On the trail of the tradition-steeped brand history of Jägermeister


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 1 2018)

Who isn’t familiar with the imposing stag featured on the green bottle? While the herbal liqueur was deemed suited for celebrating a successful day of hunting or as a nightcap in the 1990s, Jägermeister has become one of the most popular herbal liqueurs today, and the only German premium spirit beverage to have achieved worldwide fame. The long-standing German distillery has grown into a global brand, becoming one of the greatest brand management successes in history.

The recipe is a well-guarded company secret and includes a total of 56 local and exotic herbs, flowers, roots and fruits. Manufactured using the elaborate cold maceration process and stored in oak barrels for around a year, the result is a superlative-quality herbal liqueur with uniquely complex flavours. Back in 1934, Curt Mast developed the recipe and designed the iconic square bottle made from dark green glass, both of which have remained unchanged to this very day. Curt Mast created a unique trademark with the St. Hubertus stag on the label, one that perfectly expresses his respect for nature and the liqueur’s exclusively natural ingredients. Jägermeister has always remained true to its brand and its quality despite a radical turnaround in its marking since the end of the 1990s.

Wolfgang Moeller, Vice President Global Brand Marketing Mast-Jägermeister SE, talks to us about how Jägermeister successfully carried out the reorganisation of the brand by preserving the Jägermeister tradition and by implementing a visionary marketing strategy, and why now is the perfect time for a new product within the super-premium segment.

How does the company rank today among global spirit beverage manufacturers?

Jägermeister is the only German premium spirit beverage with worldwide significance, with three wholly-owned subsidiaries in the USA, the UK and in Germany, allowing the company to act swiftly and flexibly within these important markets. However, we see ourselves as the underdog among the major spirit beverage corporations. But with huge potential – and a huge thirst for more.

What was the reason for the brand’s ‘makeover’?

This kind of makeover is very difficult to plan when sitting around a conference table. It requires a little more than that. At the time, the company simply chose to systematically embark on a new path to become more relevant in the target group of young adults. Following the broad and – at the time – unique involvement in motor sports in the 1970s and 1980s, there was subsequently a greater focus on music. The advertising campaigns developed in this area were both short-term in nature, but also long-term, and in part already international partnership programmes. The Jägermeister Rock:Liga is still considered an excellent example of how a company can sustainably and successfully dedicate itself to new, upcoming bands over the years. In addition to this, the innovative, courageous TV campaigns featuring the two stags Rudi and Ralph in the lead roles were a major contributor to the success of the brand in the early 2000s.

Didn’t suddenly addressing a whole new generation as a target group harbour huge risks?

Not at all – as long as you stick to the core values of your brand and understand your demographic. This has not fundamentally changed over the decades. People are of course crucial in order to be successful, people who adapt the premium brand to the respective zeitgeist with plenty of enthusiasm, courage and self-confidence. This is, and always has been, one of the great strengths of the Jägermeister brand.

There have undoubtedly not only been changes to the corporate identity, have things also changed within the company?

The company has developed dramatically, particularly over the past few years. On the one hand, through systematic internationalisation both here at the Wolfenbüttel site and by setting up new subsidiaries and service enterprises. Meanwhile, more than a third of the Jägermeister team speaks English as a first language. Besides, we are creating new offerings for young recruits with the aim of on the one hand, ensuring the Wolfenbüttel site in Lower Saxony remains attractive and, on the other hand, being as close as possible to our target group through our employees. Furthermore, our focus is on strengthening our innovative energy and dealing with the major challenges relating to digital transformation.

Companies have to have patience and wait for the success that is often not immediately evident. In this respect, does a medium-sized family business have advantages over a large corporation with regard to restructuring?

We have the full support of the entrepreneurial family. This helps us to systematically continue on our journey. Aside from that, all forms of organisations have their own challenges. We want to continue to exploit the benefits of being a small and lean yet high-impact organisation.

What role have digitalisation and social networks played in recent successes?

In view of our focus on young adults, this is – and has been – our absolute top priority. Here, we have had to undoubtedly break with many old habits relating to our marketing. Away from classical TV communication and towards instruments such as Instagram, where we are already one of the strongest global spirit beverage brands. Here, we want to continue being an innovative driver, one example of which is without doubt the Jäm Bot.

