Interview with Gráinne Wafer

Interview with Gráinne Wafer

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Global Brand Director, Baileys at Diageo

Gráinne Wafer is the Global Brand Director for Baileys at Diageo, and therefore responsible for the Baileys brand globally. One of the world’s leading spirit brands, it is an iconic Irish success story, loved by over 150m consumers in over 160 countries around the world.

She is accountable for strategy, commercial and consumer performance & innovation for the Baileys brand, in both developed and emerging markets. Following a decade of decline, Gráinne has led the brand’s turnaround, with three consecutive years of growth based on a totally new strategy

Gráinne also is joint lead of Diageo’s Progressive Gender Portrayal programme and is the Diageo representative for the UNstereotype Alliance, a UN and industry wide platform which seeks to eradicate harmful gender-based stereotypes in advertising.

Gráinne has spent over twenty years with Diageo working on a wide variety of brands, with local, European & global roles spanning communications, brand marketing, innovation and commercialisation. 

We caught up with Gráinne ahead of her appearance with Syl Saller at The Ogilvy Lecture at Amplify 2018.


Bailey’s is such a well-known brand within the drinks industry. What was the main goal for you when you took on the role as Global Brand Director in 2016?

Growth! Baileys is a much loved brand – with a great heritage and story – but it had been through a period of decline so required a root and branch strategic review to return the brand to its rightful position as an iconic Irish success story. I’m pleased to say that after almost a decade of decline, we have delivered sustained growth

How did you go about approaching the extensive strategic and creative repositioning of such an established and classic spirit?

By focusing on the real truths of the brand and the challenges we faced.  Firstly that Baileys is the most loved spirit brand in the world, secondly the delicious indulgent liquid, and finally the realisation that we needed a very different content model to cut through effectively at scale given the requirements to make every pound and dollar count. This led us to a strategic reframe & breakthrough – yes we’re marketing a brand in the spirits category, but moreover, we are in the business of marketing “adult treats”. By breaking into the fun, dynamic and exciting world of treating, we realized our strategy needed to focus on reminding people they could have a “treat” with a Baileys.         

40% + of Diageo’s senior leadership team are women. Can you tell us some more about the company’s ‘diversity framework’ and the effect it’s having on your relationship with agencies and consumers like?

I feel both fortunate and proud to work for an organisation where I have always been able to look up and see incredible women in senior positions. Now with women representing 50% of our board and 40% of our executive committee the business and cultural benefits are even clearer. We have the opportunity use our marketing spend to shape culture and create a more inclusive and diverse society. We have committed to making a substantive change in the industry and were a founder member of the UN UNstereotype Alliance and have signed up to “Free the Bid”. But we also recognized that making a change in how gender stereotypes are represented in content needed a deliberate and insightful intervention and so undertook an eight country cultural insight study which we then used to develop a simple and practical framework to drive change. We can already see the benefits. For example in India, the team used the framework to significantly change a piece of work on Black and White whiskey and on Baileys we also have seen the impact of this framework on our content. We are embedding this framework with our marketers and agencies around the globe so expect to be able to report even greater progress in the coming months.   

We’re busy in our efforts to work towards a more diverse industry for Marketers. As individuals, what can we be doing to ensure that our companies/employers are thinking about how they can make equality a priority for the future?

As marketers, we have a responsibility to our businesses to make a compelling case for change. The business benefits are clear – women represent up to 88% of household purchasing power, advertisements that are more inclusive and progressive perform better amongst both men and women and businesses that are more diverse and inclusive perform better than those that are not.  And this is not just the right thing for business, it is the right thing for society. It's time to all collectively move forward as an industry to make this change: we need to hold each other to account AND support each other in our efforts. Like building brands, change will not happen overnight, but we do need to make more rapid progress than we have to date and this will take sustained focus as a strategic priority. 

You’ve been with Diageo since 1997. What’s the culture like within the company and has it changed over the years?

Diageo has always had such brilliant people – great thinkers and doers and this combined with such iconic brands means that performance standards have always been second to none. The biggest cultural shift I’ve seen over recent years is greater appetite to learn, be braver and do things faster: How can we make something better? What can we do to move faster? How can we learn from our mistakes? What can we learn from other people who are doing something better? Or who have a different perspective or cultural point of view? It’s pretty informal and very collaborative –both internally and with our agency partners but with a combined will to always push ourselves to deliver something very special that stand the test of time.      

What’s been your favourite, most stand-out campaign to be involved in throughout your career?

It’s hard not to pick “Don’t Mind if Baileys” It’s been a huge amount of fun working with Mother, Geometry, Vault and WHPR creating delicious, bite size pieces of content, visibility and cultural activations. The results are incredible – amongst the highest performing content in Diageo as well as the business results - so in this case, the proof really is in the pudding.

What’s the next big thing for Baileys?

There is so much growth to be had with our new strategy. It’s exciting to see the huge number of people engaging with our content and our activations. There has been lots of buzz around our limited edition Strawberries and Cream – it literally is dessert in a bottle! Baileys Almande is also really exciting – a dairy free & vegan indulgence which brings in an entirely new drinker base to the brand. And both our pop-ups last year TreatYard and TreatStop were a big success, with queues around the block to try some of our delicious serves so we will double down on that and create even more delicious opportunities to enjoy Baileys!


Make sure you join Gráinne and her colleague, Syl Saller, when they deliver The Ogilvy Lecture at Amplify 2018.

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Author: The Marketing Society
Posted: 15 Jul 2018
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