In 1973, I invented a ‘girly drink’ called Baileys
We got £3,000 all-in for the creation of the world’s most successful cream liqueur
My dinner-party party piece for many years was to say, “Well, actually, I invented Baileys. You know, Baileys Irish Cream. I did that back in 1973.”
If one of the unfortunate listening group is a woman – and this is based on actual past experience - she is likely to respond something like this: “Oh-my-God. Baileys. My mother absolutely adores it. Did you hear that, Jocasta? This man invented Baileys. It’s unreal. I don’t believe it. He must be terribly rich. Baileys Cream. Wow!”
And it’s not as if these rather posh people really adore Baileys. Or even hold it in the same esteem as, say, an obscure Islay single malt or a fine white burgundy from Meursault. Not a bit of it. They might have respected it years ago but most people of legal drinking age regard Baileys as a bit naff. To my mind, they’d be very wrong.
Can we take anything from my Kerrygold butter experience? Is there something in Ireland’s reputation for dairy produce that we can apply to an alcoholic drink?
On December 3rd, 2007, Diageo announced the sale of the billionth bottle of Baileys since it was first introduced in 1973. That’s a thousand million bottles. And they will have sold at least a further 250 million bottles in the decade since then bringing the total up to something in the area of 1,250,000,000. If we assume that every bottle of Baileys delivered eight generous servings that suggests that over 12 billion glasses of Baileys have been poured since it all began.
The initial thought behind Baileys Irish Cream took about 30 seconds. In another 45 minutes the idea was formed. Baileys was like that for me. A decade of experience kicked in and delivered a great idea. It wasn’t as instant as it seemed. This is the story of its creation.
‘’What are we going to do about this bloody Irish brief?” I asked, testily, challenging my business partner Hugh to feel some pressure. I was annoyed by his ability to take things a great deal more calmly than I ever did. We’d only been in business together for a month and that alone, I thought, warranted a greater sense of urgency. We had families to support.
“What Irish brief?” he replied. We’d discussed it on Friday last, but Hugh was very good at switching off for the weekend. “IDV,” I reminded him, “International Distillers & Vintners. Its Irish company wants us to create a new drinks brand for export.” They hadn’t said what kind of drink, just that it should be alcoholic.
The technical people at IDV’s research and development department in Harlow had concocted some “heather and honey” traditional-style liqueurs as a starter but no one was much inspired by them. As usual in those days, there was no written instruction and we described the sparse expression of the company’s objectives as the “Wexford Whisper”, so vague was the outline of what they wanted. The only proviso was that we should limit the amount of Irish whiskey we used because IDV didn’t have any strong relationships with Irish distilleries and wouldn’t be able to control supply of the stuff.
Hugh stared at the ceiling. His morning coffee hadn’t kicked in yet and he was a self-confessed slow starter. I was still seething from his languid entrance to the office 90 minutes after mine.
We were, I suppose, unlikely business partners. Hugh Reade Seymour-Davies was a toff. He was a “gentleman copywriter”, educated at Eton and Oxford, and an unapologetic classicist. He could quote all the Latin and Greek greats with real facility and would “get some Latin in” to documents or labels when I felt we needed to impress some of our more intellectual clients. He was steeped in Shakespeare, admired Beethoven and Mozart certainly, but anything written, composed or painted after about 1830 fell into the category of mid-19th century arrivistes.
I, on the other hand, was most definitely an arriviste, having fled South Africa in 1961 aboard the Cape Town Castle to occupy a mattress on a floor in a shared room in Earl’s Court. Leaving behind me a possessive Jewish family, I’d escaped to London to make my way in advertising. Just before I left South Africa, where I’d been involved with ads for medicines to cure piles and devising promotions for patent fingernail clippers.
We chatted aimlessly for a few minutes about the Irish brief and then I raised the issue of my previous Irish involvement. “Can we take anything from my Kerrygold butter experience?” I said. (I was in the team that created the Kerrygold brand in the early 1960s.) “Is there something in Ireland’s reputation for dairy produce that we can apply to an alcoholic drink – all those lush green, rain-sodden pastures and contented cows?”
Hugh looked at me with an almost earnest stare. “What would happen if we mixed Irish whiskey and cream?” he said. “That might be interesting.” He sat back and waited for a response.