Would you have been able to position your realignment as successfully without social media?

No lifestyle brand is able to survive in our digital world without strong marketing. However, brand contents must be the focus here and not the platforms or channels themselves. Our primary focus is staging and communicating Jägermeister in a manner that is relevant to target groups.

Back in 1973, Günter Mast scored a slam-dunk by being the very first company in Germany to place advertising on sport shirts. In what areas is Jägermeister currently active as a sponsor, providing support with its brand presence?

Jägermeister does not regard itself as a sponsor, but more as a content driver on target group-relevant platforms. Here, the focus remains on music – but also on art, fashion and lifestyle.

What successful strategies have you been pursuing for foreign markets here, and which markets have developed best for Jägermeister?

As a spirit beverage brand, our premium presence in the food-service industry and classic retail remains hugely important. Here, we are currently rolling out our new look across the globe, an aesthetic that is oriented on the structure and design philosophy of the German Bauhaus School. We are premiering this via the premium travel retail channel and in the USA. The American market in particular has been characterised by significant Jägermeister growth over the past few years. This overheating has since settled somewhat, although the largest global spirit market remains one of our focuses. In addition to this, we are expanding strongly in Eastern Europe and markets such as Latin America. The German market is stable and – as it were – the solid foundation of our international success.

What new markets are you planning to conquer?

We think less in terms of markets. For us, it is the target group that is the focus, a demographic that we are calling ‘Urban Bon Vivants’. We want to remain attractive for this globally-expanding demographic in particular.

When it comes to launching the brand, what are the challenges outside Germany?

Herbal liqueurs are an unknown category in many countries. Here, we have to invest in both the emotional connection to the brand and in communicating the quality of our product. But this cannot be achieved through advertising, but rather through close collaboration with barkeepers in the respective markets, for example, whom we convince with both the complexity and the quality of Jägermeister. And, of course, with our ‘perfect serve’! Jägermeister is best savoured as a shot at a perfect -18 degrees Celsius.

Let’s talk about segment expansion and ‘Jägermeister Manifest’. What is behind this and what marketing strategy are you pursuing?

Jägermeister Manifest is an exciting project for us, because we are the world’s very first spirit manufacturer to use it to create the super-premium herbal liqueur category. To this end, Jägermeister Manifest is the systematic further development of what we do best and what we truly believe in. Outstanding raw-material quality in conjunction with sophisticated artisanry for a completely unique taste experience. We have therefore written our ‘manifesto’ on the front of the bottle itself. Initially, the long-term brand development will be spearheaded via the global travel retail and premium food-service industry channels. The product is currently not being actively advertised, as the quantities are very limited as a result of the elaborate manufacturing process and its storage in small, young oak barrels. Jägermeister Manifest is actually being deployed in the appropriate environments to sustainably build enthusiasm for the sensory delight offered by this new product category.

Is this manifesto addressing a whole new target group?

Jägermeister Manifest is oriented on discerning connoisseurs, consumers who appreciate the sophisticated taste of such an extraordinary spirit beverage, but are still very much part of urban nightlife. We are also breaking new ground here, serving our product as so-called sipping shots for exceptional occasions instead of in a tumbler while sitting on a leather sofa. Anything else would simply not be credible for Jägermeister. 

Do you have any other new products in the pipeline?

Yes, but I can’t give away anything at the moment!

Apart from Jägermeister, what is your favourite beverage?

I love coffee. It is similar to Jägermeister in terms of the complex impact is has on the senses. And just as we are currently witnessing – the two also work in perfect harmony in bars across the globe as Jägermeister Coffee!

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Wolfgang Moeller has been working for spirits manufacturer Mast-Jägermeister SE since 2011, promoting global strategic brand positioning and the gradual expansion of the product portfolio for the German company. As Vice President Global Brand Marketing, Moeller is co-responsible for global spirits marketing at Mast-Jägermeister SE and for strategic projects such as digital transformation.

Picture credit © Mast - Jägermeister SE

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