Thanks to an enterprising company, cider is the new tipple of the alcohol fashionistas - but branding isn't foolproof, claims Adam Edwards
The satirical magazine Private Eye frequently runs a wry feature beginning "An Apology - printed in all Newspapers". Beneath this bold headline runs an article denouncing a set of conventional truths and suggesting that the exact opposite is now the case.
A perfect example of this amusing U-turn is cider.
An apology for cider for publication in all newspapers might read: "We wish to apologise for the centuries-old assumption that cider is the favoured tipple of the redneck with nothing more than a haystack between his ears. We deeply regret stigmatising the drink as West Country 'hooch' just because it is drunk by the white-eyed and red-nosed, and when mixed with lager turns into snakebite, a beverage banned in half the UK's pubs.
"What we actually meant by describing cider and its many derivatives as 'jungle juice' is that the drink has long enjoyed a reputation as a stalwart of the 'long alcoholic beverage market' - the ideal refreshment for those of a sensitive disposition. And contrary to popular belief, cider is not solely the drink of choice favoured by the Wurzels, Bristol City FC (whose unofficial song is 'Drink Up Ye Zider'), alkies, dipsos and down-at-heel students who describe the intoxicant as 'diesel'.
"Rather, it is a health-giving, modern pick-me-up with bags of vitamin C and nourishing fruit suitable for both sexes and as comfortable in smart circles as a glass of Champagne."
The reason for this politically-correct about-turn can be laid at the door of a single brand - Magners. Its Irish producer has seen a 250% jump in sales in the last year, partly resulting from its popularity among middle-class women, according to the Daily Telegraph. Lunching ladies, who not so long ago would rather chomp Pot Noodle at a state banquet than risk being spotted quaffing a glass of white lightning, are tucking into the backwoodsman's booze from the ol' country.
The reason for this boom, according to Magners marketing director Maurice Breen, is what he euphemistically calls "innovation".
What he means is the relatively simple trick of losing the traditional two-litre plastic bottle beloved by agricultural workers, running a multi-million pound advertising campaign featuring Donovan's hit song Sunshine Superman and encouraging licensees to serve the stuff over ice in pint glasses.
This magic formula enables Breen to claim that the company's success could be sub-titled: "How to create a billion in two years".
And its recent meteoric rise is almost certainly making the rest of the industry weep with indignant fury. Every year the big drinks' companies spend millions creating, perfecting and marketing scores of cheesy brands.
But these lesser marvels have been eclipsed comprehensively by a small-town Irish drinks company that dreamed up the pathetically simple idea of pouring cider over ice. One would need a heart of stone to resist describing the poor imitators' lack of success as inevitable, or - as scrumpy-loving Pop Larkin might say - describing Magners as "just perfick".
What's in a name?
Talking of big companies, especially those introducing naff new products seemingly destined to fail spectacularly, Harvey's Bristol Cream has launched a sherry called "Orange".
According to a spokesman, the sherry company has been trying for years to persuade the public to drink Harvey's over ice with a slice of orange. Having failed to persuade consumers with that campaign, it has come up with its own version - a sherry with a twist of fruit.
Meanwhile Redux Beverages has launched "Cocaine" energy drink in the United States. According to the company, the new drink has 350% more energy than Red Bull but is less harmful than corn syrup.
At the risk of sounding like a marketing know-nothing, calling a new alcoholic drink after the single most recognisable fruit juice on earth seems nothing short of idiotic, while saddling a soft drink with the same moniker as a Class-A drug has to be as dim as giving a people-carrier the same name as Michael Schumacher.
Perhaps the marketing boys at Harvey's and Redux could pick up a few tips from Magners.
Dicing with Damocles
Since the introduction of successful anti-smoking legislation, I notice that alcohol is Britain's puritans' latest target. The thinnest news story suggesting the harmful potential of booze is leapt upon by the Daily Mail and others who love to warn us against the devil's brew. A refreshing antidote to this gloomy perspective is provided by the USA's Journal of Labor Research, which has discovered that drinkers earn more than teetotallers.
"Drinkers tend to be more sociable than abstainers," says Professor Edward Stringham of San José State University in California. "Social drinkers network, build relationships and socialise more with clients and co-workers. This gives drinkers an advantage in important relationships."
The research found that male drinkers earn about 10% more on average than their goody-two-shoes colleagues, while boozy women earn about 14% more.
So while we drinkers may be living dangerously under the Daily Mail's alcoholic sword of Damocles, at least we're rich.