One of the most surprising things about Whisky brands is how few seem to truly embrace search marketing, while a search for Whisky News of late will bring up articles about David Beckham Haig Whisky this is down to the controversy over the risk of his celebrity encouraging underage drinking rather than the quality of the advert itself. While a number of brands seem to be leveraging social media well their websites are often lacklustre, poorly mobile optimised experiences of the few brands who make waves the best tend to be blends not malts.
Offline Brilliance, Online Disasters
Of the most visible supermarket whiskies, even the best make only a mediocre showing online, now while I have a personal pet peeve about the use of age verification for these sites, especially since it’s not legally mandated*, providing a brand flagship for those who seek you out makes sense. That might be your brand social media profile, it might be Wikipedia, really though your website should tell your story and be accessible else you’re leaving your brand at the mercy of the web.
*While these sites might be accessed by those outside the UK/USA this is not justification for treating all users with the same problematic UX, this content can be served based upon IP address.
Bells Whisky have produced what I can only describe as one of my favourite adverts of all time, an emotional, inspiring and thoroughly brilliant piece of advertising, albeit for the South African market.
A significant step up from their previous, albeit memorable Beverly Hills cop theme tune played on tumblers. The brand website however is another matter, it’s poorly optimised, especially for mobile to the point that I can’t navigate it, even in landscape. For those lucky few who can the site is slow to load, lacking in content and in truth hardly worth visiting which is likely why it’s outranked by supermarkets and unrelated sites for even its brand terms. Admittedly the site is non-transactional so the supermarket rankings make sense but the same pattern holds true for social media if there is an official Facebook page it’s not easy to find and the South African arm is the only one to see on twitter.
Whyte and Mackay
Whyte and Mackay are/were an interesting brand if only for their rather genius use of the sites robots.txt file during the brands Whisky Hunt. For those not in the know digitally speaking the robots.txt file is a signpost to visiting search engines advising what should or should not be accessed for example you probably don’t want your sites admin panel to surface in search, and landing on the sites search results from a search engine is a poor user experience. Unfortunately in line with Bells the site experience is generally low, and alas either due to either an unresolved technical mishap or just throwing in the towel the Whyte and Mackay blog seems to have been abandoned.
Grants unfortunately do nothing to break this trend with their website, their social media presence is another animal entirely. While the brands new #IOU video can’t touch the beautiful mastery of Bells “The Reader” the campaign has brought surprising levels of engagement on twitter for what is essentially a supermarket whisky brand and although Facebook comments and shares of their posts are minimal they are far from absent, their likes regularly break the 5k mark.
Malt Whiskies and Marketing
Having covered the blends you’re probably wondering about the Malts, well unfortunately many of the websites are in a similar state though in at least some cases (such as Glenmorangie) the sites are at least responsive and the Macallan site created by Equator is beyond a few speed issues practically perfect, either way there are definitely a few interesting brands. Rather than going through an exhaustive list I’ll limit myself to covering my favourite campaigns:
It’s no secret I’m fond of Jura and honestly this campaign was truly genius, it’s just a shame the brand & Holler made relatively little effort on social media.
— Jura Malt Whisky (@jura_whisky) July 10, 2013
Following the bizarre misplacing of the Isle of Jura in Google maps the team posted the above rather tongue in cheek competition, and to their credit they managed to get some not unimpressive coverage though the evidence suggests the response rates were fairly low. Still that’s not bad for the low low price of a case of Diurachs’ Own.
The limited edition Glenlivet Guardians’ Chapter is perhaps one of the most unique whiskies you’ll ever come across as it was selected by the distilleries aficionados rather than the distillery itself. Three expressions were sent out to whisky drinkers in over 20 countries including America, Australia and China for review and selection. The release is still available to buy, and would certainly make my wishlist!
In a not dissimilar way Glenmorangie’ s Tahgta (from the Gaelic for “Chosen”) bottle design, name and marketing campaign were co-ordinated through a Caskmasters subdomain moodboard. Unfortunately the brand seem to have removed their caskmasters moodboard and any reference to it from the site!
Scottish Malt Whisky Society
Although not a distillery an honourable mention must go out to the Scottish Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) for their rather inspired an ever changing sensory adventure campaign which included a tweet tasting event.
Whisky and the Web
Although Whisky brands have not historically embraced the web its prevalence in every walk of life has fundamentally changed how we interact with brands. From older consumers such as my father who, now in his seventies, uses his tablet to price check his favourite tipples, to younger enthusiasts and uncertain gifters the brands who make headway over the coming decade will almost certainly be those who establish awareness beyond their loyal core. The Scottish whisky industry does itself no favours by being conservative in its campaigns or slow to embrace the internet. Worse still it deprives many young enthusiasts the chance to encounter new expressions and come to know more about the Uisce Beatha.