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What Can Scotch Teach You About Branding??

Posted on November 12, 2010 and read 2,879 times

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1cebd9d What Can Scotch Teach You About Branding??Hilton Barbour
Marketing Provocateur

When your mother’s maiden name is Anderson, you grow up with some very clear opinions on Scotland and all things Scottish. Scottish rain isn’t as ferocious as people say. Scots are genuinely friendly to outsiders – you just have to get past that gruff exterior. Hadrian’s Wall was built to keep the English out of Scotland and not the other way around as history books suggest. Scotch is the most perfectly developed elixir ever touched by human hands. And many go so far as to argue that a perfect Scotch has more to do with divine intervention and alchemy than any creative efforts by mere mortals.

With the possible exception of the Champagne region in France, you would be hard pressed to find a people so readily associated with an alcoholic beverage. Just as there is only one true Champagne, there is only one true Scotch. No-one would ever suggest that the noble efforts of the Irish or well-intentioned attempts of those from the hills of Tennessee ever ascend to the level of perfection that defines a decent Scotch, or more accurately, a Scotch whisky. In fact, as an old friend pointed out, Scotch is called that everywhere else but Scotland. There it is merely referred to as whisky and to order a Scotch is the quickest way to telegraph your ignorance on the subject.

So what is it about this unique blend of barley, water, yeast and fire that can elicit such passion, such furious debate and such fanaticism from its supporters? And is there a marketing story lurking just beneath the surface that can, like the addition of a single perfect ice cube to a weighted glass of glass of 3o year old Macallan, unleash the full, rich and heady possibilities of your brand?

In my opinion, Scotch (and marketing Scotch) owes much of its allure to an exotic combination of mythology, evocative language, exclusivity and the quirky nature of the land it originates from.

Mythology is an old stalwart of marketers. Be it the unique formula at the core of Coca-Cola, the secret blend of twelve herbs and spices that make KFC so mouth-watering, the fact that it was actually a manufacturing oversight that originally created Procter & Gamble’s Ivory soap, a soap so pure that it actually floated, mythology plays a part in many of the world’s favourite brands. Scotch takes that and elevates to a level that most can only aspire to. The unique flavour of Scotch is, experts says, derived from the combination of ingredients but also from the individual shapes and sizes of the ferment vats, called stills, those ingredients lie in. So ingrained is this belief, that when distilleries replace the stills they do so in the exact same size and shape as the original, even down to the dents and cracks. Imagine any other manufacturer using the exact replica of an instrument that dates back 200 or more years? Such is the mythology though, no-one dares question the logic. At the Glenfiddich distillery a Scottish piper is employed purely to play his bagpipes to the casks of waiting whisky. This tradition, which stretches back over 300 years, is said to be the secret behind the smooth taste of Glenfiddich. It is myths or folklore like these that creates a special allure for Scotch drinkers. Consider for a moment what myths exist around your brand. Is it something to do with your history? A unique process that differentiates your product? An idiosyncratic detail that might seem strangely laughable today? How might you merchandise those in a way that starts to build a mythology around your brand?

It’s also no accident that many of the most famous Scotch’s carry brand names that are unpronounceable to anyone not born on the shores of a Loch or within sight of Edinburgh castle. Marketers know that there is a certain cachet attached to deciphering the correct pronunciation because that “achievement” sets the sophisticated and educated drinker apart. All but the most dedicated fans of Scotch have been defeated by the correct pronunciation of Bunnahabhain, Laphroaig and Bruichladdich*. However, you can’t deny the sense of self-satisfaction emanating from those to whom these obscure Gaelic names roll off the tongue with practised ease. Experienced marketers play to that, to giving their audience a sense of accomplishment, an air of sophistication. Certainly not something you readily get ordering Jim Beam, Jack Daniels or Markers Mark. But the lexicon of Scotch is more than just brand names from an obscure European dialect (My Mother would kill me for making that statement) but it is a veritable dictionary of terms and phrases that, like some Illuminati code, make sense only to the inductee. Phrases like “a wee dram”, essentially a measure of Scotch which is often anything less than wee or small, “Slainte” or the preferred “Slangie Var” the Gaelic drinking salute or equivalent of Cheers. You’ll never be invited to a Scotch tasting but rather “a nosing” which is because Scotch is fundamentally an olfactory sensation and the aroma of any particular Scotch is the surest guide to its unique flavours. In fact so firmly do the Scots believe that the hand of the divine plays a part in the making of any decent cask, that they refer to the part lost to evaporation during the aging process as the “angel’s share”. The Scottish Government tax laws actually allow the loss of up to 2% to the angels, understanding perhaps, just how painful the loss of any drop of the golden nectar can be. From a marketing perspective, this rich language is pure gold. It reinforces a sense of romanticism, of exclusivity and sophistication and no small degree of elitism too.

Despite the fact that many of the most renowned Scotch brands are owned by global companies like Diageo and LVMH, many Scotches have retained a genuine sense of exclusivity. In fact, although some of the larger distilleries produce several thousand bottles a year the common perception is that any decent Scotch can’t be mass produced. To reinforce that perception, the legendary Glenmorangie distillery went so far as to create a marketing campaign called “The 16 Men of Tain” which highlighted that at any one time, only 16 people were ever involved in the creation of their particular Scotch.

10a4 250x141 What Can Scotch Teach You About Branding??

To romance the story even further, the campaign spoke of the legacy, handed down over hundreds of years from father to son, that each of the 16 carried with them. An incredibly astute way to reinforce the stereotype that Scotch, unlike wine and most other spirits, is a product that can only be crafted by a small, dedicated group of individuals. The irony is that Scotch distilling doesn’t require a large workforce in any regard. The Master Distiller at Glenmorangie himself has been quoted as saying that any half-decent distillery merely requires a man and a dog. The man to feed the dog and the dog to ensure the man pushes the right button. Whether that is fact or fiction, the marketing of “The 16 Men of Tain” is a masterful case of how Scotch marketers have imbued their brands with a sense of exclusivity. And, as we all know, exclusivity in any category allows manufacturers to demand premium pricing and unique distribution.

Before writing this article I had never considered how masterfully Scotch brands have been at creating a truly unique positioning for themselves. Perhaps it was because I was indoctrinated at a young age to believe that whisky was proof that God was a Scotsman. The acquisition of many distilleries by the likes of LMVH and Diageo has aided the Scotch industry immensely, especially in the area of branding and marketing. Reinforcing the mythology that exists around Scotch, accentuating the strange and secretive language that swirls around that glorious amber liquid and creating a mystique of exclusivity has been expertly done. Scotch is now enjoyed in over 150 countries worldwide and in 2006 global shipments exceeded 1 billion bottles. Paying homage to Scotland’s two biggest contributions to mankind, English golfer Horace Hutchinson once famously quipped “We borrowed golf from Scotland as we borrowed whiskey. Not because it is Scottish, but because it is good.”

talisker181 What Can Scotch Teach You About Branding??Over the top of a glass of my own favourite, a Talisker 18, I bid you Slainte.

* To help you along, the correct pronunciations are Boon-a-havun, La-froyg, Brew-ich-laddie

  • Anonymous

    A good Albertan rye beats any single malt highland scotch any day of the week.

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