Irn-Bru (pronounced iron brew, ) is a popular carbonated soft drink produced in Scotland. It is made by A.G. Barr plc, of Cumbernauld. Barr's Irn-Bru is available in the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Gibraltar, Malta, Russia, Canada, Norway, South Africa, Singapore, parts of Europe such as Poland, the Middle East, in some parts of Australia (introduced in 2006), New Zealand (introduced in 2007) and in the United States.
Irn-Bru is famous for its bright orange colour (something it shares with the glucose drink Lucozade). As of 1999 it contained 0.002% of ammonium ferric citrate, sugar, 32 flavouring agents (including caffeine—though caffeine is not listed as an ingredient on the Australian labelling—and quinine) and two controversial colourings (E110, E124). It is advertised as having a slight citrus flavour, but many have differing opinions of the exact taste of Irn-Bru. One of the key ingredients is said to be barley while another rumour holds that seaweed is a major contributor to the taste.
Irn-Bru was first produced in 1901, under the name Strachan's brew. In 1946, a change in laws required that the word "brew" be removed from the name, as the drink is not technically brewed. The chairman of the company came up with the idea of changing both halves of the name to a phonetic spelling, giving the current Irn-Bru brand. 1980 saw the introduction of Low Calorie Irn-Bru; this was re-launched in 1991 as Diet Irn-Bru and the Irn-Bru 32 energy drink variant was launched in 2006. All the rumour and folklore surrounding Irn-Bru only serve to help keep it in its place as an icon of Scottish popular culture.
It has long been the most popular soft drink in Scotland, outselling Coca-Cola, but recent fierce competition between the two brands has brought their sales to roughly equal levels (perhaps leaning to Coca-Cola). It is also the third best selling soft drink in the UK, after Coca-Cola and Pepsi, outselling high-profile brands such as Fanta, Dr Pepper, Sprite and 7-Up. This success in defending its home market (a feat claimed only by Irn-Bru, Brazil's Guaraná, South Australia's Farmers Union Iced Coffee, Peru's Inca Kola, Malta's Kinnie and Sweden's Julmust) has led to ongoing speculation that Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Inc. or its UK brand franchisee Britvic would attempt to buy A.G. Barr
Irn-Bru's advertising slogans used to be "Scotland's other National Drink", referring to whisky, and "Bru'd in Scotland from girders", though the closest one can come to substantiating this claim is the 0.002% ammonium ferric citrate listed in the ingredients.
For restaurants and cafeterias, Irn-Bru syrup is available in 5 litre containers.
In May 2007, Irn-Bru underwent a re-design of its bottles and cans.
Irn-Bru's advertising campaigns have always been very different from those of other commercial soft drinks. Until recently, most were variants on the "Made in Scotland from girders" tagline, usually featuring Irn-Bru drinkers becoming unusually strong, durable, or magnetic.
One series of adverts involved a man singing a song about his girlfriend who enjoyed Irn-Bru and, as such, was much more masculine than he was. The songs included lines such as "Do you remember that guy who called me a wimp? The Doc says he'll walk but he'll still have a limp." and "They say that love hurts but that's an understatement, with you love makes me turn black and blue. Got a funny feeling you've been drinking Iron Brew."
The last two television advertisements based on this slogan were parodies of more "typical" soft drink adverts. One featured a Coca-Cola style montage of happy Irn-Bru drinkers against a feelgood ballad. The other pastiched Pepsi's use of pop singers in their adverts with a fictional heavy metal band. Since the 1990s, different approaches have been used.
Perhaps the best-remembered are the long running series of television and billboard adverts in black-and-white, including the billboard with the grim reaper saying "Don't be scared. You'll still get Irn-Bru on the other side." and the supposed-advert for a cleaning product called "Jef", which consists of a small boy, the actor Murray Alford, in a box, who sucks Irn-Bru stains out of clothes.
