Whisky Drink Digital Transformation

A marketeer asks: Does the South Pole need a billboard for marketing success?


By Craig McGill | Digital Strategist

December 10, 2013 | 7 min read

Ewan McCowen is a well-kent marketeer in the Scottish digital space, having shown proper ROI to a number of brands and can often be seen handing out parcels of wisdom at the Friday Edinburgh Coffee Mornings.

Ewan McCowen: Drink industry still not grasping digital opportunities

Here. he writes about some of the latest digital activity by drink brands and what's being done right - and what could be done better...

William Grant & Sons are doing some of the most innovative brand work in premium spirits right now. Earlier in the year, Hendricks sent a team deep into the Venezuelan jungle to find exotic botanicals for a new gin. Now Glenfiddich is at the heart of a race to the South Pole with wounded servicemen. But why, with such exciting ideas, do their modern communications - in my humble opinion - fall so short of the mark?

#TeamGlenfiddich is a corker of a brand story. Racing to the Pole with wounded servicemen sounds exhilarating and heroic. Roping in Prince Harry gives some fab publicity. And it all fits perfectly with the whisky's core values.

The activity will impress Glenfiddich's distributors. It will impress the multiples. I'm sure there will be a boost in consumer awareness and sentiment. And there will undoubtedly be an uplift in sales.

So the idea is epic. The brand partnership fits. What are you complaining about, Ewan!?

Itís not enough!

Well, you see, they've decided to tell the world using billboard advertising (along with some print and radio ads). And in this marketeerís mind, a broadcast message that says "We're backing a team racing to the South Pole" simply doesn't do the idea justice.

One problem is scale. The geographically-focussed nature of outdoor advertising misses vast swathes of the potential audience. While the press and radio ads are a flash in the pan.

Another problem is, it's not interesting enough to the audience.The consumer has moved on from paying much mind to broadcast messages. Modern MarComms recognises the consumer is only likely to respond to an ad if there's something in it for them. (An idea eloquently articulated by Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, who is quoted by The Guardian as saying: Your customers don't care about you, your products, your services - they care about themselves, their wants and their needs).

And one of my biggest gripes is that it's a dead end in terms of a brand interaction. There are so many ways a campaign like this could be used to generate rafts of high-quality brand interactions that result in measurable, tangible outcomes. But it fails to capitalise on this opportunity.

Dear Glenfiddich - Here's A Handful of (Relatively) Cheap Suggestions for Next Time

Build A Dedicated Website

You've created some great content but failed to distribute it adequately. It's buried away on your main site and it is being ignored. This amazing interview with a team member who lost both his legs below the knee has fewer than 1000 views. A dedicated site would bring gems like this to the surface, increase visibility and generally be a far more appropriate destination for your traditional advertising to point towards.

More Content

The existing content is too limited. You could have commissioned, say, 10 articles from popular adventure-journalists covering a range of relevant topics. (I bet they'd have done it for a couple of hundred quid and a bottle of Glenfiddich 30). The articles would have attracted a whole new audience and provided 10 new opportunities for you to talk about your involvement in the event in a unique and interesting way.

Incentivise Engagement

In amongst the content mentioned above you could have offered a prize draw with the aim of capturing data and attracting user-generated content (which in turn could be re-spun as micro-adverts to continue to tell the story in new and compelling ways). Some possible prizes:

  • Win a long adventure weekend in Iceland
  • Win a whisky tasting with Ranulph Fiennes
  • Win 100 merino wool base layers from Icebreaker
  • Win one of 20 bottles of our commemorative malt

The possibilities are endless!

Why Do This?

A broadcast campaign that just says "we're involved in this amazing event" is transient and of little interest to the majority of people. It lacks scale and precision. It promotes no action. And it has no discernable objective.

Instead, for a small slice of your budget, you could have altered the focus to promote the campaign over a longer time, to more people, in a more interesting way and with a tangible outcome:

  • Look at these inspiring stories (brought to you by Glenfiddich)
  • Check out these fascinating, exciting, expert articles about adventure (brought to you by Glenfiddich)
  • Pony up your email address for a chance to win a load of freebies (brought to you by Glenfiddich)

Modern MarComms & the Wider World of Whisky

It hurts me to see great companies miss marketing opportunities. And the missed opportunities highlighted here are (to me at least) symptomatic of a wider malaise within the whisky industry who have been slow to innovate in the space of modern marketing communications.

It's not just about using sexy new tech. It's about embracing the fragmented, multi-channel world we live in. It's about adapting messages and presentation to suit the modern consumer. Above all, it's about taking a customer-centric approach to comms and earning the right to talk about your products.

There are, of course, whisky brands who are successfully taking this approach. The Macallan's "Masters of Photography" isn't just an amazing idea; it offers folk the opportunity to be a part of it. At the other end of the cost scale are the "Friends of Laphroig" who are offered a lifetime lease on a square foot of Islay. There's also the Caskmasters initiative by Glenmorangie which is a step away from being the first crowdsourced whisky.

Those brands left shouting about themselves could do well to learn from these approaches. The whisky boom isn't going to last forever. The question is: who wants to make hay while the sun shines?

Whisky Drink Digital Transformation

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