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Tanqueray's Odd Gin Spots


On to the business of advertising. There's a new series of ads from the gin maker Tanqueray. It's provoked a lot of buzz in recent weeks. Seth Stevenson is ad critic for our partners at the online magazine Slate, and Seth thinks these spots are promising.


I always get a tiny bit excited at the debut of a new spokescharacter; so much promise, so much uncertainty. Sometimes we barely meet them before they vanish from our lives forever. Other times, as with the invincible Brawny Man, they hang around for decades and, during the occasional makeover, re-entering our consumer consciousness from time to time. It's still too soon to tell whether Tanqueray's new character Tony Sinclair is here for the long haul, but for now we can say hello, welcome him into the pop culture universe and give him a good once-over. Just what does Tanqueray have in mind here? How is this foppish hipster supposed to sell us gin? Here's a sample spot.

(Soundbite of Tanqueray ad; music; crowd noise)

STEVENSON: We're at a swanky soiree. In the kitchen, we see an exquisitely dressed man holding a cocktail shaker.

(Soundbite of Tanqueray ad)

"TONY SINCLAIR": It's no coincidence that the first letter in the word `martini' is `Mmm.'

STEVENSON: At the end of each spot, you get the spokescharacter's new tag line, the one I'm sure is meant to start echoing through the land.

(Soundbite of Tanqueray ad)

"TONY SINCLAIR": I'm Tony Sinclair. Ready to Tanqueray? Ooh, do come in.

Unidentified Woman: Always in moderation.

STEVENSON: So what do these new spots tell us about the ambitions of a slightly musty old gin maker? First of all, Tanqueray wants back in the game. Their marketing for the past few years has been bland and forgettable, and the brashness of the Tony Sinclair character is a bold play for attention. The commercials already have people talking. Here's another one in which Tony enlists a jeweler to precision-cut his ice cubes.

(Soundbite of Tanqueray ad)

"TONY SINCLAIR": Well, you wouldn't put a donkey in the Kentucky Derby, would you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEVENSON: As for the man himself, he's meant to appeal to a younger crowd. No old white dudes here. Reports in the trade press suggest that Tony is aimed at guys between 25 and 35; understandable, since 65 percent of all gin drinkers are male. Beyond the obvious youth push, though, I'd say Tony is an example of Tanqueray hedging its bets. Why do I say this? Because Tony is black, and while I'd like to think this choice could be arbitrary, I'm quite sure that when it comes to multimillion-dollar marketing campaigns, nothing is ever arbitrary.

Sure enough, in a press release, parent company Diageo says the campaign hopes to introduce a more contemporary and urban consumer to the house of Tanqueray. I trust at this point we all know what `urban' really means, and the strategy makes sense. The hip-hop crowd has spurred a lot of growth in spirit sales. Look at what rapper Busta Rhymes' "Pass The Courvoisier" did for cognac.

(Soundbite of "Pass The Courvoisier Part 2 (Remix)")

PHARELL: (Rapping) But if your man baby sittin'...

BUSTA RHYMES: (Singing) Uh-huh.

PHARELL: (Rapping) ...then what you goin' say?

BUSTA RHYMES: (Singing) What we gonna tell 'em, man?

PHARELL: (Rapping) We gonna tell that brother...

BUSTA RHYMES: (Singing) Pass the Courvoisier.

PHARELL: (Rapping) We gonna tell that brother...

BUSTA RHYMES: (Singing) Pass the Courvoisier.

STEVENSON: If Tanqueray wanted to go all-out, they could have just signed Snoop Dogg. He's already got a song called "Gin & Juice," in which he raps about the potency of Tanqueray and chronic.

(Soundbite of "Gin & Juice")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Rollin' down the street, smoking indo, sipping on gin and juice...

SNOOP DOGG: (Rapping) Laid back.

Dr. DRE: (Rapping) With my mind on my money and my money on my mind.

SNOOP DOGG: (Rapping) Now that I got me some Seagram's gin...

STEVENSON: But Tony Sinclair is far more dandified than your typical urban pitchman. He wears bespoke suits, he preaches moderation, he's British. The elaborate Tanqueray Web site proclaims that Tony is a practiced deejay, but the ads all show Tony mingling with a singularly un-hip-hop and predominantly white crowd. I think Tanqueray hopes to have it both ways; maintaining the brand's upper-crust heritage, while halfheartedly fishing for an urban sales boost.

I give these spots a B. These are well-made ads, and Tony Sinclair has a certain gap-toothed charm. But I think gin just has too distinctive a taste for your average mixed drink fan these days. As for me, I'm sticking with my Pimm's Number One Cup.

CHADWICK: Seth Stevenson writes the Ad Report Card column for the online magazine Slate.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News and slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Seth Stevenson