Missing The Mark

Shock and disappointment came to loyal Maker’s Mark sippers last week as news broke that the distillery planned to ���water down” the spirit from 90 to 84 proof in an effort to meet increasing demand. Indeed, the story seemed at first like it could not possibly be true; Maker’s Mark enjoys one of the most devoted customer bases of any American whiskey, and distilleries normally choose to limit distribution when supply becomes an issue rather than sacrifice their successful brand. Nevertheless, Maker’s Mark announced that the new version of the spirit would replace the original without delay.

Predictably, a run on Maker���s Mark ensued. Within a couple of days, our shelves were cleared, and the state distribution warehouse ran entirely out of Maker’s Mark in all sizes. We learned that our next shipment of Maker’s Mark would be the new 84-proof batch.

What followed was even more surprising than the original announcement. In response to overwhelmingly negative customer feedback, Maker’s Mark decided not to change its brand after all, even though it had already shipped a small amount of the 84-proof batch.

In a joint statement published on the Maker’s Mark website, Rob and Bill Samuels did a complete mea culpa: “While we thought we were doing what���s right, this is your brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision. You spoke. We listened. And we���re sincerely sorry we let you down.”

Now that brand devotees can rest easy in the knowledge that Maker’s Mark is not changing for good, the 84-proof batch is quickly becoming an object of curiosity. What will it taste like? Will it really be that much different? Does this mean we can laugh about all this, sip some watery bourbon, and look forward to the original coming back, instead of remaining disappointed forever?

Either way, the Maker’s Mark hiccup provided great entertainment and a terrific case study for brand managers and marketers to study for years to come.