As a result, the company is relaunching the product, which is synonymous with endless teenage hangovers from hell. Chris Meredith, its marketing controller, says the brand needs a radical rethink and rejuvenating for the Nineties.
In the Seventies, Martini was the epitome of cool sophistication. Its advertisements - complete with glamorous men and women enjoying the taste of Martini in exotic locations while sporting big hair, gleaming white teeth and collars so wide they were in danger of taking someone's eye out - were the height of chic.
"Martini was very cosmopolitan and one of the first Continental brands to arrive in Britain," says Mr Meredith. "You have to remember that then we didn't drink lager or wine, so it was a breath of fresh air and very aspirational." He adds that the advertisements deliberately played on foreign locations: "People had started going on package holidays for the first time and we wanted to reflect that."
Martini and other vermouths such as Cinzano were popular with women who were becoming regular pub-goers for the first time. The pub was no longer a male bastion but the drinks on offer - mild or bitter - still said men- only. So what could young women, accustomed to sipping port and lemon and then Babycham at home, drink in the public house? Martini, of course: sophisticated, feminine, it was a dressed-down spirit you could soften up with bitter lemon or lemonade. What all your peers ordered without hesitation, it was the drink of a generation of newly liberated women.
But Mintel, the market researcher, says its status was toppled in the Eighties by the arrival of a wider choice of drinks. "It was very fashionable for young women to drink Martini in the Seventies, but it failed to maintain its appeal as fashions changed and they began to experiment with a wider range of drinks such as vodka, Bacardi, lager, cider and wine," says a spokeswoman.
Sales have been steadily declining ever since, and Martini's dwindling number of loyal fans is getting older. Mr Meredith says the key to rebuilding the brand's popularity is to target younger drinkers.
To this end, Westbay has hired advertising agency HHCL & Partners - responsible for giving Tango orangeade cult status - to win over today's hip, yet discerning 18 to 35 market without alienating older consumers.
The new campaign features original footage from the hugely camp Seventies advertising and declares: "If you missed out on the cosmetic vanity of the Seventies, there is no need to worry because it is back with a vengeance." The ad carries a twist at the end, challenging viewers who think they are very attractive to audition for a part in the new Martini campaign, which will break in the New Year. HHCL hopes that the ensuing hype will grab public attention.
Mr Meredith says the search for a star commercial will appeal to "consumers' sense of kitsch" and will turn the brand into a trendy drink once more.
Jon Leach, a partner at HHCL, adds: "The brand is poking fun at the Seventies in a knowing way. It is post-grunge because it is playing with ideas of glamour, and glamour will be fashionable again next year."
But Martini has a hard task ahead. It faces renewed competition from other, rather old-fashioned brands. Cinzano is testing new flavours - lemon grass and orange - to attract new drinkers, and Campbell Distillers, owner of Pernod, is deciding how it is going to jump on the youth bandwagon. Advertising sources say that its attempts to make Pernod sophisticated and play on its French heritage have been unsuccessful and that what it should do is tell younger drinkers what some of them already know - that it gets you very drunk, very quickly.
These brands are following a route taken by whisky producers in the last couple of years. Its drinkers are also older and in decline. United Distillers, maker ofBell's, is attempting to attract younger drinkers through a TV advertising campaign which features a group of lads in the pub drinking not lager, but a drop of the hard stuff. It is also running tasting sessions in bars and night clubs. Andy Neal, Bell's marketing manager, says: "We are letting consumers taste it and mix it with whatever they like, including lemonade and Coca-Cola to get younger drinkers interested."
But Martini does have one advantage over its rivals. The Seventies revival has made all manner of things from the decade that taste forgot desirable again. Companies are revitalising old brands to cash in on twentysomething and thirtysomething nostalgia for products such as Spangles, Bird's Angel Delight and even Hai Karate aftershave. An ad campaign featuring wing collars, big hair and theme tune claiming, "It's the most beautiful drink in the world" may be just the thing to elevate Martini to cult status.Reuse content