“Let’s try it,” I replied. Where Hugh was more likely to intellectualise and think through the appalling consequences of dropping cream into Ireland’s beloved whiskey, I was all for doing it there and then. I jumped up, almost grabbed him by the lapels and marched him out into the street and into what was then International Stores at the southern end of Berwick Street market in the middle of Soho. It was the nearest supermarket to our office.
We bought a small bottle of Jamesons Irish Whiskey and a tub of single cream and hurried back. It was a lovely May morning. 1973. Underdogs Sunderland had just won the FA Cup. We mixed the two ingredients in our kitchen, tasted the result and it was certainly intriguing, but in reality bloody awful. Undaunted, we threw in some sugar and it got better, but it still missed something.
We went back to the store, searching the shelves for something else, found our salvation in Cadbury’s Powdered Drinking Chocolate and added it to our formula. Hugh and I were taken by surprise. It tasted really good. Not only this, but the cream seemed to have the effect of making the drink taste stronger, like full-strength spirit. It was extraordinary.
The whole process had taken about 45 minutes, from the moment Hugh looked at me to the moment we poured our mixture into a cleaned-out screw-top Schweppes’ tonic bottle and I called Tom Jago, our client at IDV. I suggested that we meet immediately. I went on my own. Either Hugh had had second thoughts and decided that the gentry at IDV would cast out our muddy concoction with suitable disdain – or he didn’t have an available suit hanging up in the office. I suspect it was the latter. Ten minutes later I was in a cab heading for 1 York Gate, an elegant Georgian house in the outer circle of London’s beautiful Regent’s Park.
In the cab I tried to bring some logic to this wacky idea. Apart from the great taste, which triggered the thought that “alcoholic drinks don’t have to taste punishing”, I was interested in our serendipitous discovery that the drink tasted stronger than it really was. I think our original mix was, very roughly, 25 per cent alcohol by volume. Maybe it could be pitched against stronger liqueurs like Tia Maria, where it would appear to be as strong, but would attract much lower duty. It could therefore be more profitable. I was excited. Very excited. Convinced we’d cracked the Irish brief.
Gilbeys had reached an agreement with the Irish finance minister that export earnings on the new brand would be tax exempt for a period of 10 years
We had just started out as an independent business a few weeks earlier and I don’t think we took in that this was an imperative brief that had to be solved in a hurry. It was just something that cropped up in a casual conversation with Tom. We saw nothing in writing. I was to discover some time later, a lot later, that Gilbeys of Ireland management had reached an agreement with the Irish finance minister that export earnings on the new brand would be tax exempt for a period of 10 years. I seem to recall that at the time of the Baileys’ 10th anniversary party – and it was some party – the company had sold about 4 million cases the previous year. Who needed a written brief?
I have come to the conclusion that the real heroes of ideas are not the people who have them – they are the people who buy them
When I got to York Gate I went in to see Tom to present our mucky brown liquid in its recycled bottle with huge enthusiasm. He liked it immediately. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that the real heroes of ideas are not the people who have them – they are the people who buy them. Tom could easily have said, “Sorry old chap, but it’s not our sort of thing” – which it really wasn’t, given the strong focus on wine, sherry, and “serious” spirits like gin, whisky and vodka at IDV. But he was as excited as we were about our Heath Robinson product.
Given the totally revolutionary nature of the product, and the fact that nothing like it had ever been made before, we decided that we would develop it completely before we showed it to the Irish. This was odd coming from both Tom Jago and me, as we were both terribly impatient. (His attention span was not of heroic proportions and I once considered petitioning for the word “jago” to become adopted as a unit of measurement for attention deficit syndrome). But in this instance we had to take our time about it: there were too many imponderables about our creation. It could turn out to be a very tough sell. Or no sell at all.
We took it to the technical group in the Gilbeys building that housed their factory offices, distillery, research laboratories and warehouse in Harlow, Essex, about 40 miles north of London, a few days later to present it to Alan Simpson, who ran the division, and his second-in-command, Mac Macpherson. They were boffins or techies and knew about the science of drink production. Mac was in a white coat while Alan looked like the proprietor of a fine wine emporium. “Good suit,” I thought. I stood in Alan’s office with our precious bottle burning a hole in my raincoat pocket. I was eager for him to taste it there and then. He wasn’t quite so keen and when I read his lips the words “later perhaps” seemed to form.
