Putting money where your mouth is

Putting money where your mouth is

Production 05 Oct 2003 | Interviews | By Ian Buxton

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Keep advertising and advertising will keep you”, famously quipped whisky baron Tommy Dewar. He was renowned for advertising firsts and for the lavish promotional budgets that built the Dewar’s brands round the world.And, across the industry, his successors and competitors have taken him at his word. Today, the global marketing spend behind a really major blended whisky might exceed £100m ($160m) per annum. That’s correct – more than £100m a year to persuade you to keep topping up stocks of your favourite tipple.And that’s just one brand. A bevy of competitors are all spending, just as heavily, so marketing in all its guises is a matter of huge concern to the whisky industry.That’s why Whisky Magazine is taking a look at the whats, whys and wherefores of whisky marketing.After all, you could build a lot of distilleries with that marketing cash; give all the employees a huge pay rise and, perish the thought, cut the price of a dram – and still have a tidy lottery win in change.But that’s too easy. We live in a competitive and ever-changing marketplace and when the distillers aren’t busy chasing sales and market share they’re secretly petrified by the thought that you might suddenly switch to vodka, or even alcopops, if you weren’t regularly reminded of the charms of the cratur.Some people make the case for even greater expenditure. Alan Gray is whisky analyst at Sutherlands, the Edinburgh based stockbrokers and a long-standing commentator on the industry.“Scotch needs to reinvent itself, and spend more, especially in mature markets,” says Gray. “It should play to Scotland’s strengths, linking with golf, tweed, Scotland’s historic houses and cross-fertilise best practice.”In fact, consistent marketing activity has been with us ever since whisky went global. Indeed, it’s a good part of the reason that Scotch broke out of its Highland stronghold to take on the world and, while advertising fashions change, the fundamentals are with us always.Take endorsement, for example. You might think you could make up your own mind about your brand of choice.As an independent-minded drinker you don’t need the reassurance of some external authority exhorting you to drink brand X. Yet this simple technique has been around since advertising began.A glance through the history books shows any number of Victorian or Edwardian ads in which an “eminent medical practitioner” recommends his favourite tipple.If not a doctor, then a judge or country squire was always on hand. Now you might think we’ve outgrown all that.Well, society figures may not cut it any longer but in worshipping the cult of celebrity Dewar’s has relied on Andy Garcia, Jamie Lee Curtis and Liam Neeson in recent ads; musician Jools Holland tells us that Bell’s is his blend of choice, and Johnnie Walker recruited film director Martin Scorsese.The gold standard, of course, would be to secure the services of the Grand Old Man of Scottish cinema, the greatest living Scotsman, Sean Connery himself.Surprisingly, given his nationalist leanings, he’s never lent his name to his national drink, and the distiller who finally secures his services as the acceptable face of whisky drinking will have pulled off a major coup.The industry rumour mill places his fee for such work in the region of $1 million but with stars endorsing major brands regularly, it seems that someone may well be ready to pay that price sooner rather than later if the gossip is to be believed.The big global brands run a sophisticated marketing operations. The world is divided into developed, developing and emerging markets and, depending on the size and potential of the local market for Scotch, the marketing mix will vary.Some markets ban television advertising for alcohol (it’s a big non from the French authorities, for example); others are strongly bound by regulatory codes yet in some almost anything goes.British and American television viewers would be astounded by the sexual innuendo of many of the commercials that run in Latin America and the Far East. In fact, ‘innuendo’ is the least of it – some of these productions are positively steamy.But that’s where regulation is weak. By contrast, in the USA and UK where government and health pressure groups are strong, ‘Big Alcohol’ even runs moderation campaigns to promote sensible drinking and Diageo have their own Code of Marketing Conduct that covers all marketing activity.Cynics may say that it’s mainly about avoiding restrictive legislation but the industry sees it as taking a responsible position and educating the consumer.Diageo’s flagship whisky is Johnnie Walker and this famous old brand, now a collection running from Red Label upwards through five different expressions, is the world’s best-selling blend. In total, we knock back almost 11 million cases annually (that’s a staggering 125 drams every second of every day!).Global brand director Stephen Morley explained that their advertising strategy was redesigned in 1999.“We discovered our approach was very fragmented – quite the opposite of Johnnie Walker’s global strength. So we developed ‘Keep Walking’, which is a celebration of progress and links our whisky with key events in consumers’ lives.“Johnnie Walker has always stood for innovation and we wanted to reflect that in advertising which broke new ground and was dramatic and stylish.”The campaign was built after research in 54 countries around the world. Extensive analysis revealed the importance of status in Scotch drinking and Johnnie Walker’s roots, authenticity and credibility as a global brand played to this need.The result is advertising that aims to reflect those brand values and demonstrate the depth of the Walker range.