Ready to Tanqueray?

Advertising deconstructed.
July 11 2005 6:08 AM

Pushing Gin

The foppish weirdo who wants you to drink Tanqueray.

1_123125_2065969_2111765_2122290_050711_tonysinclair
"Tony Sinclair"

The Spot: We're at an upscale soiree. In the kitchen, we see an exquisitely dressed man holding a cocktail shaker. "It's no coincidence," he says with a British accent, "that the first letter in the word 'martini' is … mmmmmmmm." He bursts into an urbane guffaw, accompanied by a cocktail-shaking dance. "I'm Tony Sinclair," he tells us, and then delivers his tagline: "Ready to Tanqueray?" (Click here to see the ad.)

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

I always get a tiny bit excited at the debut of a new spokes-character. So much promise, so much uncertainty. Sometimes (as with the ill-fated Mr. Wendy) we barely meet them before they vanish from our lives forever. Other times (as with the invincible Brawny Man) they hang around for decades, enduring the occasional makeover, re-entering our consumer consciousness from time to time. It's still too soon to tell whether 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 gin?

Advertisement

Keep in mind that Tony is not the first Tanqueray spokes-character. You may remember Mr. Jenkins—a white-haired, well-dressed gent who appeared on billboards and in print ads beginning in 1994. The idea behind Jenkins was to hedge Tanqueray's demographic bets. The character appealed to the liquor's core customers: old white dudes. But the ads, which used a cool-looking photo-collage technique, were intended to draw in younger drinkers. It's hard to say if it worked—this was in the midst of the microbrew craze, and young people just weren't into spirits—but after a few years Mr. Jenkins was retired with little fanfare.

Now we meet Tony Sinclair. This campaign (there are four spots so far; in my favorite, Tony enlists a jeweler to precision-cut his ice cubes) is the initial salvo from Tanqueray's new ad agency, Grey Worldwide. Grey was hired last year, and no doubt the creatives there spent long months crafting Tony, meticulously honing his back story and sifting through audition tapes in a hunt for the perfect face. What do the end results tell us?

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 (which are in fact the first U.S. television ads that Tanqueray has ever run) already have people talking: Bloggers are giving the spots mixed reviews—some find them annoying, others think they're catchy and smooth.

As for the man himself, he's meant to appeal to a younger crowd. No old white dudes here. Diageo, Tanqueray's parent company, didn't respond to my inquiries about these ads, but 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). Tony is sophisticated and upscale, but in no way stuffy, and he fits squarely into the new generation of cocktail drinkers—the ones who've lately made cash cows out of brands like Grey Goose.

Beyond the obvious youth push, though, I'd say Tony, like Mr. Jenkins, is another 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 multi-million-dollar marketing campaigns—nothing ever is.

Sure enough, in a press release, a Diageo marketing bigwig 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 spirits sales. Look at what rapper Busta Rhymes' "Pass the Courvoisier" did for cognac. If Tanqueray wanted to go all out, they should 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."

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 D.J. and posts a picture of him at the turntables. But the ads all show Tony mingling with a singularly un-hip-hop (and predominantly white) crowd. Also, the background tunes are more lounge than club.

I think Tanqueray hopes to have it both ways—maintaining the brand's upper-crust heritage, while half-heartedly fishing for an "urban" sales boost. I don't have a problem with that. But only time will tell us exactly who is ready to Tanqueray.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
  Arts
Television
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 21 2014 11:38 PM “Welcome to the War of Tomorrow” How Futurama’s writers depicted asymmetrical warfare.
  Health & Science
The Good Word
Sept. 21 2014 11:44 PM Does This Name Make Me Sound High-Fat? Why it just seems so right to call a cracker “Cheez-It.”
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.