Saturday, April 25, 2009
Having established what constituted a high advertising budget for its Glenfiddich brand of scotch, nearly $1.7 million, William Grant & Sons Ltd. at the end of 1998 moved its account from New York-based McCann-Erickson Worldwide to a much smaller firm, Gyro Worldwide in Philadelphia. The change marked the end of McCann’s three-year ‘‘The Friday Scotch’’ campaign. Scotch whisky was not usually a product whose advertising attracted enormous attention in the United States, simply because it was not marketed on television or radio. Nor had Glenfiddich or its family-owned Scottish distillery attained enormous exposure in the American market—despite the fact that it was the world’s leading brand of single-malt scotch. For that matter Glenfiddich’s 1998 advertising itself did not make headlines:
the real story was the gathering resurgence of scotch in general and of single-malt scotch in particular—a trend on which Glenfiddich and its competitors sought to capitalize. ‘‘About five years ago,’’ wrote Jerry Shriver in USA Today in 1998, ‘‘a wave of well-heeled consumers began rebelling against the prevailing low-fat/abstemious lifestyle.’’ Shriver went on to note, ‘‘distinctive and pricey single-malt scotches began elbowing aside generic blend whiskies. Then, cigar smokers helped revive cognac, port, and bourbon sales.’’
Despite the renewed interest in scotch among the youthful set, single-malt scotch whisky still suffered from an association with old age, according to Lisa Buckingham in the Guardian: ‘‘Think of whisky and the picture which most readily springs to mind is that of a greying cardigan wearer, nestled contentedly in a high-backed armchair. It is an impression most distillers would give their right arm to eradicate.’’ Age and the changing of the guard between generations were themes that had animated the advertising of Glenfiddich for many years.
Scotch whisky received its name for a simple reason: it came only from Scotland, which in the 1990s had some 100 distilleries. Most of these were of long standing, though few had remained in the hands of their founders’ descendants from the beginning. Thus William Grant & Sons, established in the 1850s and led some 140 years later by the great-great-grandchildren of the founders, was an exception.
The term ‘‘single-malt scotch’’ had little meaning until the latter part of the nineteenth century. Up until that time all scotch was made from malted barley and was distilled unblended; then a distiller by the name of Usher began blending high-grade scotch with less expensive varieties of whisky, using water to further extend the mixture. The resulting whisky was not only cheaper than single-malt but also weaker, which actually proved to be an advantage since it made it more appealing to a wider range of drinkers.
Another benefit to the distiller was the fact that blends were easier to control. Each batch of single malt tended to have its own level of quality, which was consistent throughout the whole batch but did not extend to future batches. The many variables in a blend actually made it more predictable, since a distiller could use varying mixtures to correct for anomalies such as bitterness.
Thanks to these factors, single-malt had all but disappeared by the end of World War II. Scotch itself continued to be popular, but by the late 1960s liquor consumption began to decline and was increasingly confined to older and older drinkers. The young, who became ever more health-conscious in the 1980s, saw liquor as something their parents drank. Yet in the early to mid-1990s there came a popular backlash against those values of the 1980s. This was accompanied by the stigmatization of ‘‘political correctness’’ and an embracing of fashions from the 1950s and early ‘60s, albeit reinterpreted for the ‘90s. The change in the zeitgeist extended to diet: thus red meat, vilified for many years, was in again. So were martinis, cigars instead of cigarettes, and single-malt scotch.
Driving the new trends toward single-malt scotch and other fashions was the same youthful market that made crooner Tony Bennett one of the most popular performers on MTV. In 1998 James B. Arndorfer of Advertising Age speculated that William Grant would introduce ‘‘shooter-type drinks aimed at young adults,’’ and though a William Grant executive declined to comment on this supposition, vice chairman Grant Gordon—great-grandson of one of the company’s founders—told a reporter for the Indian edition of Business Line that ‘‘Our targetgroup all over the world is the 25-30 age.’’ Gordon went on to add something that seemed to contradict his first statement: ‘‘Whisky is for mature drinkers.’’ What he meant, of course, was that it was not for people who had merely reached legal drinking age, a clientele more inclined toward beer. The youngest drinkers, after all, would not typically be able to afford the prices associated with higher grades of scotch. According to Peter Simoncelli, food and beverage director at the Four Seasons hotel in Chicago, ‘‘the trend is to order the 18-or 25-year-old selections at prices up to $23 a pour.’’ Such prices fit with the upscale ‘‘menus’’ of cigar bars. ‘‘Cigar rooms in restaurants provide a clublike setting,’’ said Curt Burns of Chicago’s Hudson Club, quoted in the Orlando Sentinel, ‘‘and since it takes time to smoke a great cigar, it’s tempting to sip a special spirit too. The need to spend $10 to $18 for a snifter hasn’t scared anyone off.’’ Burns was referring to brandy or cognac, but similar rules applied to single-malt scotches. Yet price, combined with the long-standing image associated with scotch, meant that brands such as Glenfiddich had to overcome resistance among the young. According to Mike Dennis in SuperMarketing, a British survey in 1997 revealed that 62 percent of regular whisky drinkers were 50 years old or older.
