EDITORIAL: Whisky innovation mustn't be at cost of existing values

Whisky is a subject dear to my heart. Not only is it coming up to Christmas and therefore ample reason to indulge in a wee tot, but I was brought up in a household where a hot toddy was the first form of medicine I encountered, and at an age that would probably have Social Services round these days. Of course, the addition of honey and lemon - or indeed, anything bar a splash of water, and only then with the right malt - is sacrilege to the whisky connoisseur.

And that's part of the problem. Marketers want to expand this sector to attract drinkers below the age of retirement, but they can't afford to alienate their core market, for whom mixers and any such modern frippery are an anathema. Tradition is everything in this market, which is why Diageo has backed down in its wrangle with the rest of the Scotch distilling fraternity over the subtle alteration of its Cardhu whisky brand.

When Diageo ran short of the malt whisky, ironically due in part to the success of its affordable malt marketing strategy for the label in Spain, it did not follow the course normally used by the sector. When a product takes 12 years to mature, there's no simple remedy to a shortfall.

Where others have limited distribution or used younger malts and changed the age claim on the label, Diageo decided to blend a range of malts from its Speyside distilleries and change the name from single malt to 'pure malt' without further modifying the packaging.

Even though it is the biggest producer of Scotch, Diageo could not escape the wrath and very public outrage of its rivals. The compromise agreed last week is that it will keep the pure malt name, but change the colour of its label and packaging. While this matter is clearly very important to the Scottish Whisky Association, is it really of consequence to the whisky-buying public if a slight alteration to the recipe of one brand doesn't comply with tradition?

In a word, yes. Diageo might have done the industry a favour in forcing it to address the lack of legal definitions of its categories - its own form of appellation controlee must surely follow - but it has hardly bolstered the global reputation of Scotch.

In an already confusing market to the uninitiated, Diageo has only confused further. Whisky manufacturers are basing their expansion of the £2.9bn market on growing the premium end and tampering with its malt is not going to further the cause with either existing or yet-to-be-converted customers.

Diageo partly defended its adapted recipe as innovation, which is to be applauded, as this will be a key to introducing drinkers to the category.

But surely innovation means new products, packaging design and targeting, not undermining an existing brand's positioning to satisfy supply problems.

Discussion

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now

Latest

Lynx tells men not to leave love to fate
HBO captures awkwardness of watching sex scenes with parents
Primark to open first US stores with Boston chosen as flagship location
Marketing spend on the up but a reality check is needed before celebrating
Top 10 ads of the week: Jackpotjoy and BT Broadband fend off Kevin Bacon
Lidl beats Tesco to 10m Facebook fans
Center Parcs ad banned for encouraging parents to take kids out of school
Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Amazon named top brands for targeting youth market
Leaked document shows Nokia to be rebranded as Microsoft Mobile
Nike lays-off hardware staff in move that casts doubt on future of FuelBand
Greenpeace says save the bees or humans will die
What brands need to know about changes to VAT and online downloads in 2015
Jimmy Savile victims urged to claim compensation in new ad campaign
UKIP launches biggest  ad campaign and stirs up 'racist' accusations
Apple boss Tim Cook provides voiceover on ad touting firm's renewed green commitments
John Lewis walks consumers through its history to celebrate 150 years of business
Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message