“After lunch” he said and steered us towards a burgundy tasting. Oh dear. He was a wine man at heart. It didn’t help that I managed to get quite a bit of wine over my tie and the style of my spitting left much to be desired. They finally tasted our concoction after lunch – after a bottle of decent red – and there was no doubt, by the expression on their faces, that they thought it was quite disgusting. It wasn’t a fine wine after all. It didn’t look like wine. It didn’t look like any known liqueur and it didn’t even taste like whiskey. What was it? We’d gambled on the fact that they might like the taste, but it was evident that they did not. Perhaps it had aged in the five days since we made it.
Yet strangely Mac looked up to us from his awful beige-streaked glass and nodded almost imperceptibly. Whatever we were doing, no matter what he thought of the taste, he knew what we were aiming for. Just a nod, that’s all he gave us. Not a yes but better than a no. Mac would be the man who would have to run with this. And he did.
Although IDV didn’t have the technology to mix alcohol and cream together, Tom insisted that the team apply resources to studying it. The technical challenge was under way and Tom was now in a hurry to do the branding: the bottle, the label and the name.
I remembered once, during the Kerrygold days, being told by a well-known Irishman that so many Irish names sound quaint when applied to brands. His name was Tony O’Reilly and O’Reilly’s Irish Cream might indeed have sounded a bit whimsical. I could see what he meant and it had stuck in my mind. We needed what they called an “Anglo-Irish” name. We were sure that a family name might be better than a “thing” or a place name. That was the popular convention of the business in those days. After all, many drinks were named after the people who made them.
As the office that Hugh and I shared in Dean Street was only temporary accommodation, we were planning a move within Soho. Hugh insisted that we had an office close to a game butcher’s – in this case Parrish & Fenn. He liked his new season grouse. We visited some premises in nearby Greek Street, alongside a pub called The Pillars of Hercules and above a restaurant of no fixed ethnicity that was called Baileys Bistro.
We were still struggling to find a name for our revolutionary new drink and there it was; above the door. Baileys. Was it really right in front of my face? It was certainly Anglo-Irish and in a flurry of post-rationalisation I managed to dredge up from my memory a dairy of that name in the Port Elizabeth of my youth in South Africa. This gave it a kind of relevance in my head. I called Tom: “How about Baileys Irish Cream?” I proffered hopefully, “It sounds right, perfect I think.”
Without any hesitation he bought the name. He was like that. If he saw an idea and it worked for him he could be very quick on the draw. We designated it an “Irish Cream Chocolate Liqueur”. Names can be tough and often really easy to reject with a comment like “I just don’t like it”.
Being words, not graphic designs, they are within everyone’s purview so anyone can reject them. Getting to Baileys as quickly as we did was unusual. Indeed, as I discovered in later years, it was incredible.
A few weeks later I telephoned my mother. “Was there a dairy in Port Elizabeth called Baileys back in the early days? I’m sure I can remember it.” “No” she said “Definitely not”. There went our brand’s “certificate of provenance”. I would have to settle for Messrs Chesterman and Cymberg, owners of Baileys Bistro and our future landlords. Not an especially Irish pair.
The next step was packaging, and we needed a bottle. Not being confident enough in the overall idea to suggest spending money on a new mould which could have run to several thousand pounds, we looked around for an existing bottle and Tom found one for an Irish whiskey brand that the company distributed called Redbreast. We decided we’d use that.
It was brown glass, squat and round like a typical liqueur bottle and seemed very appropriate for Baileys. But there was a problem: it had a prominent R embossed on the shoulder of the bottle. I guess we could have changed Baileys to a name beginning with R, but Baileys was now fixed in our minds and it would have been hard to change. We had started to use it in conversation.
We also had to give it an address, so the very first label carried the legend “The Dairy Distillery, County Monaghan”. It was a complete fabrication of mine – but it sounded good. And very Kerrygold. Hugh and I had a secretary called Amy Wagner. Her husband Bob was a graphic designer and they lived on a small boat on the Thames at Kingston. Rather than drag Bob all the way in to London when he could be working, I wrote out a design brief and asked Amy to show it to him and get him to submit some designs as soon as he could. The brief asked for Kerrygold butter styling – but for an alcoholic drink: contented grazing cows and lush green pastures – we wanted an Irish rustic idyll on a label.
A couple of days later Bob delivered. I think in those early times he was paid five guineas a design and he had sent about 20 for us to choose from. Amy laid them out on our table and Tom, Hugh and I looked them over and immediately lit on one. That was it. We even liked the streaky magic marker khaki that was the dominant colour.
