Could plain packaging hit the whisky industry?

let’s begin

As unlikely as it sounds, the tobacco industry probably thought they would still have their recognisable chevrons, logo marques and colourways forever, but with the latest rulings banning the branding of cigarette packets I am asking the question; could plain packaging hit the whisky industry?

Having read a report on the cigarette design legislation, and the challenges the design agencies involved had in ensuring compliance whilst doing their jobs, I started thinking about what would happen to my industry; luxury spirits.

Just to be clear up front; I don’t think it will as whisky, more than other alcohol, is not just about drinking – it is about collecting, stories, myths, exploration and much more, whereas cigarettes only have negative connotations with their usage.

If the relevant health organisations did decide alcohol to be fair game for de-branding, then it would take many years to actually take hold. That being said, there is a possibility that they will turn their attention from cigarettes to alcohol due to various health concerns, so it is something that should be considered.

Especially as Just-Drinks reported Jan 11th that: “The report, published earlier this month in a supplement within scientific journal Addiction, calls for governments across the world to strengthen the rules around alcohol marketing and argues in favour of an outright ban on alcohol advertising, promotion and sponsorship”.

Before I set up my own businesses, I worked in various design agencies around the world and occasionally would work on a brief for a new cigarette limited edition or cigar rebrand, and they were fascinating projects as they were not about encouraging more smoking, but to introduce new innovations or to make a brand look less tired.

Back then, and we are talking around seven years ago, cigarette firms had to put large health warnings on their packaging, but could still brand around it, but no more.

Personally, I’m very anti-smoking; the health issues, the smell, the habit, the waft of smoke that non-smokers must endure entering and exiting train stations and public spaces but am passionately for whisky and drinks exploration despite the health concerns around alcohol consumption.


As mentioned at the beginning, I would be shocked if it happened, as it would reduce an industry that has a whole load of positives such as; education, passion, exploration, culture, tourism, flavour, innovation, community and a whole host of other things including tax coffers for the Treasury.

What the government and health organisations would effectively be going is saying ‘all alcohol is bad’ and also wiping out millions of pounds worth of value from big business’ brand value, although the case for increased education on the effects of alcohol is a no-brainer and an important issue to raise in new and interesting ways, such as the Helen Mirren Budweiser advert that aired over Christmas.

Thinking this through, I started to realise how, if this ever did come into being, proprietary bottle structures (shapes) would become even more important. Bottles such as Glenfiddich’s ‘Tround’, Johnnie Walker’s tapered bottles, Highland Park’s iconic structures and many others will become beacons for consumers as they seek out the new, generic bottle structures will sadly recede to the back of the shelves as they lack distinction, standout and no matter what the value, will all be on an even playing field.

But let’s hope it does not come to that; education on consumption, not a ban on the brilliance of this mighty fine spirit.

Tags: cigaretteDrinkWireplain packagingtobacco industryWhiskywhisky industry


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.

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