Maker’s Mark has one of those one-in-a-million brands, the kind that hundreds of marketing geniuses with decades upon decades on their hands couldn’t create no matter how much money you threw at them to do it.
Its taste is distinctive, its look is iconic and its legacy is unimpeachable. One cannot simply create or conjure authenticity, one must settle into it and become ensconced in it by virtue of outlasting others and delivering consistency through the ages.
And when you attain this level of brandship – the one thing you don’t do is f*ck with it. For god’s sake, don’t you ever even think about.
Can you imagine Bruce Springsteen greenlighting an “E Street Kidz” Saturday morning cartoon for all the money in the world? Of course not.
Would Wolfgang Puck open a snack bar in Disneyland? Oh wait – he did. Bad example, celebrity chefs are known primarily for two things: their affinity for appearing on Bravo and their unstoppable whoreishness.
Anyway, Maker’s Mark last week committed the cardinal sin of cardinal sins for a one-in-a-million brand – they publicly announced a dilution of it. And in this case, we’re not talking about the mere crass-commercialism type of dilution, say, Diane von Furstenberg outfitting Honey Boo Boo. No, we’re talking the literal dilution of a liquor brand – the worst possible type of thing you could tell the customers you were watering down!
And yet they did it. It’s almost amazing that someone in charge of the bourbon and whiskey corporation Beam (they also make Jim Beam and Knob Creek) would sign off on this ridiculousness. Shortages suck – but they are the price of authenticity in the first place. And in a roundabout way, shortages are great so long as they don’t persist so long that they infuriate people.
There’s a shortage of the new Model S from Tesla Motors by virtue of how few they can turn out in production each week. Nike launched its fitness wristband to mass hysteria over how hard they were to get. This is a good thing, not a bad thing.
But someone at Beam looked at the global demand for Maker’s Mark – especially all of the new aficionados for bourbon coming from India and other emerging markets – and concluded that it would be better to sell them a diluted product than to make them wait a bit for new casks to finish the aging process and be distilled. They announced a cut in the alcohol volume from 45% to 42%. In reality, this is not a drastic difference – but that misses the point entirely. It is the fact that there is any change at all that is so infuriating.
You’d have thought that beverage and spirit companies would have known better given the seminal moment brought about by the New Coke debacle in the mid-eighties. The story is well-known, the lessons hard to have forgotten, or so you’d have thought.
Anyway, thousands and thousands of letters, phone calls and tweets later, Beam’s CEO Matt Shattock has reversed course. Never mind, he said, we hear you and we’re not going to do it. We thought it was the right thing to do but now we know it’s not.
No shit, Matt. Do yourself a favor and see if you can manage not messing with the miracle you’ve been chosen to watch over. There aren’t many brands like Maker’s Mark in this world, but there are hundred of thousands that have tried and failed over the last 60 years. Act like you know.