It was pretty close to the Baileys label that you see today, give or take several tweaks and many millions of pounds over the last 40 years.
These were still early days in our product development lives and there was a huge buzz seeing an idea begin to assume a physical form. I was no designer so depended on other people to perform this magic. We had another cunning plan. Let’s not rush to Dublin with their new drink yet. Let’s show the Baileys bottle with a printed label. In those days we usually dealt in rough designs rendered with crayons and magic marker pens. There were no computers to produce perfect facsimiles of the real thing. We felt that showing Baileys as a rough design would make it look like a tentative idea: one which people would want to change and modify. We wanted Baileys to look irresistibly authentic.
The liquid product itself started to take shape in the June and July of 1973 but there were two other things we wanted to do before making the journey to Dublin. We would set up some focus groups, in which we would present Baileys in a proper bottle – as if it already existed – and ask real potential customers what they thought about it. That would be the theoretical world.
Secondly, we would put a couple of bottles into a bar and see if anyone actually asked for it and paid for a glass. That would be the real world. It was small stuff really. In those days market research was not the all-powerful force it is today, and it certainly wasn’t in the drinks trade. But we thought it would make us look professional when we went to Dublin for the Big Sell. Cream and chocolate with Irish whiskey needed all the help it could get.
When the night of the focus group came, I looked nervously around the room. This was the male group. But then these were men who were prepared to turn up for a free drink and get paid for it. We showed them the bottle that we were so proud of and began pouring out the glasses. Among most groups of drinking men there’s always one who seems to dominate proceedings – you know who he is, he’s the one who sits right in front of the interviewer and talks the loudest. It was vital for us to have him on our side and I kept my eye on him for his reaction. He drank it down, and then the researcher asked him what he thought. “I’m a pint drinker,” he said, looking down at his schooner. “And when I’ve had enough beer I move to shorts, like Scotch or vodka.” Oh dear. To make matters worse, being a talker, he went on: “It’s a girl’s drink,” he said. There was an outbreak of nods and echoes of agreement among the other men. After this what man was going to openly lay claim to liking “a girl’s drink”? It was an absolute no-no. But when we looked at their glasses every one of them had been drained. It might not have been their kind of drink, but there was nothing wrong with the taste.
The women’s group wasn’t really any more encouraging. One said “It looks and tastes like Kaolin & Morphine”, which was a popular medicine for diarrhea
The women’s group, on which we were now relying, wasn’t really any more encouraging. One of them said “It looks and tastes like Kaolin & Morphine”, which was a popular medicine for diarrhea (it’s still around).
So the research didn’t deliver a hugely successful result and I didn’t feel totally confident about making the trip to Dublin on the back of it. Mind you, it was unlikely that IDV’s Irish team would have been considered as research-obsessives back then. Concurrent with this “exhaustive” market research (three focus groups) we also had our real world test: two bottles behind the bar at the Allsop Arms just north of the Marylebone Road. I’d chosen this pub particularly because it was on my way home from Tom’s office at York Gate.
I’d call in bright with hope, smile at the landlord and say, “Any sales yet?” He would shake his head slowly and carry on cleaning his pint pots as the two unopened bottles glowered down at me from their place on the shelf. I wondered if that was where our Baileys would forever stay, getting dustier and duller, having travelled only a few streets up from the offices of IDV. Then I called in one evening and one of the bottles had gone. It looked like the landlord would no longer give our Baileys shelf space but “Oh no,” he said. “Two policemen came in this afternoon and demolished the whole bottle between them.”
“Right!” I said to myself. That was the incontrovertible evidence we were seeking. “Dublin, here we come...”
It was mid-November, dark, wet and cold. 1973. We collected the Baileys report from the market researcher alongside the Chiswick roundabout en route to Heathrow. We were cutting it fine for our big Dublin meeting. Tom drove and I leafed through the document in the car. It wasn’t a comfortable read. “This isn’t going to help our case,” I said. “It’s not all bad, but it isn’t all good either.” The bit about being a “girly drink” was in there and so was the comment likening it to Kaolin & Morphine. It was perfect ammunition for someone who wanted to kill the idea. The report contained nothing to reflect the earth-shattering idea we thought Baileys was now that we observed it in its full packaged glory. “Why don’t we just put it away and not mention it?” I said. Tom immediately agreed and I stuck it in my briefcase and left it there. It stayed in my briefcase until 1984 when I unveiled it at the 10th anniversary party. It got a huge laugh. The “Kaolin & Morphine flavoured girly drink” had sold about four million cases (48 million bottles) that year.
