I have already written extensively about the perpetual effort of the Scotch whisky industry to “demystify” the category and attract younger people two years ago in the second part of this article. Not very surprisingly this quest has still not ended. The latest reiteration is Diageo’s Haig Club campagin with David Beckham in polka dot trousers.
In a Spirits Business article we find this all too familiar sounding gem:
“Our first advert for Haig Club Clubman aims to disrupt people’s pre-conceived notions around whisky,” said Ronan Beirne, global marketing director for Haig Club.
“With Haig Club Clubman, we are purposefully and assertively inviting consumers to make their own rules on how to enjoy this versatile Scotch whisky.
“This progressive approach aligns with our long term ambition to recruit new whisky drinkers by breaking down the barriers for entry, continuing to drive the vibrancy and relevancy of the category.”
While the Scotch whisky industry is desperately trying to modernise its image by embracing millenial hipster bargoers its members are celebrating themselves as Keepers of the Quaich at Blair Castle in front of stag heads, historic weapons and paintings of Highland nobility, an exclusive invitation-only circle with a visual apperance somewhere between freemasons and a folkloristic costume group.
Distillery managers and brand ambassadors proudly wear kilts at whisky shows and other events while the marketing departments try to overcome the dusty “kilt and bagpipe” image of Scotch whisky. And only last year Diageo reinforced the dreaded “old man in a comfy chair in front of a fireplace” stereotype by having Nick Offerman sipping Lagavulin for 44 minutes straight on a promotional “Yule Log” video.
I could cite more examples of this schizophrenia but I think you get the picture.
The attempts to “demystify” Scotch whisky are certainly not helped by the recent trend of releasing no age statement bottlings with fancy names, preferably Gaelic, that very often leave the potential buyer without any clue about the content of the bottle, let alone how the name is pronounced.
Instead, the current trend of post-factual politics finds its analogy in whisky advertising that lulls people into a world of fairy tales about mysterious beasts and myths about the heritage of a brand in order to sell completely interchangeable products. Whiskies of entry level quality are stylised to luxury items with the hope that fancy packaging and outrageous pricing might fool the palates of the buyers.
Oh, the pricing, everybody’s favourite topic. I’ve ranted more than enough about it myself. But it is also another symptom of the disease that Scotch whisky is suffering from. Whisky is supposed to become more approachable, but at the same time it is becoming less and less affordable.
The industry wants to introduce new audiences to Scotch, but the affordable introductory bottlings are becoming less and less an advertisment for “the good stuff”. Both because their quality is often mediocre and because most of the good stuff is now priced beyond the financial capabilities of people with a modest income. Can Scotch whisky really be approachable, if anything but the cheap stuff of is out of reach?
And finally, mere mortals are told that age is nothing but a number. Meanwhile, precious liquid from the oldest casks is filled into crystal decanters, put on a pedestal, and producers, investors and oligarchs dance around the 50 year old golden calves.
The whisky industry is doing the splits. I just hope they don’t strain their legs.