Scotch: Blends, Malts and Your Father

dewars distillery

Single malts have driven the Scotch category for more than a decade with steady and consistent growth. Brands like The Glenlivet, The Macallan, Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie seem to drive malts and, in turn, malts drive US scotches.

Blended whisky is still the backbone of scotch, but even brands like Johnnie Walker, Dewar’s and Chivas Regal can’t seem to stop the hemorrhaging of this segment.

What does this have to do with your father?

Well, back in the day, those in the booze business felt that given 1) the difficulty of overcoming the taste hurdle of scotch and 2) it’s lack of mixability — if you found a scotch drinker, then you can be sure that his/her father introduced them to it.

That’s a problem today since most fathers stopped (or never started) drinking scotch in the first place. Besides, “my father’s scotch” is right up there with Oldsmobile. So much for modern day mentorship as a motivator for drinking scotch.

DHH Bottle FinalEnter Dewar’s Highlander Honey, the subject of my last posting.

I gave many reasons why I see this as a success so I won’t repeat them. Scroll down and see for yourself.

However, since writing that post, I’ve had occasion to speak with Arvind Krishnan, VP Brand Managing Director, Dewar’s and to taste the product along with some friends and scotch aficionados.

First, the Dewar’s people have done a great job of blending the taste of Dewar’s with fantastic notes of honey. This stuff is not artificial tasting and, the honey and scotch combine to provide a whole new flavor. As a result, they have also combined experience and exploration – as in the experience of enjoying scotch and the discovery of how pleasant and desirable it can be.

Here are two thoughts on the flavored spirits world. The Huffington Post wrote this week about flavored vodka under the heading, Flavored Vodka Companies Continue To Debut New Flavors, But Why? You can find it here.


When you get away from the kiddie flavors in vodka, you come across serious flavored American whiskies that are growing rapidly. Just this week I read that Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey has sold close to 500,000 cases in just two years.

I predict that not only will Dewar’s Highlander Honey succeed but also there will be a host of others on the market in the not too distant future. You can bet on it.

Oh, and that taste test?

It’s best summed up by the statement one non-scotch drinker made, “I had no idea scotch could taste so good.”


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Bill Bernbach

Last week most of the advertising industry trade magazines had articles about Bernbach on the centennial of his birthday. I thought I would contribute by relating the story of him, Edgar M. Bronfman and Chivas Regal.

Before I do, however, for those of you who are unfamiliar with him, here is some background on the man who revolutionized creativity in advertising – no, make that brand and product selling.

Bill Bernbach’s style of advertising changed brand communication. He was the anti “Mad Men” focusing on compelling messages that broke through the clutter and resonated with consumers. “The difference between the forgettable and the endurable is artistry,” was how he put it. So think about such ads as Avis “We Try Harder” or Volkswagen “Think Small” or “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s real Jewish rye bread.”

His effort on behalf of Chivas Regal is an interesting story as described by Edgar M. Bronfman in his book Good Spirits, and by Paul Pacult in A Double Scotch – How Chivas Regal and The Glenlivet Became Global Icons.

In the 1960’s after the acquisition of Chivas, the brand began to languish in the face of competition from such lighter scotches as Cutty Sark and J&B Rare. Edgar managed to convince his father that changes needed to be made to stem the sales declines. These included product reformulation, new packaging and a new ad campaign. Enter Bill Bernbach.

As the story goes, when Bernbach showed the new ads to Edgar there was one ad at the bottom of the pile that he kept hiding. When pushed by Bronfman to reveal it, Bernbach pointed out that it was intended as an introductory ad for the new package and that he was concerned that Edgar wouldn’t dare run it.

The headline read “What Idiot Changed the Chivas Regal Package?” To his credit, Bronfman saw the benefits of the brashness and self-mocking tone and, to make a long story short, the ad ran.

The team at Doyle, Dane and Bernbach went on to change the brand’s fortune by understanding consumers and reaching them through challenges and taunts that were fun and resonated well. My favorite – “If you can’t taste the difference in Chivas Regal, save the extra two dollars.” And, the classic, “The Chivas Regal of Scotches.”

In addition to the central print campaign, the agency created a cartoon campaign, which picked up on the theme. A particularly memorable one showed a ship leaving the dock with a case of Chivas left behind. The caption read, “They’ll be back. They forgot the Chivas.”

Did the creativity translate into brand sell? According to the Pacult book, when DDB took over in 1962, the brand was selling around 135,000 cases. By 1979, sales had risen to 1.1 million.

All I can close with is a rewording of another great Bernbach ad – “Mama Mia, that’s effective advertising.”

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Chivas Gin?

No, there’s no such thing. But the idea almost got me fired.

I read in Drink Spirits that they selected a Scottish gin among the best new spirits introduced at Tales of the Cocktail. Caorunn Small Batch Scottish Gin joins Hendricks as Scottish made. The brand is made from the traditional botanical mix plus distinctly Scottish botanicals.

So here’s the Chivas gin story.

When I ran new products at Seagram, as I’m sure you’ve noticed from the tequila postings, filling gaps in the portfolio was a top item on the agenda. Oh sure, we had the top seller in domestic gin but with the exception of Boodles, we did not have an imported brand to compete with Beefeater’s, Tanqueray, Bombay and others.

Our research revealed that a strong overlap in preferences existed among scotch and gin drinkers. A scotch drinker was most likely to drink gin as a second choice and vice versa.

Based on this insight and lots of concept development work, my friend Sam Ellias recommended a Chivas Gin. Before I could say a word, he quickly added that it would not be Chivas Regal Gin, but rather, a gin from Chivas Brothers. The brand would use the Chivas heritage of distilling expertise and skill and apply it to a “white goods” product. Further, his research showed that attitudes toward Chivas Regal Scotch itself improved as a result of the more contemporary gin brand idea. Trust me, at that time, Chivas Regal could use all the help it could get.

I was convinced.

At the next new products review meeting we put the idea on the table for discussion and approval to proceed to the next development stage. There was strong support but something wasn’t right. Those in the room with doctorate degrees in “Owner Anger Detection” (OAD) became uneasy. I couldn’t understand it but knew enough to drop the subject based on instinct.

But not Sam Ellias.

A number of years later when I was running marketing and he was in charge of new products, he brought up the subject of a gin by Chivas Brothers once again. Not only was the research even more compelling but he also found a name that made the product clearly by Chivas. All he wanted was a real world test market with an action standard that if this gin product failed to improve Chivas’ sales, the idea would be dropped. Reasonable.

While I still didn’t have a PHD in OAD, I had a Master’s and strong survival instincts. I approached the subject gingerly and discussed it with a family confidante/consultant to gauge the reaction. Instead of debating the merits or concerns, he must have gone to the head owner complaining about the idea.

The next thing I know, I get a poison pen email from the owner, the content of which I will never forget:

If I ever hear the words Chivas and gin used again in the same sentence, heads will roll, starting with yours.

This missive came from the same office that had pushed such brilliant new product ideas as Von Konig Silberwasser (I think it was supposed to be a vodka), Bourbon Street Bourbon (billed as a New Orleans style bourbon, whatever that is), and my personal favorite, Chivas Danu, whose relationship to scotch continues to elude me.

Despite the amused reaction from my management, who assured me not to be concerned, the dispatch rankled me and I avoided new products and Sam for some time afterward.

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