The weather in Dublin was as miserable as in London. We were met at the airport and driven to the Gilbeys’ offices in the Naas Road, a dreary industrial district outside Dublin. I was excited rather than concerned. We had our kit: a couple of bottles of product that had been through the Research & Development mill at Harlow – so it was vaguely shelf stable – and three fully-dressed bottles complete with beautifully printed labels and gold wax seals on the shoulders of the bottles which Tom had fashioned in his shed at home. They looked terrific and they looked real. We were relying on these bottles to clinch the sale. Showtime – at last.
Gilbeys of Ireland was a smallish outpost of the IDV empire. Most of the companies abroad at that stage were called Gilbeys after the founding fathers, the Gilbey family, who originally ran a coaching business in Essex in the 19th century. They were great Victorian traders and set up outposts across the British Empire. Gilbeys had a production plant where it bottled brands such as Smirnoff vodka and Gilbey’s gin. It also distributed Croft Original sherry and J&B whisky along with a large portfolio of wines. It was pretty successful for a small offshoot of a large international company.
Its main reason for commissioning a new product for export was that the Irish government had started giving generous subsidies for brands that were shipped to new markets across the world and Gilbeys wanted to capitalise on that. Because Ireland was then almost exclusively an agricultural economy, products with locally-grown ingredients were even better.
The Irish team, headed by their chief executive, David Dand, weren’t hard-core, button-down 1970s marketing types with smart suits, matching shirts and ties and cylindrical slide rules. They were a friendly-looking bunch; guys that you might meet at a golf club or in the snug bar at the Shelbourne. In fact, David Dand wasn’t very Irish at all; he had an accent that was light Dublin with a sprinkling of Manchester or Leeds. He was a bit “tweedy”. Keith McCarthy-Morrogh, the marketing director, was Irish upper class and could have been a character from The Irish RM by Somerville and Ross. With rakish curly hair greying at the temples, he and his Prince of Wales check suit were made for each other.
Doing a joint presentation with Tom was always challenging since he rarely stuck to the script and invariably stole most of my lines. Despite our somewhat unorthodox double-act, Tom and I managed a persuasive pitch for the Baileys idea. To help things along I cited my Kerrygold experience. Kerrygold was important to me and one of the keys to the development of Baileys. By that time the famed gold-wrapped butter had been celebrated as one of the European business successes of the 1960s and my association with it, I hoped, would add a bit of weight to our argument. I think it did.
Our foreplay over, the Irish team responded enthusiastically. They handled our bottle respectfully and even savoured the Baileys product to which Mac had applied considerable finesse since our initial International Stores effort. Much to my relief they didn’t even ask if we had done any market research. It wasn’t an issue in those days.
Lunch was pretty lavish, with several bottles of wine going down – and very good wine at that. Perrier hadn’t become fashionable then, so people were still content to do real drinking at lunch time. We were in the wine trade after all. I suspect that the word went out to upgrade the vintages when they realised that we had delivered something that they really liked. A couple of bottles of Ducru Beaucaillou of a reputable year appeared and disappeared swiftly.
I’m sure we had sworn everyone to secrecy on our side of the Irish Sea so that Baileys was a “cold pitch” to David and his colleagues. No one in Dublin knew what to expect from us. But the “Wexford Whispers” were out and when I retired to the men’s room I came across Tom Keaveney, the Gilbeys sales director.
He had not been at our pitch nor was he invited to the lunch but, via some magical Irish osmosis hotline, he knew about Baileys and the details of our presentation. We occupied adjacent troughs in the management washroom. He looked across at me – we’d never met before – and muttered “I’ve heard about your idea.”
“Oh yes?” I replied. “It’s not for the Irish market. Definitely not,” he said. “It’ll never sell here.” Somewhat chastened, I returned to the port and Stilton.
On reflection, it was quite an event, especially since we’d gone to Dublin with a single idea: there was no Plan B and we didn’t have any other ideas to offer. David Dand and his merry men could have squashed Baileys in an instant had they not liked it or felt it wasn’t their kind of thing but these friendly, clubby Irishmen in their backwater offices in an industrial suburb of Dublin had the balls to say yes.
