John Mathers On Branded Collateral

This article first appeared on The Drinks Report, spring 2010

Think about the branding you see on an average trip to the pub: bar towels, drinks mats, ashtrays – if you’re sitting outside – branded glassware and even the packaging of the products behind the bar. Maybe the odd poster or two dotted around the place to promote a special offer, and perhaps some giveaways if there is a promotion on, tied in with St Patricks Day or Christmas, for example.

Now imagine a trip to a more upmarket bar. The branding that you’d see in a regular pub is absent: napkins and not branded drinks mats are used to place drinks on. You will still find branded beer glasses and perhaps the odd branded ice-bucket – but there almost certainly won’t be posters or anything else around. Even the bottles behind the bar might be a more unusual range of niche or specialist brands.

This isn’t surprising. High-end bars trade on their venue’s look and feel and branding isn’t necessarily something they see fitting into this. Bars and clubs – and their owners – have highly developed senses of their own identities, and simply refuse to take the less-than-high-quality items that brand owners have developed in the past.

But brands are starting to see the potential in creating collateral and partnerships that offer real value and fit in with the ethos of these high-end outlets too.

From beautifully-designed glassware to cocktail-making events or co-created cocktail menus that carry branding; brands are starting to find interesting ways of working with new types of venues. But how can you get this right?


  1. Think about a premium look and feel. Bar and club owners may value individuality – but who’s to say that brands can’t too? If a brand can create collateral that can fit into the right environment, then bar owners are more open to discussion. This may mean looking into short production runs for more bespoke items, or rethinking how your brand can be expressed in this environment. Bright colours and logos may have to be toned down.
  2. Have you ever seen the Virgin Atlantic first-class salt and pepper pots? Beautifully designed little metal planes with the words ‘Pinched from Virgin Atlantic’ on the bottom. Virgin has created something beautiful and eminently stealable – a perfect piece of brand collateral (not that you would want all collateral to be stolen, but it’s a nice compliment). There’s barely a student or 20-something in the country without a few lovely branded glasses in their cupboard too. Create something at a reasonably low cost that is durable and beautiful and you will find that people respond.
  3. Be as imaginative as you dare. Regulation is becoming ever tighter and no one can predict how long it will be before any area is tightly controlled. The more iconic and imaginative the collateral you create, the more memorable it will be, even after any regulation has been brought in. 
  4. If you’re going to begin this sort of strategy, it’s important to stick to it. The worst thing you can do the minute a short-notice opportunity arises is to surround yourself with cheap plastic promotional items.
  5. And finally, remember that it’s not just about creating physical collateral but about getting consumers more broadly involved with your brand. In Ireland, for example, there are now several ‘pour your own pint’ pubs, most offering Guinness and a lager brand. Customers who want to pour their own pints can book a table at these venues and help themselves to beer. It doesn’t need to be a branded beer glass or a drip tray – experiences can involve customers even more effectively.