GREAT BRITISH BRANDS: Gordon's Gin - Dating from the late 18th century, the recipe for this iconic brand is said to be the same as it was 233 years ago

Gordon's has been the UK's number one gin since the late 19th century.

More than 11 bottles are sold every minute in the UK, where it enjoys a 38.4% share of the market and is regularly drunk by 6.8 million consumers.

In 1769, Alexander Gordon celebrated his wedding by founding Gordon & Company, with the idea of producing a quality gin. Most of the gin produced at that time was poor-quality home brew, so when Gordon found an unpolluted water source in Clerkenwell, near London, his business prospered.

In 1850, when Alexander's grandson Charles was in charge of the company, Parliament removed the excise tax on exported gin and Gordon's was shipped around the empire.

Gordon's was also popular in the US and a distillery opened in New Jersey in 1935. Today the brand is exported to 150 countries and is the top-selling gin in nearly every European market.

The brand's current owner, Diageo GB (formerly Guinness UDV), still makes Gordon's to exactly the same recipe that was used 233 years ago. According to the company, only 12 people in the world know this recipe, which includes juniper berries from the world's finest juniper crop, grown in Tuscany, Italy. Gordon's has first pick of this crop, but still rejects 90% of the berries.

However, Diageo GB has not grown complacent about the brand, which is finding its market share eroded by own-label and 'gourmet' gins such as Bombay Sapphire, while being exposed to increased competition from alcoholic alternatives such as wine and vodka.

Gordon's 2002 market share of 38.4% is down from 47% in 1993 and gin, as a category, still trails whisky and vodka. The decline has continued despite a consistent and often distinguished advertising presence since the 1970s, when the famous slogan 'It's got to be Gordon's' was introduced.

This was replaced in the late 1980s by another famous campaign, the 'green' cinema ads, which were intended to attract new drinkers with a more modern image. These showed a blank green screen on which appeared, in white lettering, joke descriptions such as 'Martians relaxing in peas'.

In 1995, Gordon's launched a national TV advertising campaign, unilaterally ending the voluntary television ban on spirits advertising in the UK.

The first ad of the campaign, 'innervigoration', showed a man diving through a straw into a glass of Gordon's and tonic.

Additional attempts to woo a younger market included pumping the smell of juniper berries into cinemas. Gordon's also recognised that the gin and tonic was served badly in most pubs - a warm glass, no ice and a slice of preserved lemon out of a bottle. Gordon's 'perfect serve' programme was introduced to help landlords serve a classier gin and tonic.

Gordon's tried a different approach in 1999 with two new commercials in which a pool hustler finds inspiration in a Gordon's and tonic.

Despite Gordon's seemingly unassailable position as the UK's number one gin, Diageo GB has continued to demand even more from the brand. In 2002, Gordon's announced the biggest relaunch in its history, with a £15m revamp that represents a five-fold increase in marketing spend.

A new bottle design was the first manifestation of the relaunch, and it was quickly followed by a television commercial using the line 'Mix Gordon's with pleasure'. It shows a young couple playing a chess version of strip poker, using a chess set made entirely out of ice.

The intention is to appeal to occasional gin drinkers in the 25-plus age group without alienating older, regular gin drinkers. Gordon's is attempting to combat the persistent image of the typical gin drinker as a couple much like Jerry and Margo from The Good Life and to attract the sort of people who drink vodka or pre-packaged spirits such as Bacardi Breezer and Smirnoff Ice.

Gordon's trump card in its reinvention is Gordon's Edge, a premium-packaged spirit aimed at 25- to 35- year-olds that is the only gin-based ready-to-drink on the market.

Diageo GB is determined to capitalise on the heritage and popularity of Gordon's, which is still the fourth biggest spirits brand in the country.

And though its recipe remains unchanged, Gordon's has resolved that its image will move on.

FACT FILE
1769
Alexander Gordon celebrates his wedding by founding Gordon & Company,
with the idea of producing a quality gin
1888
The last Gordon to run the company, Alexander's grandson Charles,
retires to devote his time to inventing.
1898
Gordon's merges with Tanqueray to form Tanqueray Gordon & Company.
1922
Gordon's acquired by the Distillers Company Ltd (Guinness UDV, now
Diageo GB).
1995
Gordon's breaks the voluntary ban on spirits advertising on television
in the UK with a new campaign, 'innervigoration'.
2002
Market share of 38.4% is down from 47% in 1993. A wholesale £15m
relaunch of Gordon's introduces new packaging, a new product and a new
campaign with the slogan 'Mix Gordon's with pleasure'.

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