Following is the speech given by Brett McMahon at the launch of Bundaberg Rum 1961, which was released to celebrate the 50th Birthday of Bundy R. Bear. Brett is the son of Sam McMahon, creator of Bundy R. Bear and brother of former Australian Prime Minister Billy McMahon. We thank Brett and BDC for providing us the transcript of this speech.
Thank you for inviting me to speak today.
I’m here because my father, Sam McMahon, designed the Bundaberg Rum Bottle and put its iconic Bear on the label.
While many people scratch their heads over why a polar bear is the marketing symbol for rum produced in tropical Queensland, the answer is simple, McMahon means “Son of a Bear” in Irish, and dad’s favourite bear was the polar bear. Looking for an image to compete with the “walking man” and the “bat device”, choosing a bear to represent Bundaberg Rum was a symbol that effectively put him on every label.
As this is a celebration of 50 Years of the “Bundy Bear”, I would like to take a little time to talk about the history of the Bear, the bottle and the “Famous” Bundaberg Rum.
While Bundaberg Rum had been available since 1888, in the 1950’s it was considered a by-product of Milliquin Sugar company’s main operations, and not given as much significance by management. It’s branding and bottling were inconsistent, and marketing was pretty much restricted to word of mouth. It wasn’t alone though as rum in general, and Bundy’s direct competitors were not widely promoted either.
Sam approached Milliquin Sugar with the offer of a joint venture as long as he could have the rights to distribute Bundy in “all the world except Queensland”. There was no downside in it for the sugar company as they had virtually no sales outside of Queensland, and they demanded a majority shareholding of the bottling company. Dad’s ownership of a bonded cellar in what is now the Argyle Arts Centre provided the opportunity to mature a large number of casks in a good cool cellar, bottle the rum, and store it without having to pay duty until it was shipped out of his premises.
The challenge was designing a unique bottle and labelling and marketing it. He decided to taper the bottom of the bottle and add ridges around the labelling so it could be put in a carton easily, and without damaging the labels. He rounded the shoulders of the bottle to improve its sparkle when it was placed on the pub’s display shelf, and chose yellow as the base colour for the labelling as it would stand out against the primarily black labels of the other spirits on display. He decided to put the main centre label on an angle, again as a point of difference, and use a red backed bear and red cork top to distinguish the Overproof bottle for both the drinkers and the bar staff. There have been a variety of innovations to the design of the bottle in the last fifty years, but I am very proud that the essential elements of the design of the bottle, it’s labelling, and the Bundy bear have remained unchanged.
Marketing in the 60’s was rudimentary, there were no marketing schools. TV was black and white, Rugby League was the only real professional sport yet it had not yet embraced corporate sponsorship. The Bathurst 1000, then the Hardie Ferodo 500 was an event primarily for drivers, and the advertising on the cars was primarily for the dealers. It was a much simpler advertising world when you compare it with Bundaberg Rum’s exceptional and highly successful television campaigns and sponsorship of the Rugby League, the V8 Supercars and Utes of today.
Bundaberg Rum has always been at the forefront of advertising innovation, however. A friend of Sam’s was the photographer for the Daily Mirror, and he convinced dad to invest in the latest technology of the day, a colour developing machine that would reproduce photographs in a size to match the size of the pub’s outdoor display units. The pictures were unique, innovative and, most importantly, successful in promoting the brand. Sam also decided to rent a number of large roadside signs and his outdoor advertising campaigns used the new large format colour photography to successful and innovatively promote “The Famous Bundaberg Rum”.
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