“The industry needs to recruit new 25 – 35 year old drinkers,” says Morley “we’ll push the frontiers for innovation. For example, suggesting different occasions and rituals associated with different Scotch drinking moments that Johnnie Walker is uniquely placed to serve.”Until now the campaign has concentrated on celebrities such as Harvey Keitel, Roberto Baggio and Martin Scorsese but the latest TV commercial ‘Fish’, launched in 15 markets, take a strikingly different approach.We’re invited to ‘take the first step’ as we watch man evolve from the ocean. It’s a cinematic tour de force that’s as far removed from heather and tartan as it’s possible to imagine.If Johnnie Walker has adopted a serious approach, others are more tongue in cheek. The Famous Grouse, for example, favours the adventures of an animated grouse as it strives to overtake long-time United Kingdom favourite Bell’s. Grouse advertise on television, posters and in the press; sponsor the Scottish rugby union team; operate the lavish Famous Grouse Experience brand centre at Glenturret distillery and run any number of smaller consumer promotions, both on- and off- pack.Highland Distillers’ marketing director Ken Grier is confident that their offbeat approach is winning friends.“We’re building on our brand heritage – the grouse symbolises the Victorian love of the best of Scotland.“We aim to think differently from our competitors and focus on the bird as your ideal drinking companion.”The Famous Grouse expect to spend around £40 million in global marketing this year – everything from packaging development to TV adverts.“Wouldn’t it be better to take money off every bottle?” I challenged him.“Absolutely not. Everything we do is of the highest quality, and that has a premium,” says Grier.“We never want to be the cheapest; just the best. An emotional connection with our drinkers is more than just a price cut.”Of course, if the big blends have the big budgets, the smaller malt brands have to be more creative.Alan Gray applauds the work of Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie. “Both deliver TV and press treatments with stylish art direction,” he says “but balance this with a crafted feel and strong Scottish roots.”By animating their famous stag symbol Glenfiddich’s approach is similar to that of The Famous Grouse but, where the grouse is all humour, the stag retains a dignity and seriousness befitting the world’s number one malt.Similarly, a niche brand (that’s marketing speak for small) such as Ardbeg is carefully cultivated by marketing that aims to build its cult image.The Ardbeg Committee – a direct marketing campaign delivered via direct mail and the web – is designed to build a relationship with a small number of opinion-leading drinkers, who will influence their friends by introducing them to the drink.The marketers hope such a strategy will lend the brand authority and that, eventually, larger volumes will follow. There are models for this working very well – after all, The Macallan began life with a series of small, quirky, hand-drawn cartoons in magazines such as Private Eye
and built up a following from there.It helps, obviously, if the product is distinctive (opinion leaders like that it seems) and Ardbeg certainly qualifies on this score.Naturally, malts advertise as well – though Sutherland’s Alan Gray reckons that “more expenditure could be justified to build malt sales – up to a third of retail sales value while the category is still growing.”In its advertising Ardbeg features a striking blonde lady underneath the line “loads of body, plenty of legs and lovely mouthfeel”.A trifle sexist, you might think.Hamish Torrie, international marketing manager for Ardbeg explained: “Ardbeg is a challenger brand in the Islay malt sector so we have sought to create challenging advertising that is miles apart from traditional malt cues.“The clever copy and subtle humour in the ad really appeals to our target audience and reflects our positioning of Ardbeg as ‘the ‘ultimate Islay malt’.”Over at Diageo, global marketing director for premium malts, Dr Nicholas Morgan emphasises that malt whisky is not a single market.In fact, it’s highly segmented with hugely successful brands such as Cardhu in Spain or Glen Grant in Italy that behave more like blends.“Then,” says Morgan “we see premium malts exchanging information between producer and consumer. With the Classic Malts we concentrate on tasting and educational events tailored to individual market needs.“The Friends of the Classic Malts relationship programme is hugely important to us, as are the visitor centres at the various distilleries.”Readers of Whisky Magazine certainly make up many of those visitors and receive the Friends’ mailings.It’s textbook relationship marketing, with the Classic Malts team carefully listening to the responses from their membership. Other malt brands have been quick to copy this success.In fact, the marketing teams spend considerable sums on figuring out what we want and think, and on measuring how their brand stands up against the ideal and against all their competitors.Pernod Ricard, owners of a baker’s dozen of Scottish distilleries (some sadly mothballed) and major brands such as The Glenlivet, Aberlour, Clan Campbell and Chivas Regal, take all this very seriously.It’s about to spend £28 million on a new ad campaign with the aim of increasing sales of Chivas Regal from 2.9 to 4 million cases by 2007.“The new positioning presents a very different proposition to any other whisky, inviting consumers into the exciting world of Chivas Regal, where they can relax and savour a complete and satisfying whisky experience,” says the company.“The impact will be measured in terms of top of mind awareness among drinkers i.e. a spontaneous perception of Chivas Regal as a contemporary brand, enjoyed by people who live life to the full, and unfolding more gradually, by a stronger sense of the key emotional values of Chivas Regal as generous, rich and smooth.”Wow! I’m not sure if I live life to the full, or whether or not I’m ready yet (or even qualified) for the exciting world of Chivas Regal but it sounds great.But we’d better let another plain speaking Scotsman have the last word. Lord Leverhume founded Lever Brothers (later Unilever) and you’d think he might be know quite a bit about the whole science of marketing.Yet he famously remarked: “I know half my advertising is wasted, but I don’t know which half.”The noble Lords Dewar and Leverhume offer different takes on the issue of advertising, and you can choose who you wish to to believe. What’s certain is that the hidden persuaders will be with us for a good while yet – you might as well enjoy their efforts along with the products they
promote, because you’ve paid for both!
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