"The Market For A Scotch To Believe In Is Infinite"

[One of the Dewars drawings I did while attending TED Global etc.]

[Today’s guest post is by Jason Korman, my business partner since 2005, and CEO of gapingvoid]

“The Market For a Scotch to believe in is Infinite”

There are millions of cases at stake for the guys who get the messaging right.


We’ve had Scotch on the brain lately. We’ve done wine, we’ve done suits and we’ve done tech, but Scotch has its own particular set of challenges.

What makes any bottle of scotch different? And, does anyone care, anyway? There are, what Hugh’s dad used to call, the “whiskey bores” who drone on and on about all things whisky, but I’m told there aren’t that many of them left. So, what matters to everyone else?

There is the realm of the single malts and high end scotches. But they seem to need to be marketed more like Congac or Champagne, a bit of bling, sexy packaging, and hyped up associations.

For more broad market Scotch, the opportunities are much greater and the challenge much more complex. Scotch is a distinctly masculine product. It is strong, it is interesting, is implies thought and intelligence. It s a product that wants to have meaning.

Given that, what we see mostly in Scotch marketing is a reliance on ‘authenticity’, with everyone trying to have the most authentic conversation grounded in centuries of history. The question is really: is this relevant? Once a consumer knows your  Scotch is ‘for real’, do they care enough to want to know the details? I’d guess, probably not.

With alcoholic beverages, what you do have is a desire from the market to want to know: Why? What do you stand for? Why do you exist? And does your brand represent something that I believe in – does it share my world view.

J&B says, “Let’s Start a Party”. I know that they are trying to make an old brand younger and relevant. But, OMG, does it seem disingenuous. It comes across as a little inconsistent with what the product is about. It’s not tequila, its not vodka, it’s really NOT a party drink.  It feels like granny dancing on the table at your cousin’s wedding – kinda cringeworthy and creepy. Oh, and in an acknowledgement that even they don’t buy into the party thing, they also tell the story about Mr. Justerini traveling from Bologna to London in 1749. Not sure what they’re thinking, but stream of consciousness brings me to paraphrase the Artist Formerly Known as Prince… “Let’s party like its 1749”.

Chivas goes with “Live with Chivalry”, and tells “The Story Behind the Legend”. It’s place centric, it’s a nice story about a Scotsman traveling to NY a hundred years ago. But, it sounds a lot like things we’ve heard before. More importantly, they seem  unconcerned with relevance in 2011. Their ultra-produced videos are like Public Service Announcements, urging people to be nice. Yawn.


As with both of the above, Dewars goes with the place centric, authentic Scottish thing, so they cover that base. But it feels like a brand that wants more. Their messaging is really very ‘of the moment’ and involves people who are actually alive today – It focuses on the top bit of Maslow’s hierarchy. They want to find people and facilitate people being self- actualized. The message is, as beings we are happier doing things that we believe in.

A bright spark at Dewars had the idea of aligning with the TED conferences. After all, Ted’s speakers do, by definition, embody the qualities that Dewars represents.

Enter Hugh. They also hired Hugh to draw at TED Edinburgh and distill the speakers ideas into his style of illustration.  Hugh likes to say that his goal is to draw a cartoon that rips your face off the first time you see it, and is still doing it and the tenth time.

One of those is posted above.

We ask ourselves: Is Hugh’s style too edgy, too disruptive, not art directed enough, to be used in main stream media? How can a brand like Dewars better communicate what it stands for than through one of Hugh’s cartoons?

In today’s world, where everyone is saying advertising is dead, what they are really saying that advertising the way it used to be done is dead. Giving people something they believe in, in a way that they can’t help but notice, is where the action really is. Getting noticed. Doing stuff that gets noticed, doing it smart,  and in a way that your audience will think is cool, is where its at. Have beliefs that are strong enough to build a movement, not just a brand.

We’ve got Scotch on the brain, and we’re liking it. A category ripe for disruption.

Jason Korman
CEO, gapingvoid.com



  1. This is interesting Jason. Just spent an afternoon with master blender Richard Paterson tasting Dalmore single malt. My blog post is going to be about how whisky is sexy and why women should like it.

    • Hi Maria, Thanks, and I agree. Scotch is seductive. Dalmore is one of those brands that I think takes the Cognac route. High end, elegantly packaged, they take time to create unique items that go for lots of money.

      What’s sexier than a sophisticated woman, a snifter of good scotch and a Cohiba ? 😉

  2. One of life’s coolest rituals for me is having a scotch with my dad when we see each other. For me, a simple slogan for scotch would be: “Whatever your need, Scotch always does the trick. . .”

