The Long Gimlet
"What they call a Gimlet is just some lime or lemon juice and gin with a dash of sugar and bitters. A real Gimlet is half gin and half Rose's Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow."
- Terry Lennox, speaking to Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye
Over the weekend, I took Lennox's advice and picked up a bottle of Rose's Lime Juice at the liquor store. Then I went home and cracked open a bottle of Bombay Sapphire, mixed it fifty-fifty with the Rose's per the strict Lennox recipe, and enjoyed the very refreshing cocktail while lounging on our brand new patio. First time I've ever had a gimlet, and definitely not the last. Life, as they say, is good.
Miller Brewing Company
I wrote the following essay way back in 1996. Most of it still rings true, I think.
As relentlessly conformist as most Americans are, we all want to be considered individualists. Perhaps that's the reason for the enduring appeals of such pop-culuture institutions as the movie western, a genre that is hopelessly narrow and whose plot line can be predicted in advance by a ten-year-old possessing only average intelligence. But there's something about that lone cowboy, riding into town, exerting his will and having his way, and then riding off into the sunset off to some other town where he will undoubtedly exert his will and have his way. Though we can't identify with that cowboy as we dutifully insert ourselves in bumper to bumper traffic for that long commute to work, where we dutifully obey the boss and where the duties are of of only modest interest, we want to be the cowboy. We want to be different.
And American industry didn't become the most powerful force on earth by ignoring such opportunities. Take Miller Brewing Company, for example. Miller, a subsidiary of promotional colossus Philip Morris, could probably produce a high quality product if it wanted. It certainly has the capability. With its vast financial resources, Miller could easily secure the finest ingredients, the most innovative brewmasters and the most sophisticated production processes. But the fickle tastes of American consumers, who want to be safe while imagining themselves being "different", makes such an investment fairly risky.
Instead, Miller focuses on its real strengths, marketing and promotion. Rather than producing a beer that is truly distinctive, Miller's investment goes into producing a perception, a perception that its product is truly distinctive. Miller took a long look at its onetime flagship brand, Miller High Life, and saw a dinosaur--a dinosaur that only sold to lower income, blue collar, non upwardly mobile consumers. A dinosaur whose slogan continued to be "The Champagne Of Beers"--dating from a time when the use of the word "champagne" could invoke a sense of chic and sophistication.
So, High Life was going nowhere. Not to worry--the marketing honchos at Miller understand fully that the ticket to success in American business is not quality, but image. With much fanfare, they unveiled two "new" beers, Red Dog and a beer simply known as "Miller". Red Dog ("Be Your Own Dog") zeroed in on the American yearning for individuality. Its clever ad campaign began with the creation of a logo, the head of a snarling bulldog colored a vivid shade of red. As the beer was being introduced, billboards appeared which bore no text--just the unmistakeable image of the Red Dog. One couldn't help noticing these billboards and wonder what they could possibly be. Then, when the TV commercials hit, the consumer could make an immediate connection--instant familiarity.
Miller Beer ("Brewed From The Heart Of The Hops"--as if the use of hops was some bold innovation that Miller just came up with) stressed its newness. New beer, new label, new name--but, as Miller stressed, you were already familiar with the beer, label and name. Both beers came with boldly designed labels and an unmistakable message.
But let's not forget that under the packaging, under the advertising, and under the highly efficient distribution system there is the base product. Beer. If all the labeling and promotion were to be believed, Miller had come up with a great beer, something bold and distinctive for which we consumers wouldn't mind pay a few extra pennies for than we had paid for High Life.
Yet, when one finally tastes the product that is buried under all that image, it tastes suspiciously like High Life. Maybe slightly better than High Life, but not enough of a difference that would seem to justify all the hoopla and the higher price. It's almost as if Miller peeled off all the High Life labels, slapped on glitzy new ones and starting hawking the "new" product with a brilliant ad campaign.
Maybe the Miller Beer message was honest, after all. New beer, new label, new name. And, they forgot to add, same beer.