Are you shallow?
Didn’t think so. So how come so many brands are content to be shallow?
For instance, Tanqueray’s current fictional spokesperson, Tony Sinclair.
At first glance you think he’s a smart embodiment of the cocktail culture that reveres a good gin. Uh, nope. Watch his commercials, go to “his” web site, and you’ll soon figure out he’s nothing but thin veneer and a sales pitch.
Too bad. Tanqueray once had the ultimate fictional spokesperson for cocktail culture: Mr. Jenkins. Invented by Dallas Itzen and Patrick O’Neil at Deutsch, he was a suave, mysterious, grey-haired, tuxedo-clad martini man who hung with the young and hip. He showed up at gallery openings, swanky penthouse parties, and late-night soirées. He was witty, but not just witty. As the print campaign unfolded between 1994 and 1999, Mr. Jenkins attracted a cult following. He was the kind of guy people wanted to know more about. He definitely had all kinds of cool, else why would the young hipsters tolerate him – let alone worship him?
But, alas, Tanqueray changed their label to read “London Dry Gin” and decided they needed to tell the London story in their advertising – despite the fact that Tanqueray sales were rising while overall gin sales were declining. They believed it was time to be “authentic.” So they retired Mr. Jenkins to an island. Little did they know that cocktail culture was about to explode, and that they had an authentic embodiment of cocktail culture right in their hands.
Explode it did. And then came Austin Powers. And so, eventually, Tanqueray and Grey Advertising concocted this British-accented young partying “man of mystery” who would supposedly capitalize on the Austin Powers craze, youth culture, and the rise of the martini. Oh, and best of all, they gave him a slogan, with the implicit hope that it just might magically morph into popular culture. The line is: “Ready to Tanqueray?”
Oh, yeah! I mean, don’t all your friends, at the beginning of a Friday night, turn to each other and say, “Ready to Tanqueray?”
Because it is, in fact, a fine gin, Tanqueray still sells well despite this hodge-podge mess. Wikipedia calls Tony Sinclair a “mad-cap socialite.” Personally, I think he’s more like Jar-Jar Binks with a tie.
There is absolutely no mystery to Tony Sinclair, unlike the enigmatic and stylish Mr. Jenkins. And this is too bad, since the actor (comedian Rodney Mason) is obviously talented. He just has no real character to work with. Also, Mr. Jenkins had more self-respect – and respect for his audience – than to pimp the brand with a ridiculous line like “Ready to Tanqueray?” The truth is, gin sales are on the rise and Tanqueray will do just fine despite this shallow pitchman.
On the other hand, let us mourn the lost opportunity. Mr. Jenkins stood for an entire philosophy of life–the kind of philosophy that’s at the heart of today’s cocktail culture. Namely, that life can be celebrated with style and sophistication, and that great pleasure can be had from indulging in the finer things, like a gin (i.e. true) martini.
A buddy of mine in college had a personal philosophy he called “gracious living.” It was all about living life well and enjoying high culture, even as poor college students. And that, to me, is what both cocktail culture and Mr. Jenkins are all about. Art, fashion, style, conversation, martinis. Had he survived, Mr. Jenkins by now would no doubt have a highly-successful blog and probably several published books guiding people to enjoying the finer points of cocktail culture.
Mr. Jenkins, in other words, was a fiction that could have been deeply realized, and therefore deeply meaningful to Tanqueray’s audience. And make no mistake about it, a fiction can be a true embodiment of a brand’s values and its worldview, and a powerful catalyst in growing a brand culture.
Could the Tony Sinclair character have achieved the same depth that Mr. Jenkins promised? Possibly, if he had been given a compelling and mysterious character at birth, rather than entering the world as a disingenuous cardboard cut-out that offered nothing new but instead faintly echoed current trends in popular culture. For awhile there, Mr. Jenkins was popular culture. There’s a big difference.
Read Full Post »