A popular advertising campaign launched in 2000 featured eccentric characters and situations. One involved a grandfather (played by actor Robert Wilson) who removed his false teeth to spoil his grandson's interest in his can of Irn-Bru. Another TV advert from this campaign evokes 1950s entertainment. The mother plays the piano, while the father and two children deliver a song which ends with the mother singing: "Even though I used to be a man." This advertisement originally aired in 2000, but when it was re-aired in 2003, it received seventeen complaints from people who claimed it was offensive to transsexuals. Issue A14 of the Ofcom Advertising Complaints bulletin reports that the children's response to their mother's claim was not in fact offensive. The advertisement was meant to be a joke about changing points of view over time. However, the scene involving the mother shaving at the end of the advertisement was deemed to be potentially offensive to transsexuals, and so it was taken off the air. A further TV advertisement featured a senior citizen in a motorised wheelchair robbing a local shopping market of a supply of Irn-Bru.And there is the advert "WALKING IN THE AIR" with a snowman.
Over the years, advertising campaigns for Irn-Bru have caused upset. One billboard featured a young woman in a bikini along with the slogan, "I never knew four-and-a-half inches could give so much pleasure". Another featured a picture of a cow with the slogan "When I'm a burger, I want to be washed down with Irn-Bru". This billboard received over 700 complaints but was cleared by advertisement watchdogs. A billboard which featured a depressed goth and the slogan "Cheer up Goth. Have an Irn Bru." was also criticised for inciting bullying.
The Irn-Bru 32 (the recent energy drink addition to the Irn - Bru family) advertisement, featuring a stereotypical Glasgow "hardman" dressed as a giant cuckoo in a library was also criticised, with Strathclyde Police appealing for it to be banned for being too aggressive. In answer to these complaints, a tongue-in-cheek redubbed version of the advert, with the cuckoo speaking in a polite Estuary English accent was aired for a short period of time, eventually being replaced by the original. The ad was cleared by the Advertising Standards Authority.
The current marketing campaign for Irn-Bru is known as the "Phenomenal" campaign, and uses the tune from Piero Umiliani's "Mah Nà Mah Nà," substituting "phenomenal" for the title lyric. Diet Irn-Bru's advertising campaign is currently "Oh Yeah", featuring a hapless lothario called "Raoul" and featuring the song "Oh Yeah" by Yello.
The Christmas 2006 advertising campaign is a parody of the Walking in the Air sequence from The Snowman, featuring the snowman and a boy flying around Scotland. The lyrics to Walking in the Air have been changed to humorous effect.
Irn-Bru have started a marketing campaign aimed at their main target area, Scotland. Prior to the 2006 world cup, Irn-Bru recruited Trinidad and Tobago player, Jason Scotland, to be the face of the product during the world cup period.
An early (and long running) advertising campaign was "The Adventures of Ba-Bru and Sandy" comic. A neon sign featuring Ba-Bru stood outside Glasgow Central railway station for many years, and was only removed in the late 1980s.
More recently, there has been a TV commercial, which features four goths who, after drinking Irn-Bru, become happy and go on a seaside trip to Blackpool. It also features them on the Irn-Bru Revolution rollercoaster. The commercial also featured The Undertones song 'Here Comes The Summer' as the background music.
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It is often used as a mixer with alcoholic beverages—mainly vodka and whisky. Indeed, the popular British alcopop WKD was originally launched as an alcoholic equivalent of Irn-Bru. Barr retaliated by launching a drink combining Irn-Bru and Bell's whisky, though this proved to be unpopular and was quickly discontinued. A later attempt came in the form of an official Irn-Bru flavour in the Red Square line-up of vodka-based drinks; this too has been discontinued. There is now an official Irn-Bru WKD flavour.
When McDonald's restaurants first opened for trading in Glasgow they did not serve Irn-Bru. This was seen as an insult by some Scots, and a campaign to correct this oversight was launched. After many of their restaurants were picketed, McDonald's relented and began to stock Irn-Bru alongside their other soft drinks.
There is an urban legend, often heard in Scotland when discussing the drink, that states variously that Irn-Bru is more popular in Russia than it is in Scotland, or that it is more popular than Coca-Cola in Russia. Barr's first venture in Russia, with a Russian company backed by American venture capitalists, failed in August 2001. A second attempt at cracking the Russian market began in June 2002, backed by the Pepsi Bottling Group of Russia. Robin Barr, AG Barr chairman, said of the legend "Maybe I could sit here and hope that it [was more popular than Coke], but Coke was introduced into the Russian marketplace shortly after 1990, so they've been in business for some 12 years now, whereas we only started franchising Irn-Bru in Russia towards the end of 1998.