And it was not without risk: they knew full-well that they would have to build a plant to make it, they would have to invest in bottling lines and they would have to spend some real money on marketing. They were not a huge company, and it would strain their resources.
The first thing they did was to remove the word “chocolate” from the description Irish Cream Chocolate Liqueur
No matter how well an idea is received, it is a complex entity and changes are inevitably made. The Baileys team now had to make its own imprint. The first thing they did was to remove the word “chocolate” from the description Irish Cream Chocolate Liqueur. In those days, in the early 1970s, the word chocolate did not sit comfortably on the label of a premium liqueur brand. It also made the idea easier to copy. We were pretty happy with that decision. Nowadays things are different. The notion of “Kandy Coloured Tangerine Flake Triple-Distilled” vodka from Vietnam would pass without anyone turning a hair.
As soon as they started making an imprint on this strange new idea they began to assume ownership. And once they owned it they would commit to it. But they were respectful enough to keep us informed of changes. And ask for our help when they needed it.
I got a call from David Dand in early July of 1974. It was about 9am and I was reading the sports page of the Guardian in the office. “I’m worried about the name,” he said. “Oh my God,” I thought. “We can’t do another name now. It will take forever to get it through.” My heart sank. David went on, “No, I don’t mean Baileys. It’s just that we can’t just call it Baileys. It needs a first name or at least an initial.’”
I looked down at the paper and there was an article about a golf tournament. The Open was being played at Royal Lytham. The headline mentioned R&A, golf’s governing body, and I instantly blurted “How about two initials? How do you like the sound of R&A Bailey? Think golf and the R&A.” “Great” he said, “I love it.” And that was that and I went back to reading the paper.
R & A Bailey were two brothers, a distiller and a dairy farmer. They had disliked each other for decades. Their father looked to bring them together as he reached his dotage
Yet as I thought about it after our conversation, a fantasy began to form in my mind. I could see them: R & A Bailey were two brothers, one a distiller and the other a dairy farmer. They had disliked each other for decades. Their father looked to bring them together as he reached his dotage. He had a huge estate and wanted to keep it in the family. So he said to his sons “If you can find a way of working together, I’ll leave you all my land”. They sat down one night to try to work things out. A lot of whiskey went down when Robert, somewhat the worse for wear, mistakenly added some of his brother Aidan’s cream to his tipple. He tried it and loved it. They made up and the rest is history.
Well that was my personal story. It helped to bring the idea to life for me. I had never intended for it to be used in public as it was a pure fiction. Interestingly, the “Mr R and Mr A” idea was the theme for one of the early TV commercials for Baileys in the UK. It was pretty tame and utterly unbelievable, which goes to show that not all fantasies work in the real world.
Another “Baileys moment” was the discovery of an attractive, traditional restaurant in Dublin called The Bailey. I could imagine our drink being enjoyed there a long time ago. It gave a gentle nudge of support to our off-the-wall idea.
One of the serendipitous aspects of the Baileys development came from the fact that IDV had very recently been taken over by Maxwell Joseph’s Grand Metropolitan Hotels group and it in turn also owned Express Dairies – and Express was a significant player in the Irish market. That meant that the cream that would go into Baileys could be bought not on the open market but from our own company.
We had inadvertently stumbled on the idea of the management theory called “Vertical Integration” and, while it wasn’t a completely new phenomenon in commercial circles, it was new to us. Even the original Baileys plant was based on a second-hand homogeniser bought from Express.
Back in Dublin, the launch party duly took place, as planned, at Tailor’s Hall and those of us from across the water who were present, Tom, Mac, Alan Simpson and me, were told to sit at the back of the hall and keep quiet. Baileys was suddenly no longer our creation – it was theirs – and piqued as we might have been at the time, in hindsight they were right. If Baileys was to succeed, they had to feel that they owned it. I can remember being introduced to someone at the party as “A man who helped out with the label design” and while it rankled, I let it go.
One of the strange things about the success of the Baileys venture at that time was that nothing really sank in. We had made a presentation, people liked the idea and then it “left the building”. We didn’t really see it for a year. We got back to the question of solving new problems and looking for other business.
