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Maker’s Mark Reverses Decision to Water Down Bourbon

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Maker’s Mark, an operating unit of Jim Beam, was faced with a dilemma.  They weren’t able to keep up with the demand for their flagship product and, because their bourbon is aged for five to eight years before being bottled, there was no way to rapidly increase production.  So they came up with the idea of watering down the bourbon from 45% alcohol (90 proof) to 42% alcohol (84 proof).

While the company claimed the new product did not differ in taste from the higher proof product, when news of this decision reached their customers a firestorm of protest erupted.  News stories carried quotes from customers who vowed never to purchase the watered down product and even the relatively staid NPR radio show “All Things Considered” broadcast a story on the controversy.

It didn’t take long for Maker’s Mark to back away from their decision.  Less than a week after the initial announcement, the graphic on their Facebook page now reads: “You spoke.  We listened.  Here’s Proof.”  And, according to a story in Ad Age, this decision received over 15,000 “Likes” and over 2000 comments in just a few hours.

So here’s the question for today’s discussion: Was this a case of a brand listening and responding to their customers or was this a well-played marketing ploy?

Please weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

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