’ve done to the brands iconic image and also work on what to do in the face of a bourbon shortage. I’m just glad I don’t have to start a personal boycott and can still have a glass without having to worry if I can tell the difference.

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One Response to Maker’s Mark: Attempted Brand Suicide

  1. hollyzeller says:

    As another person with Kentucky relatives, I found this post especially interesting! While I myself am not a Bourbon drinker, it is quite easy to imagine how insulted a consumer would be if the CEO of a very respected company like Maker’s Mark said that I wouldn’t be able to “tell the difference”. It shocks me that someone of his professional level would ever think that making a statement like that is okay. I also agree with your statement towards the end, that while they have issued their apology and reverted their decision to dilute the bourbon,it doesn’t erase the fact that his statement is still out there. That’s the thing about social media, once it’s out there, you can’t take it back. I am sure this little slip up will be a learning lesson for Maker’s Mark for some time to come.

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