It’s been revealed that Irn-Bru maker AG Barr has approached Britvic with a view to a friendly £1.4bn merger. At roughly half the size of its competitor this represents a big and, certainly to this correspondent, surprising move from Scotland’s most consistently creative super-brand. OK maybe at £500million it’s probably a bit of an overstatement to call Irn-Bru a super-brand but certainly in the world of communications it’s punched well above its weight for the last 40 years.
I was fortunate to be part of the team that won the Irn-Bru business in a rather odd pitch against BBH back in the early 1990’s. I say “odd” because when I say we “won” the pitch we actually “lost” it. The twinkle in Sir John Hegarty’s eye turned the ladies’ heads back then and we missed out in a thrilling, nail-biting decider.
But, only a few months, and one grunter of a TV ad, later (anybody dare to remember the David and Goliath howler) and BBH had to pass up Irn-Bru to take on a short lived Coca Cola assignment. We (Leith) were in and so began a thirty-year relationship that would in many ways define the Leith Agency. From the naughty Raymond Biggs pastiche of the Snowman to the infamous “bitches” poster and this year’s refreshingly contentious “fanny” ad Leith have regularly filled our screens with great, and occasionally phenomenal, advertising fare.
So, what will the merger mean for Irn-Bru? Will it get Tangoed or will it suddenly become Made in England from Oak Beams? My guess is that Irn-Bru (the company) have the initiative here. Roger White is highly regarded and holds the whip hand, slated as he is for the CEO job.
This is one David and Goliath scenario that would benefit Irn-Bru. The massively increased distribution network that Britvic brings to the table and the opportunity to bear down harder on buyers will surely improve margins. Whether the English will suddenly gain a taste for our finest bru is another matter though. After all, when did you see a bunch of workies in Glasgow supping from a bottle of Dandelion and Burdock, despite its presence on our supermarket shelves?
Irn-Bru is something of a cultural phenomenon. It’s well known that Scotland’s the only country in the world (other than Peru?) that Coca Cola isn’t brand leader. But given the right support and distribution Irn-Bru can travel; its success in Russia is well documented and it’s already the number three soft drink in the UK, behind Coke and Britvic’s Pepsi.
I have a feeling that this is not about Irn-Bru, the brand, even though it’s inevitably what will grab the parochial Scottish headlines. Britvic is not faring well just now, so an injection of great management from Cumbernauld might be just what it needs for its Robinsons, Pepsi, Fruit Shoot and Tango brands and secondary brands in the Irn-Bru portfolio like Tizer, Strathmore and Orangina could benefit greatly from Britvic’s exposure to the on-trade. Sure, our beloved “other” national drink could get a boost but it’s the supporting cast that might just make the difference to the enlarged group’s fortunes.
Mark Gorman is head of thinking at Think Hard