Red Tettemer Shoots Tub Gin

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More than a handful of agencies have been paying increasing attention and lip service to the ownership of ideas, not only the ones they pass on to clients but also their own opportunities outside the traditional client-agency model. But while many talk about it, there are only a few attempts that have resulted in actual agency-owned product or brand. Now Red Tettemer has joined that club with a product perfectly aligned with the advertising lifestyle -- Tub Gin.

The official website launched Friday and was produced entirely in-house by the agency in Philly. Using a dark, nostalgic vibe, the brand harks back to a time and place when booze was homemade and guns in the front yard were considered an acceptable extracurricular activity. But while the image may be rough, after an enthusiastic sampling session, we can say the gin is one smooth, tasty spirit.

We spoke to president and CCO Steve Red and executive director Carla Mote about breaking into the booze biz and more.

How does an agency get into the gin business?
Steve Red: We met the guys at Ska Brewing Company in Durango, CO when we were working on a project for a financial institution, where we went on a small business exchange to really see and experience the needs of their business first-hand. So I went out to work at the brewery for a week and we instantly found they were a lot like us. So we found we had a lot of the same sensibilities, looked at the world in a similar way and also happened to really like gin. It just so happened that they're a brewery and we're an advertising agency, but other than that we were a lot alike.

So after that week, we knew we wanted to work on something together but we weren't sure exactly what it was. But while the natural thing might have been, "Hey do you guys need an ad agency?" In this day and age, the way the business is going we thought we'd like to do something that was more of a partnership and represented our outlook on life. So we decided to make a batch of gin. They have a small batch distillery called Peach Street, and we decided to go with their formula, picked a bottle design and then set it up so they would make the gin and we would do the branding and marketing.

Carla Mote: It all pulled together in about five months. It's been a great project that has that small business energy and enthusiasm. Now we're clients within our own agency and making decisions about our own brand and nothing is left to winging it because we're so invested in it. We always try to do that with our client business but it's certainly a new feeling of being both client and agency.

How does the experience of being your own client inform your other client work?
SR: It's been a great exercise for us and our creatives because suddenly you're forced to literally walk in a client's shoes. It's not just an advertising opportunity but a business opportunity. So just as we preach to our client partners, we're not just in this to make advertising for advertising's sake, it's to sell a product or provide a service. It just helps balance between what's a great creative idea and what works on a business level. I'm hoping our creatives will take (the lessons learned) over to our client's businesses.

CM: You always hope your creatives are listening and understanding your clients' business challenges but this brings it down to an even more personal level.

Why gin over, say, whiskey or peppermint schnapps?
SR: Pure and simple, gin is my favorite drink.

Tub's got a decidedly bootlegger vibe. How did the personality of the brand come about?
SR: It just mirrors both Ska and Red Tettemer's personality a bit. We also looked at the landscape and there doesn't seem to be a premium spirit, especially gin, that has that kind of vibe, everything is kind of upper crusty and slick. So it just felt like there was a hole there for a younger, more contemporary feel.

CM: Other spirits have experimented with this sort of personality but gin really hasn't. Whiskeys, rums, tequilas, all have experimented with various personalities to some extent but even as there are awesome gin brands like Hendricks, who were able to shine with a different personality that's a bit apothecary but still pretty regal, nothing's broken out with a grittier feel.

SR: There's no rock n' roll gin.

How are you guys, as an agency, handling distribution and sales?
CM: It's a bit complicated due to all the various liquor distribution laws. But we're in a partnership with Ska's Peach Street Distillery, which will be the manufacturer and distributor and we will be the sales team. We'll be finding distribution channels on the East coast, and they'll do it where they're already established in Colorado, Texas and some other neighboring states.

SR: There's a mutual benefit here, as they have the network and connections out west and they've never had the opportunity to distribute their beer or spirits on the east coast, so it's a good opportunity for both of us.

If you're the sales team, do you foresee having to basically hire Tub sales people at Red Tettemer?
SR: If all goes well, then yeah. If it starts to take off we'll probably create a team here around Tub, as we would with any client.

CM: We've used our various restaurant and bar contacts to get the word started and here within the agency we've got people working on it to get it up and running. So hopefully we will have to bring on our first salesperson sometime in the next six months.

When can people buy Tub?
CM: Technically, it'll be another few weeks for the vendor permits to come through. We have bars and restaurants on board and ready, so hopefully that will expand, and we're looking to be fully available for consumer purchase in early 2009.
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