In the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh there are a range of exhibits, selected by celebrities - Sean Connery chose a crate of Irn Bru.
Irn-Bru is currently manufactured in five factories in Russia, and is also manufactured under licence in Canada, South Africa, Australia, and since May 2008 in Norway. Bru and various other Barr products are exported to Spain, The Netherlands, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, and Cyprus, as well as parts of Africa and Asia. It is available sporadically in Ireland,Malta, Belgium and, as of 2005, in Poland.
The legal status of Irn-Bru in the United States is unclear. Several American companies import Irn-Bru; yet, it is currently listed as a banned substance by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA website lists Irn-Bru and Diet Irn-Bru as containing the banned carcinogenic colouring Ponceau 4R(E124 which is banned from the U.S.), and Sunset Yellow FCF, which the FDA has to approve on a per-batch basis. One importer, Irn-Bru usa., modifies the drink to conform to FDA requirements.
The Foxon Park company in East Haven, Connecticut has made a dark-brown soft drink called "Iron Brew" for many decades. It seems likely that this product is named for the Scottish original, but the flavour is unrelated.
Sunset Yellow FCF is banned in Finland, although Irn-Bru can still be purchased in certain Finnish shops specialising in imported goods.
Irn-Bru sold in Canada contains no caffeine, as until recently only dark coloured drinks were permitted to contain caffeine. As a result of this and the omission of quinine the taste is noticeably different, and the restorative effect is almost nil. It is also produced under licence, without caffeine, in Australia.
The now-defunct McKinley/McInlay soft-drink company in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada for many years offered its own non-licensed beverage called "Iron Brew". It was a brown carbonated soft-drink with a fruity cola taste. After the company stopped operations ca. 1990, PepsiCo continued to sell the drink locally as "Cape Breton's I'rn Bru". The packaging consisted of plainly labelled plastic bottles (black text on a featureless while label) and a disclaimer "Not a source of Iron". As of 2006 this product seems to be very difficult to find, even locally, and may have been phased-out.
The product has been licensed to be made in Spain, where the colour of the can is brighter.
A.G. Barr has launched its Irn-Bru product throughout the Middle East. The Jeffrey International Group have been appointed as the distribution and marketing partner. Jeffrey International Group is headed by multi-millionaire business tycoon Lord Tasejad Jeffrey of Knightsbridge. The Middle Eastern market is a huge potential market for soft drinks due to widespread Prohibition and it is hoped that Irn-Bru will be an immediate success in this market. The Jeffrey International Group have a very strong presence in the Middle East and are experienced partners for AG Barr in this region. The Irn-Bru is being bottled locally. A unique home delivery service is also available in the UAE through Earlybird, a company specialising in home delivery of soft drinks in the region. IRN-BRU is now available in all retail outlets in the UAE. Spinneys, Lulu and Co Operatives all stock the product.
In Australia, IRN-BRU is manufactured and distributed under licence by Occasio Australia Pty Ltd. It is available in 500mL and 1.25L varieties in both regular and diet. The drink is enjoying growing success in the country, with its first advertising campaign launched in Queensland in September 2007. It is available in major chains Woolworths and Coles, Caltex service stations and in many independent grocers and convenience stores.
In New Zealand Irn-Bru can be found in UK import shops of which there are many. All sizes which are available in Scotland are available in the import shops, including Irn-Bru 32. There is a reasonably large fan base in New Zealand, with Irn-Bru outselling most UK imported products. As of early 2008, Irn-Bru is also available from a limited number of supermarkets who have imported the Australian bottled product.
Irn-Bru 32 is a brand extension to the Irn-Bru range, and is the first time Barr themselves have marketed an Irn-Bru variation in the functional energy market. Whilst Iron-brew flavoured energy drinks have been available for a while, either in non-alcoholic or alcoholic variations, these beverages have usually been at the value end of the marketing spectrum usually coming in litre bottles. On the other hand, Irn-Bru 32 will be marketed at the top end of the category against other energy drinks such as Red Bull, V and Red Devil. Its name is claimed to come from the 32 secret ingredients of Irn-Bru. although this could also be explained by the fact that the drink contains caffeine in the concentration 32 mg/100 ml.