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Nov 29, 2001
Case Study

Bombay Sapphire Tests Online Brand Building

SUMMARY: Although BOMBAY SAPPHIRE is famous brand of gin, parent-company Bacardi Global Brands Inc. didn't put up a public Web site for the brand until just six months ago.

Gary Chau, Global Manager for Online Marketing and ecommerce, explains, "We went through a lot of thinking . You see a lot of brochureware out there. Yes you can spend a little money and do that, but what extra value does that provide to us? We wanted to fully integrate offline into online at the end of the day." Hear how he managed to pull it off on a tight budget.† (Includes...

Gary Chau, Global Manager for Online Marketing and ecommerce, explains, "We went through a lot of thinking -- why do we even need a Web site? We sell offline products and the way to get them to try SAPPHIRE is to have them taste it."

He was also determined that, if BOMBAY did launch a site, it would really take advantage of the benefits of the Internet -- interactivity, viral outreach and community -- to get its brand message across. Chau says, "You see a lot of brochureware out there. Yes you can spend a little money and do that, but what extra value does that provide to us? We wanted to fully integrate offline into online at the end of the day."

Last but not least, like many packaged goods brands, BOMBAY wasn't used to interacting directly with consumers. Chau says, "Our customers are really distributors. They sell to the retailers who sell to the end consumers. We had no contact before to the consumer. While online gives us the opportunity to do that economically and efficiently, we were concerned. 'Oh my gosh this consumer is now writing to me, what do I do? Are we capable of dealing with the volume of consumer emails coming in?'"

Finally in January 2001, Chau was given the go-ahead to develop and launch a BOMBAY SAPPHIRE Web site. Now he had to pull it off on a tight budget, tie everything to offline branding, and learn as much as possible about consumer interaction without getting overwhelmed by responses.


First Chau quickly popped a single "holding page" up at the URL, which said, "We're launching soon, enter your email address and we'll notify you when we open." Over the next three months, despite the fact that the site address was not promoted at all, more than 5,000 people entered their email addresses. Such is the power of a solid brand name.

SAPPHIRE gin is named after the distinctive blue glass bottle it's packaged in. The brand's main marketing strategy since it launched in the late 1980's, is to reach out to the opinion leaders and trendsetters in the professional design community and through this association influence high-end trendy consumers. Chau tells the story, "When we first approached designers, they had no idea what we were talking about -- but the minute they saw blue bottle it was immediately credible in their minds from a design perspective."

Chau called SAPPHIRE's Brand Director Paul Murphy in London to brainstorm ways in which they could get the design community involved in the site. Murphy had already noticed that many otherwise innovative designers didnít have Web sites. Why not use the SAPPHIRE site to help them? Chau explains, "We used the airport analogy. BOMBAY is an airport hub. We know lots of different airlines and travelers come through, and maybe stop and look around, and then they're on their way to somewhere else. If we could link all the designers together on BOMBAY, it would be the hub that people would come to, to visit designer sites."

So, Chau, Murphy and their PR firm Magnet Communications began offering selected designers in the UK and US their own sections on the site. Chau says, "We were very flexible. We know not all of them are online or online-savvy, so we gave them every option imaginable. They could even just send us hard copy photos and text and we'd build it and send them a CD ROM or email a template for them to approve." To make this process easier, Chau's Web design team came up with four basic layout templates that participants could choose from.

In the meantime, his Web designers also created a starter page for the site that asks if the visitor is over 18. (Initially if you clicked 'not' you were redirected to Disney's site; but, Disney wasn't thrilled about it, so now you are redirected to Yahoo.) Then the designers created a crisp SAPPHIRE-blue and white layout for the main site, which is immediately recognizable to anyone who's ever seen a SAPPHIRE bottle. It's much classier than just sticking a picture of a bottle on the page.

Again with help from his PR firm, Chau created a brief FAQ page for consumers which answers popular questions in a friendly tone, and would hopefully forestall a glut of emailed notes that he didn't have the resources yet to answer. The questions range from "Is it blue?" to "Where can I buy BOMBAY SAPPHIRE online?"

Chau didnít want a lot of fanfare around the site launch in April 2001, both because he had a limited budget, and because he wanted to test the site and marketing tactics carefully before rolling out the brass band. So, he simply emailed a quick note to the 5,000 folks who had signed up to be alerted, and asked the designers who were featured to send a note to their friends if they felt like it.

Then he heard about an annual project called "May 1st Reboot" created by Three.OH, a group of top Web designers around the world. Almost 1,500 Three.OH members were going to take down their old sites the last week in April and then relaunch newly designed sites in unison on May 1st 2001. Chau says, "The timing was perfect. We found them April 5th, and decided to sponsor it." During the five days that Reboot participants' sites were dark the last week in April, they included a link to BOMBAY as a sponsor. BOMBAY'S traffic immediately grew seven-nine times higher.

Next, Chau decided to create a marketing campaign that would complement SAPPHIRE's print ad branding campaign which has been running for more than a decade, which features photos of unique designer-created martini glasses.

The online version of this campaign, 'AsExpressedByYou', launched October 1st and is still running. Consumers who visit the AsExpressedByYou microsite can design their own unique martini glass online and then email pictures of it to their friends. Again, Chau was cautious about rolling out the brass band, because he wanted to test the concept first. So, he merely added links to the microsite from the main site, and sent out an email note to the site's opt-in list.


The BOMBAY SAPPHIRE site currently gets about 60,000 visitors per month without any further promotion whatsoever, which is definitely successful from a traffic standpoint alone. The site's look is a definite hit with the visitors who find it. Chau says, "From our brand studies, consumers say they really enjoy the brilliant blue against the stark white background."

The design professionals involved are also thrilled. Of the 20 designers who currently have SAPPHIRE-hosted sites, several have already redesigned and updated their sites two-three times. One designer even uses his site as a frequently updated diary of what's going on in his life.

In addition to the main site's traffic, the AsExpressedByYou micro-site receives about 40,000 visits a month from 21,000 unique visitors who spend an average of five minutes on it. About 25% of visitors go through the entire process of creating their own martini glass (which can take up to 20 minutes), and then often email a link to it to their friends.

Fueled by these viral pass-along emails the traffic has remained fairly steady for the past two months, even though there've been no further promotions beyond the occasional mention in SAPPHIRE's opt-in newsletter. Marnie Baretz, of interactive ad agency MargeotesFertitta + Partners who created the campaign, says, "That's a positive sign that the site can continue to work hard for us even when we're in quieter periods of promoting it."

Encouraged by this success, Chau has big plans for the future. He held a global meeting in August to strategize reaching out to designers beyond the US and UK. He says, "We'll be getting up Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Australia, etc."

Plus, he's planning to use AsExpressedByYou in a series of promotional campaigns, including a global campaign where visitors can vote for their favorite glasses, and a campaign wherein professional designers use the tool to create martini glass ideas.

Chau also says the site's initial success has helped Bacardi internally to begin thinking about ways to use the Web effectively, and how to cope with reaching out to consumers on a one-to-one basis. He says, "It gets us in the right frame of mind. This is positive to develop the right relationships."

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Three.Oh May 1st Reboot
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