And it was to be about seven years before Baileys really appeared on the radar and looked like a success. I would show it to my sophisticated advertising friends and they thought it was a bit “Mickey Mouse” and when I offered it up after dinner people usually looked at it sneeringly and said “later perhaps”. It lacked the savoir-faire of brands such as Cointreau with its sexy sophisticated ad campaign.
We presented the Baileys idea in 1973, it was launched in 1974 but it was another three years before it began to look like a winner. It was almost long enough for people to forget whose idea it was. I remember attending a few consultants’ presentations where the protagonists claimed to have invented Baileys. I managed to keep my cool.
People nowadays often ask me how much money we get per bottle sold. My answer is that we were paid about £3,000 all-in for the development
Nor was Baileys universally applauded in the elegant surrounds of 1 York Gate, IDV’s head office. I can remember Tom telling me after the launch that someone had described me as having “the palate of a plumber”. Given that plumbers earned a lot more than I did in those days, I took that as a compliment. People nowadays often ask me how much money we get per bottle sold. My answer is that we were paid about £3,000 all-in for the development – though the company did keep employing me for another 30 years.
In fact, IDV’s UK company had a different view of Baileys from that of other companies in the network. Its management saw it as a replacement for the Dutch egg liqueur, Advocaat, which it had distributed in the UK. In its campaign to compete with Advocaat, the first Baileys formulation was mixable with lemonade like an Advocaat “Snowball”. These were very early days for the formula and Mac and his colleagues were feeling their way.
The mixable Baileys product was a disaster. Cream and fizzy lemonade were uncomfortable bedfellows and the result of the mixture was an almost chewable dirty substance which some malicious barman dubbed “Gorilla Snot”. Given my limited experience of simian effluents, I was not in a position to judge but the cocktail still exists – though the gorilla act seems to have been cleaned up.
Baileys kicked off in the UK and, perhaps less enthusiastically, in Ireland during 1975. The rest of the world was keeping its powder dry waiting to see what would happen. One encouraging fact was that Baileys was finding its way into executive briefcases as IDV’s heavy mob toured the world.
A legendary anecdote in the brand’s history is said to have occurred when Anthony Tennant (later knighted) took a bottle of Baileys to Abe Rosenberg, head of the Paddington Corporation in New York. Abe was a titan of the drinks industry and the man who had turned J&B Rare into the biggest selling Scotch in America in the 1960s.
“The green background colour on the label reminds me of US uniforms in Vietnam” he said. And then, it is said, he pronounced the immortal words “That shit will never sell!”
The story goes that he held up the Baileys bottle and looked at it with some disdain. “The green background colour on the label reminds me of US uniforms in Vietnam” he said. He sipped at the muddy brown liquid with absolutely no enthusiasm. And then, it is said, he pronounced the immortal words “That shit will never sell!”
Nevertheless, he launched it into the US later that year with the extraordinary advertising line “The Impossible Cream”. In the words of S J Perelman in one of his advertising sketches “the idea had thematic milk”. Despite its esoteric advertising, Baileys rose to become the biggest selling liqueur in the US – and indeed the rest of the world.
Meanwhile, Baileys had attracted attention in many places, being new and different, but it received its real impetus from an unlikely source – Australia. Whereas the wine and single malt buffs in the UK and Europe still held it at arm’s length, the Aussies had few pretensions and the local managing director, after a visit to the Baileys’ plant in Dublin, pronounced it in classic Australian fashion “a bloody good drop”.
He promptly ordered a full container, the contents of which flew off the shelves as soon as it landed. He ordered two more. Baileys became so popular that liquor stores carried signs which said things like “It’ll be here in a week. Place your orders now.” People knew exactly what they meant.
After only five years in the market, Baileys attracted as many as 75 competitors round the world. All of them were look-alikes at lower prices and some were even made with wine bases rather than spirit. There was Bayla’s in Spain and Baitz’ Island Cream in Australia and Irish competitors produced Carolans, O’Darby’s and Emmets. Everyone ripped off Bob Wagner’s Irish pastoral idyll label design which became the Irish cream graphic generic. There was also a lot of vigorous activity within IDV to capitalise on the new technology and develop more products. But nothing ever came close.
David Gluckman’s That S*it Will Never Sell is published by Prideaux Press. It tells the stories behind the drinks he invented or worked on, including Le Piat d’Or, Aqua Libra, Sheridan’s, Tanqueray Ten, Smirnoff Black and many others.
Tomorrow: the stories behind “Daft Guinness” and “Lady’s Guinness”
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