  3. you want to share a bottle of wine with your love. wine is romantic. wine is reminiscent, wine is wistful. wine is chillin on the patio swing with your sweetie.

    scotch is pensive. scotch is creative. scotch is golfing. hunting. scotch is around the kitchen table with the friends that just finished helping you chop the wood for your cabin. …in all of those activities you’re not romancing, or partying. you’re dreaming big. you’re conquering the world (or your little tiny part of it, anyway).

    • While I’m far from convinced by your justification (who says scotch is not an accompaniment to romance /partying or that wine is not aspirational?), I do think “thinking big” is an interesting thought.

      It’s one we all like to have, it’s definitely conversational and it’s one that can be tied in with ideas such as craft and long-termism that are inherent in scotch’s creation.

      • Jason writes (about scotch): “It’s a product that wants to have meaning.” …so I was kinda trying ot riff off of that. reflecting on what scotch means to me. When do I choose to drink it over a good craft microbrew, or over a fancy bottle of wine, or any other beverage? certainly everyone has their own preferences. for me, scotch is usually the drink of choice around a meaninful conversation. …before this article i wasn’t aware of dewars’ marketing message, but now that i’ve looked it, i really like it. am i going to go out and buy a bottle of white label because i believe it’s going to make be a better thinker? probably not, but now that they’ve sponsored TED i’d be interested in seeing what the align themselves with next.

  4. Hugh, I’ve been following you for years. I’ve been waiting for main stream brands to discover your knack for communicating. Gapingvoid and Scotch. If that isn’t a winning combo, I don’t know what is. I know you can help them to redefine what Scotch means to people.

  5. Smoke and mirrors. Why does an historic brand of scotch have to select a lifestyle they want to be identified with? This is not authentic at all. It’s forced. It’s marketers sitting around a table deciding which lifestyle niche would be most profitable at this time, and smashing their brand into that niche until another niche looks more enticing.

    Their scotch isn’t changing. Only their brand positioning. It’s hard to jump niches with an established brand.

    Word of Mouth should be the top priority for most scotch marketers. If your brand has a history and a story (or several), tell that story, and own it. The right people will gravitate to that brand. If your brand has been around for hundreds of years, don’t try to become the brand for the X-Games crowd or the Internet crowd. Instead, launch a new brand whose history can be formed around that audience.

    The fastest growing vodkas are the newer vodkas that have aligned their brand to a specific position/niche without having to wrestle with any of the baggage from a long product history.

  6. Jason,

    Please stop calling Whiskey ‘Scotch’ – Scottish Whiskey has already done a tremendous job of branding and marketing itself – so much so that many people interchange the word Scotch with Whiskey. Scotch is like Champagne – a type of alcohol from a particular region.

    The real opportunity with whiskey is to educate the market on the options – triple pot distilled Irish whiskey, peat-fired scotch malt, single malt american. Whoever can do that can make whiskey like wine – a product with many regions, flavours and levels of quality, where everyone can have their own tastes and preferences. Where we are now is ‘get a bottle of ‘scotch’.

  7. What an interesting post Jason.

    I love your take on the Whisky Industry.

    I have recently created World Whisky Day and it´s starting to take off. Over 1500 global attendees want to get involved.

    World Whisky Day is going to appeal to whisky geeks and new whisky drinkers alike. Its for everyone and anyone!

    A day to celebrate a drink we all love!

    Let´s Get The World Involved!

  8. When I saw the drawing, what I interpreted was the the world is so f*#@ed that you need to get blotto on Dewars, certainly not courage. And what’s the difference of Dewars going to Ted and other whiskey’s having “hyped up associations.” Seems pretty much the same. Sorry, this just smacks of a bit of hypocricy.

    • Kate,

      “What’s the difference,” indeed… That’s the whole point of this exercise.

      The point of this exercise (which is organic and ongoing, by the way) is to move Dewar’s away from “Here’s some sexy-but-contrived reason to buy our stuff” to “Hey, we’re kinda into the same things you are.”

      Which, in terms of TED, is actually true… ergo, NOT hypocritical, IMHO.

  9. Given the type of product they are marketing they should probably consider an exclusivity campaign, not an everyone come to the dance type campaign.

    Scotch wiskey is for the discerning pallet and peopel who tend to like the finer things in life. I would try a campaign that askes ‘subliminally’ are you good enough for our Scotch?

    That will attrack the attention of the trendoids. LOL