An in depth look at whisky advertising

let’s begin

Advertising plays a huge part in all our lives, whether we’re aware of it or not. But what about whisky advertising?

The amount of ads we see daily can be in the thousands, although we probably don’t consciously make note of every one.

Every advert is geared towards a certain product and brand and has different mechanisms at play to affect the way we think.

The very beginnings of branding are deeply entrenched in the Whisky trade.  US distillers would literally burn a brand into their barrels as they were exported.

From there the term “branding” became synonymous with marketing and is a huge sector of business today.

Times have certainly changed since banding barrels was a thing.  So what are Whisky companies doing now to “brand their barrel” and get their products out there?

Johnnie Walker is a brand that is very good at marketing.  In 1999 they released their “Keep Walking” campaign and have recently created a new campaign in reference to it, called “Joy will take you further”.

This is a brand that knows its market position and exactly the type of people it wans to reach.  They focus on progress and build their product into that idea, expressing that Johnnie Walker is intrinsically linked to the idea of moving forward in life.

This also highlights a trend in creating a story with the product playing a featuring role, rather than adverts that are product led.

In Johnnie Walker’s case, the drink plays a minor role in the montage of scenes in their advert.  It exists as something to be enjoyed as part of every day life, and that joy in turn will “take you further”.

This is a technique that is also being used by Grant’s to target a younger audience.

A while ago they released the IOU campaign, where again, Whisky plays only a part of the larger plotline.

The advert ends with a focus on the product, but more as an after thought to the larger philosophical question of “If you’ve got this far in life without owing anybody anything, how far have you really got?”.

In this advert, Grant’s Whisky becomes a way to bring people together, further highlighted by the fact the bottle appears at the end with the words “Stand Together” written around it.

These brands are using similar tactics to appeal to the millennial generation in the age demographic of 25-35.  This is an attempt to bolster global sales and make Whisky look young again.

Other brands are trying to do the same thing, only with a focus on celebrity endorsements.

Perhaps one of the most well known successes of this was the Haig Club collaboration with David Beckham and Guy Ritchie.

Images of the world famous footballer laughing over a tumbler of the Scotch Whisky have donned the TV screen and magazine pages in an attempt to get you to buy into the exclusive Haig Club.

It’s only exclusive because no one wants it.

Beckham and Ritchie have been put into action to make Whisky accessible, in the same way that Johnnie Walker and Grant’s are approaching younger customers.

Haig Club has been touted as the Whisky for those of us who don’t think they like Whisky, which is a good way to introduce new drinkers but doesn’t quite cut it with the critics.

The celebrity endorsement of such a big name helps to draw a crowd and has certainly made Haig Club more talked about, regardless of whether that talk is good or bad.

Spey Whisky attempted the same thing with Michael Owens, another big (but not just as so big) name in the football world.  Unfortunately this didn’t quite hit the mark.

Owens doesn’t seem to have the same charisma as Beckham, even if the print adverts mostly consist of him holding a finger to his mouth, trying to look mysterious.

The only real buzz that has surrounded this brand is how bad their attempt at marketing has been.

With this kind of badly done celebrity endorsement, the only thing that really gets any attention is just how awkward a man can look while trying to promote a drink and the drink itself becomes sidelined.

So there are some of the new methods of branding your barrel so to speak.  The only question left is, has it worked? And that really depends on whether you’ll be reaching for a Johnnie Walker or a Spey Whisky tonight!

Tags: AdsBrandingHaig ClubJohnnie WalkerWhisky Advertising
Picture of Greg


My name is Greg, and I’m a brand strategy consultant, writer, speaker, host and judge specialising in premium spirits. My mission is to experience, share and inspire with everything great about whisky, whiskey, gin, beer and fine dining through my writing, my brand building and my whisky tastings.

You might be interested in

More from the blog

Leave a comment

Login / register