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The perfect cocktail: how Ponderosa mixed up the spicy new Lamb’s Navy Rum site

When it comes to the world of alcohol, or booze if you will, we are not really talking about a product that goes out of fashion. However, it is worth remembering that there are a plethora of drinks that become trendier at various times.

Now, unless you are local to the Caribbean (specifically Jamaica), rum can be one of those tipples. Mixed with a certain iconic soft drink or blended into an exotic cocktail, this 17th Century spirit is currently enjoying something of a renaissance. So when British brand Lamb’s wanted to reinvigorate its Navy Rum within a fresh, wider market, the website seemed like a key place to start.


The resultant collaboration with Yorkshire-based Ponderosa Group was originally borne out of a relationship with parent company Halewood International. Work for sister brands such as Lambrini and Crabbie’s ensured the agency could now be trusted to effectively explore the untapped potential of Lamb’s Navy Rum. By acknowledging the brand’s rich heritage coupled with a still strong 80 per cent public awareness, the team felt confident about spreading a new message.

How do you make rum relevant to a younger market?

“At Ponderosa we felt we could make the brand more relevant to a younger, sceptical rum drinker, changing perceptions and standing toe to toe with the brand leaders,” explains group creative director Paul Alexander. “If we were up there, we’d be nervous about the noise this re-emerging challenger brand was making in a bid to grab market share.”

So with the gauntlet thrown down to force the young rum pretenders to walk the plank, heritage would prove a critical asset. A whopping 150 years of history began with Sir Alfred Lamb forging the characteristic taste in 1849, leading up to an iconic period in the 1970’s for memorable marketing. Campaigns spanning Lamb’s Navy calendars and a famous billboard that effectively launched the acting career of model Caroline Munro, provided an exposure unequalled since. The challenge would be to leverage that nostalgia and build an online presence with one foot very much in the future…

“Lamb’s Navy Rum was one of those drinks where you enter most boozers and you would no doubt discover a dusty bottle sat lurking at the back of the shelf,” Alexander explains. “Yes, it was the preferred tipple of the odd elderly local, but it certainly wasn’t the drink of choice for a discerning crowd of younger drinkers or a must-have brand for cool bars to stock.” This initial empathy for what the client wanted to achieve would move on to a more thorough interrogation of the current marketplace.

By virtue of the close association of client and agency, the two could scope out the competition and develop a harmonious strategy from day one.

Research, development, concepts

This would be formalised within a period of “research and proposition development” in order to arrive at the essence for the brand. “All of our brand insight and marketplace interrogation led us to a proposition of True British Character,” describes digital account director Liam Dawson. “From here, the creative team at Ponderosa developed concepts across print and digital media, which were first presented internally to the agency team to ensure the creative execution matched the brand insight, before presenting the creative solution to the client. We’re not an agency who rushes off to do all of the work in isolation and then delivers the final creative with a big ‘ta-da’ moment. It is important for us to ensure that the client comes with us on the journey, from the initial planning stages right through to site testing pre-launch.”


Out of this tight project partnership the work then began on the nuts and bolts of executing the campaign, with Lamb’s digital activity at the forefront. The concept of True British Character was so inherent within the brand, it really flavoured these early stages, giving rise to the visuals so prominent on the finished site. “We wanted people who reflected the same values to be the face of the campaign,” Dawson elaborates.

“So we actively pursued burlesque performer Missy Malone, celebrity tattooist Louis Molloy, luxury concierge founder Emyr Thomas, branding guru Steve Edge and the snowboard mountaineer Julia Pickering to be a part of the campaign. These were people who each one had their own unique British character and were doing things their own way.” Sure enough if you visit the final site today you will find lavish photography of these guest characters scattered throughout, along with their own descriptive profiles. The idea being that, through each person’s unique story, you will derive a sense of the maverick, quirky, eclectic Britishness that Lamb’s seems to embody.

With this core principle established, Ponderosa could then take the time to plan and understand how to convey it online. “Before the digital creatives were allowed to get the colouring books and crayons out, we mapped out structure and user journeys,” Dawson insists. “Not just how users would move through the website, but all of the different journeys; from an advert in GQ, to Twitter via #TrueBritishCharacter and then into the website from a cocktail link, or from a YouTube video direct to a True British Character profile page. It all needed to work seamlessly. Influences were then taken from the hexagonal bottle shape, in terms of using it to create responsive content panels that would flow throughout the website, providing a direct reference back to the product and iconic bottle.”

Wireframes and user journeys

By plotting the semantics of how visitors would find and engage with the content in this way, the team could begin a process of prototyping. Only by presenting a more tangible – albeit rough – experience to the client could they start to visualise where things were going or what was possible. “Once user journeys are defined and the sites content structure established, wireframes are created. This process involves both the creatives and developers, so when presented to the client via an interactive prototype, they are a true reflection of what is actually possible with the finished site and how users will interact and engage. We replicate this process again once the creative visuals are completed, and then again with the finished site.”


On the front-end side of the actual development phase, the team’s main challenge would be to marry the visual themes with the technology. Not only did they need to stay true to the established campaign and the subsequent assets, but ensuring a consistent experience was also a priority. “A campaign look and feel for True British Character had been set, including the creation of great photography, product shots and videos,” adds head of digital creative Jonathan ‘Joff’ Lumb. “The challenges from a digital creative perspective were how we could present this online in a visually stimulating, responsive site that maximised the campaign photography and looked good whether you were viewing the site on mobile, tablet or desktop.”

In many ways this emphasis on responsive design became a common ground for uniting the front-end work with the guys charged with coding everything. Instead of being locked away in a darkened room, the backend development team had been privy to the earlier design concept stages. This ensured a synergy where any nasty surprises on limitations could be avoided, which is vital when you consider the feverishly rapid coding timeline of just 14 days.

“It’s always a challenge to build a responsive site, more the thought of building from the smallest device up to desktop, not to mention the limited time to build and test, which is so much more work than a site that isn’t responsive,” explains web developer Sam Smyth. “Fortunately we are always involved in the early stages with the digital creative team so A) we don’t sound like a mechanic shaking our head (‘You want what?’), and B) we get a good brief both structurally and visually on how everything should look and be linked.”

The final build and social media

By the time the final build was realised, the client too was kept clued up on every step of the way. This would ensure that completion and launch could run as smoothly as possible, minimising the risk of wholesale changes being sanctioned. “Prior to launch, we bring the team involved in the original project briefing, both agency and client, together and we then unveil the website, going through the journeys originally identified,” says Dawson. “The wider campaign is also revisited alongside the site, together with the planned activity around social media, demonstrating the whole integrated campaign and how everything is linked. Inevitably there will be some tweaks and content edits to be made. So after some final tinkering and a final series of testing and optimisation, the site is launched.”


Of course in many ways for a commercial website the hard work arguably begins at this point. So much of the prior process hinges on raising awareness and driving traffic to the brand new domain. While the Ponderosa team provided a 30-day window of technical support for the live site, the entire campaign went into overdrive.

Provisions for social media developed before launch were activated across Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube, engaging directly with bars and drinkers alike. In addition, the cast of True British Characters were used to help seed the new site, campaign and brand content before wider promotional opportunities were exploited.

“Following shortly after launch, a consumer press campaign ran across relevant publications like FHM, Esquire, Shortlist, Stylist, Grazia, Guardian Weekend and Metro,” concludes Dawson.

“The campaign appeared in trade publications such as The Grocer and Imbibe. A book of True Character was also created, filled with information and illustrations, serves and cocktails designed by a top mixologist. This was delivered to consumers and also the trade via direct mail in a unique limited edition box of True Character, filled with goodies.”