AdWeek posted an interesting article about the changing face of whisky. I worked briefly on a well-known brand of whisky (a “lifestyle brand,” in PR terms) and the goal at the time was to widen its audience and make it more palatable to young people and women in particular. Whisky has an old, stodgy reputation, conjuring up images of someone’s silver-haired grandfather in a smoking jacket, sitting in a high-backed chair in a library full of dusty old volumes. Not books: volumes.
And in the 50s, whisky was seen as the grown man’s drink. It signified a certain maturity and lack of frivolity. If you’re drinking whisky, you’re a Man. Don Draper, with his suits and pomade and serious voice, drinks whisky (although he engages in plenty of frivolity, but that’s another story). The first ad for Old Grand-Dad, with the bust and the slogan “Bring out the bottle,” wants the consumer to be proud to drink whisky (it was apparently commonplace to pour cheap booze into the good crystal and serve it that way, keeping the bottle hidden). The bust in the ad is an older man, looking stern and watchful. And come on: busts themselves are kind of old. When’s the last time you were in a 20something’s apartment and there was a bust on the mantle? (I haven’t had a mantle since I left my parents’ house for college.)
In the lower ad, the bar is clearly a fancy cosmopolitan one – skyline, dim lighting, table polished to a shine – which appeals to the sleek, urban(e) drinker. The fact that the whisky is “handcrafted in small batches” makes the drinker feel discerning, as though they’re in on a secret. The cocktail on the table isn’t whisky straight up or on the rocks; it’s a mixed drink, which women tend not to shy away from.
The brand I worked for was trying to make whisky cool and sophisticated. The audience was young professionals, and the message was “look how cool.” Look how cool you’ll be if you bring this to a house party; look how cool you’ll be if you give this as a holiday gift; look how cool you’ll be if you just have it around your home for people to notice; look how sleek and cool the packaging is; look how cool it is that these female celebrities drink this brand; look how cool it is to sip a fine whisky, rather than chug gallon-jug wine (not that I would know anything about that). We focused on the less expensive bottles (although we did do a launch event for a $10,000 bottle; when I tasted it I immediately said, “It tastes like money”) and the more mildly flavored ones. We pitched coverage to sleek, glossy monthlies: GQ, InStyle, New York Magazine. Whisky and its drinkers have come a long way, and it's refreshing (no pun intended) to see the market changing. It's still a Grown Folks Drink, but I think it's less intimidating than it has been.