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How Chivas is working with the NBA to drive whisky sales in China


By John McCarthy, Opinion Editor

February 19, 2018 | 6 min read

Chivas Brothers marketing director Glen Brasington has tied a year of positive sales for the whisky brand to a series of marketing experiments that are beginning to bear fruit.

Pernod Ricard announced last week that Chivas Brother’s Scotch whisky portfolio hit a sales upswing of 2.4% over the first half of the 17/18 financial year.

Much of the growth has come from Asia. Brasington said that, in tandem with the vital Chinese market returning to growth, its landmark partnership with the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the region, which also brought aboard broadcaster Tencent, has further bolstered sales.

This performance of this campaign shows how Chivas is running localised marketing efforts across the globe.

In China, as part of the NBA's multi-year partnership Chivas, is running in-store activations, in addition to online sweepstakes and viewing parties. Furthermore, the sport, that is beloved in China features prominently in shops, bars and on TV.

“We have a really good route to market in China, when the company decides to activate a brand we get a lot of scale and consistency in the execution and that is key to driving growth,” said Brasington.

“What has changed in the last six months is that our sales team, distribution and customers have really got behind some of the big programmers that we have pushed into market, most notably, the NBA partnership.”

Through the partnership, and with Tencent on board as broadcast partner, Chivas has enjoyed sizeable engagement on broadcast and digital channels. But success in this market is a self-fulfilling prophecy with the company now gathering more data to help direct its future marketing.

“We have a global target of 20m data points, we already have about 5m in China because the digital platforms are well developed, and we have been active in that space for some time,” he said.

“When you partner with the likes of Tencent who own a lot of the media rights as we have done with the NBA, you get access to a lot of that data and you use it to further retarget or drive more precision.”

Globally, the difficulty will be ensuring its own, and the third-party data, is effectively integrated across each of the brands in the Chivas, and Pernod Ricard family. Each brand in the stable serves a purpose, Ballantine’s (up 2.2% in sales for the period) is “a really good vehicle to introduce people into our international brands and specifically scotch”. Meanwhile, Glenlivet, up 1.3%, is in a period of transition.

“We are raising the price on our 12-year-old products because of scarcity and introducing founders reserve that has done a good job of recruiting people,” he continued.

This year, Brasington is working with a marketing budget of £50m, though it’s still to be decided how the spend will divided, across brands and market.

“We will continue to over invest in growth drivers. Ballantine’s Finest in emerging markets, Chivas in our lead markets like China and the US and Glenlivet to continue to drive the transition from an aged product.”

There is also a degree of gambling involved, Chivas will overinvest in accelerated markets like Poland and Mexico where it thinks there is good potential for economic and its own growth.

Brand Safety

For many marketers, the big question this year will be whether Google and Facebook have done enough to ease concerns over brand safety. Most recently, Unilever’s chief marketing officer, Keith Weed reignited the call for such platform to do more if they are eyeing brand budgets.

As he plans for the coming year, Brasington said that its company was not going to follow in Unilever’s stead by threatening Google and Facebook with reduced spend.

He said: “We have to work with digital providers and platform providers to make sure our content appears in the right space and that our content is with the right type of audience.”

The brand safety issue has not hit the drinks brands as some others in the space, it strives to engage with adults, preferably those who drink alcohol. Brasington said: “We are very confident that it is well targeted and efficient, it does rely on the data that we have captured. When we do events, tastings and campaigns, they are targeted at our consumers, we capture that data then we retarget them. We don’t see the same sort of issue in our category.”

There is also more regulation around drinks brands too in place throughout the world. For a start, platforms are carefully considered.

“We don’t invest in media that has a high percentage of people below the drinking age, that is an internal control we have had in place for many years, when it comes to global platforms like Facebook and Instagram, it relies on how well we target our advertising, and if they allow precision.”


Having recently appointed McCann to the global advertising business​, it is currently cooking up “transformational” work which will hit market in about five months.

But alongside that, Brasington sees potential for “big gains” through developing fast and relevant content. To this end, it has in-housed a digital team of ten, they do everything from “localizing and adapting global creative, creating topical content, responding to consumer questions and listening to social commentary and trends”.

This team helps bring Chivas, closer to the consumer across its many markets.

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