The British study also showed that 61 percent of vodka drinkers, by contrast, were in the 18-to-34 age group. Vodka, the star component in the martini, thus represented one of Glenfiddich’s primary competitors. Then there were the 100-plus makers of scotch whisky. Dominating the scotch industry, in terms of quality appraisal if not sales, were six distilleries that earned a five-star rating from British connoisseur Michael Jackson, arguably the world’s leading authority on scotch. These six distilleries were the Macallan, Auchentoshan, the Glenlivet, Highland Park, Lagavulin, and Springbank. As for the top scotch in terms of U.S. sales, that position was held by Dewar’s; but Glenfiddich still held the lead in Great Britain, with a 22 percent market share, and in the world, where it enjoyed a 27 percent share. According to an October 1998 report in the Herald, three brands had managed to overcome vicissitudes in the market, such as a decline in overall growth of whisky sales in Europe and North America. These three brands were Glenfiddich, Laphroaig, and Glenmorangie, each of which had reached a ‘‘respectable’’ 13 percent increase in sales during the year. Of Glenfiddich, a commentator in Off Licence News (‘‘off licence’’ is the British term for a liquor store) wrote, ‘‘It is sold in 190 nations. Considering [that] the United Nations has just 185 members, that’s pretty impressive brand penetration.’’ Hence William Grant marketing manager Patrick Tully spoke proudly of Glenfiddich as the ‘‘category captain.’’ Certainly maintenance of a distinct identity proved crucial in a heavily segmented industry. William Rice in the Orlando Sentinel quoted Ronny Millar of United Distillers as saying, ‘‘One thing is clear: if you try to duplicate a whisky at another distillery, it won’t work.’’ But in the sudden rush to single-malt brands that characterized the market during the late 1990s, numerous scotch makers either attempted to get on the bandwagon or to shore up existing offerings. Dewar’s announced plans in 1998 to introduce a ‘‘high malt content’’ 12-year-old scotch, and Bowmo represented a ‘‘cask strength’’ malt. The latter had a higher alcohol content than most single malts, up to 120 proof; Glenfiddich also marketed its own cask strength variety.
In 1996 Glenfiddich and McCann-Erickson ran 90-second spots on British television in a campaign that cost 1.5 million pounds, or about $2.5 million. The spots focused on a father and son, whose dialogue emphasized the concept of scotch as a tradition passed down through generations. At the end of the commercial, the two shook hands, and the father handed his son a small bottle of Glenfiddich.
This advertising represented a shift from past Glenfiddich marketing, which was built around images of Scottish heritage and time-honored techniques of distilling.
In the United States at about the same time,
McCann-Erickson launched ‘‘The Friday Scotch,’’ a series of print ads centering around the idea of scotch as an element of good times and celebration. During this period William Grant dramatically increased its advertising, establishing an annual budget as high as $10 million for all its brands. In 1997 it devoted $3 million to Glenfiddich and Frangelico alone, and by 1998 it was spending 1 million pounds, or about $1.68 million, on Glenfiddich.
‘‘We have outstanding brands,’’ Mark Teasdale, senior vice president for marketing, told Advertising Age in April 1998, ‘‘and we’re going to aggressively get back to building their upscale status.’’ At the same time William Grant moved away from its exclusive relationship with McCann, first by signing Grace & Rothschild of New York to handle all brands except for Glenfiddich. Teasdale suggested that the company would be reviewing its ‘‘Friday Scotch’’ campaign but declined to discuss future plans; meanwhile, as Arndorfer reported in Advertising Age, Glenfiddich sales in the stateside market had leveled off at 95,000 cases in 1996, the last year for which sales information was available.
By December 1998 Glenfiddich was running a new campaign in Britain. Posters displayed at bus stops and shopping centers asked ‘‘How much do you love your next-door neighbour?’’ and ‘‘How much do you love your father-in-law?’’ According to a report in Off Licence News, First Drinks Brands, distributor of Glenfiddich in Great Britain, had conducted research which showed that ‘‘consumers hold their beloved bottle of single malt in such high esteem that they are likely to hide it away when expecting a high influx of visitors, and offer their guest less prized drams instead.’’
William Grant spent one million pounds on the British poster campaign and by the end of 1998 was prepared for a new assault on the U.S. market—with a new advertising agency. Thus on one of the last business days of the year, December 22, the New York Times reported that the company was prepared to drop its ‘‘Friday Scotch’’ campaign. According to Teasdale, the latter had run ‘‘for about three years and delivered some solid numbers,’’ but apparently it was time for a change. That change came with the December selection of Gyro Worldwide as the U.S. agency for Glenfiddich. McCann would still handle other advertising throughout the world, but the choice of Gyro represented a clear desire to appeal to a more youthful, MTV-influenced market. The Philadelphia agency, as the New York Times reported, was ‘‘known for provocative campaigns aimed at consumers in the 20’s and 30’s for such products as clothing, alcoholic beverages, and cigarettes.’’ Gyro’s techniques had not always won praise from critics of advertising: its print ads for clothing retailer Zipper Head, for instance, showed convicted mass murderer Charles Manson along with the headline, ‘‘Everyone has the occasional urge to go wild and do something completely outrageous.’’
In 1999 a new William Grant marketing director, Heather Graham, signaled the company’s interest in a new agency to handle its British advertising, primarily on television. During the spring of that year, it launched an agency review with the help of pitch consultant Agency Assessments, and by July BMP DDB had won the British account for William Grant. Universal McCann would continue to oversee media buying in the British market. If anything was clear about William Grant in general, or its Glenfiddich single-malt advertising in particular, it was the fact that changes were afoot. As Off Licence News reported in November 1998, ‘‘there are clearly busy times ahead for Glenfiddich and William Grant. Whether the brand succeeds in maintaining the momentum in the malt market or not over the next few years, no one will be able to turn around and accuse it of not trying.’’