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John McGee: Kerrygold clear winner by taking brand worldwide


'It's fair to say Kerrygold is, unquestionably, the greatest indigenous branding success story to have emerged from these shores ever.'

'It's fair to say Kerrygold is, unquestionably, the greatest indigenous branding success story to have emerged from these shores ever.'

'It's fair to say Kerrygold is, unquestionably, the greatest indigenous branding success story to have emerged from these shores ever.'

It is with great sadness and a profound sense of failure that I will go to my grave without ever knowing the answer to the question, "who's taking the horse to France?"

The answer has taxed the brains of a nation since it was first posed in an ad for Kerrygold butter back in the 1990s. Memorable for its implicit but subtle sexual innuendo - think of Glenroe's Miley Byrne flirting with Flaubert's Madame Bovary - the TV ad is right up there with the likes of the famous ad for Guinness, The Island and its four words of dialogue (Tá siad ag teacht!) and Harp ad from the 1970s, featuring Sally O'Brien and the way she might look at you.

Like the Voynich manuscript, who killed JFK and why Stonehenge was created, however, we may never know the real answer to this equine whodunnit. Or even if the horse ever made it to the Irish Ferries terminal in Rosslare.

Kerrygold has come a long way since leaving viewers wondering about a possible Gallic fling all those years ago. Indeed, such is the brand's appeal worldwide that Kourtney Kardashian, whoever she is, uses it in some of the recipes she has on her Kourt lifestyle app. Even the former Sports Illustrated model Chrissy Teigen, whoever she is, has raved about it on Snapchat. And in the best tradition of adding inches to their already expanding waistlines, some Americans have even taken to adding it to their morning coffee. As for the Germans, well, they simply can't get enough of the stuff.

Two weeks ago, the brand launched its first Irish advertising campaign in over 10 years. Like any good brand campaign, it possibly needed to remind consumers that the nation's favourite butter is still a force to be reckoned with. But it can also be seen as a timely reminder that nothing stands still in the marketing world and, in response to stiff competition in the dairy cabinets of Irish supermarkets, it needed to flex its considerable marketing muscle in the face of the many parvenu private-label butters that have tried to emulate it with varying degrees of both success and failure.

It's fair to say Kerrygold is, unquestionably, the greatest indigenous branding success story to have emerged from these shores ever. Yes, of course there's Bailey's Irish Cream but, without splitting too many hairs, Bailey's is owned by the multinational drinks company Diageo. Kerrygold, on the other hand, is owned by Ornua (formerly the Irish Dairy Board), an Irish company controlled by Irish co-ops which in turn are controlled by Irish farmers. You really don't get more Irish than this.

In fact, the success of the Kerrygold brand was not lost on the marketing team behind Bailey's several years later when they sought to create something uniquely Irish themselves, a point that was raised by former South African adman David Gluckman in his recent book, That Sh*t Will Never Sell. Gluckman was one of two London-based admen who came up with the original idea for Bailey's back in 1973.

But 10 years earlier, he was also on the creative team in the London office of Benton & Bowles, a New York-headquartered ad agency, which actually came up with the original Kerrygold brand identity including its iconic gold foil wrapping and the images of lush Kerry pastures and happy cows grazing. Needless to say, this is an inconvenient truth that is often airbrushed out of much of the subsequent folklore that enveloped the brand after it became an international success.

Benton & Bowles got in on the act after An Bord Bainne, which was then headed up by a bright, young and ambitious Tony O'Reilly, came up with the idea to try and flog Irish butter overseas. It was a tall order as butter is essentially a commodity product. But with the right marketing, advertising and branding, nearly everything is possible and after 60 agencies in Ireland and the UK pitched for the business, Benton & Bowles came up trumps and set about launching it on the UK market in 1962.

The rest is history. While the brand was launched on international markets in 1964, it never made it on to Irish dairy cabinets until 1973, 11 years after it started to take off in places like the UK, Malta, Cyprus, the Canary Islands and the Caribbean. The same year it was launched in most other European countries including Germany where it is now the leading brand of butter among Germans.

Now, some 55 years later, Ornua's plans for the brand would appear to know no bounds. Last year, sales of Kerrygold-branded products broke the €900m barrier and are well on their way to hitting €1bn by the end of the decade. Apart from its range of spreadable, firm and flavoured butters, there's Kerrygold yoghurt, which was launched in Germany last year, a Kerrygold cheese and, yes, somewhat ironically, a Kerrygold cream liqueur which, apparently, is big in the USA.

And who knows, maybe somewhere outside Chantilly, the equine capital of France, there's a young ginger haired lad, sporting a Tipp jersey, munching happily on a petit pain with jambon de Bayonne and a thick slathering of Kerrygold?

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