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Issue 135 - A Highland Romance

Whisky Magazine Issue 135
April 2016


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A Highland Romance

From merchants to brands –mthe early years of Scotch whisky advertising

We've all been seduced in the past: a fussily arranged portrait of a whisky bottle, or some dreamy Highland image, which has tempted us to part with our cash for a dram. We certainly aren't the first generation, because distillery archives glitter with marketing gems that date back two centuries. The modern Scotch whisky industry developed after the 1823 Excise Act; but it wasn't until the mid 19th Century when Scotch whisky saw a significant boom in sales. And it's around then that whisky advertising really commenced in earnest.

The very first advertisements did not exactly sparkle. There was no colour. No imagery at all, in most cases. They were simple price lists announced by merchants, written entirely in copy for newspapers or magazines and often listing whisky along with other goods. Sometimes these lists just appeared as booklets.

Branded whiskies had not yet been established in the way that we know them today. Instead the adverts plugged wine and spirits traders, or wine and Scotch whisky merchants, in place of what we'd understand as brands. Such an example is Chivas Brothers. In the early 19th Century they were marketed as wine and Scotch whisky merchants, who sold Scotch blends or ‘liqueurs' – which was a more seductive word to mean the same thing – of varying ages. In the case of Teacher's, their advertising operation was slightly different. William Teacher had developed a range of his own infamous ‘dram shops' in the Glasgow area, where people would...

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