In the men’s rooms at any number of sports bars and hot spots catering to twenty-something men in Providence, Denver and about 20 other U.S. markets, there are strategically placed posters for Cutty Sark featuring voluptuous, retro-style pin-up girls (who just happen to be former Playboy Playmates of the Year). In other similar locations, there are posters promoting “J&B + Cola.”
A new eye-catching campaign for Cutty Sark includes print, outdoor, on- and off-premise p-o-s as well as sponsorship of 240 concerts with bands including Godsmack and Chicken Shack.
These and related efforts by other leading brands of blended Scotch are part of a large and ambitious marketing drive to recruit younger consumers. There are elaborate new marketing programs including extensive on-premise merchandising, concert promotions, web sites and a whole lot more.
Most telling, perhaps, is some of the new advertising which ranges from the hip, edgy and retro to the more sophisticated and whimsical. The new campaigns all seem destined to resonate with their respective 21- to 35-year-old target consumers.
The iconic Highlander comes alive in a new series of Dewar’s ads that focuses on the product and its heritage.
At the same time, several marketers are tossing aside the “country club rules” of Scotch usage — neat, on-the-rocks or with a splash of water — in favor of a more radical mixology: Scotch with Coke, Mountain Dew, lemonade, ginger ale or just about anything else that appeals to the sugared sensibilities and sweet palates of 21- to 35-year-olds. It’s about breaking down some of the category’s traditional taste barriers and leveraging some of the beverages this crowd already mixes with their Jack Daniel’s, Absolut, Jim Beam, Bacardi, Captain Morgan, Crown Royal and other fashionable brands.
To Scotch connoisseurs, all this may seem like heresy. But the purists are beside the point. They’re already Scotch loyalists or single malt elitists, and unlikely to leave the fold in either case. Instead, what’s happening is a major effort to develop a new generation of Scotch drinkers. While each of the leading brands faces its own particular challenges, the general dilemma confronting the category is this: a disproportionate share of Scotch drinkers are men 50 and older, most of whom will consume less as they continue to age. Compounding the problem is that they haven’t been replaced by new consumers. Thus, Scotch consumption has declined from a peak of more than 22 million cases (mixed) in 1979 to 8.4 million cases (mixed) or about 9.5 million cases (9 liter) in 1998, according to the authoritative Adams Liquor Handbook. And while the actual consumption of Scotch declined 62% during that period, the category’s share of total distilled spirits consumption dropped from almost 14% to less than 7%.
Nowhere is this quandary, as well as the category’s new direction and future potential, more starkly revealed that in the fortunes of two brands, Cutty Sark and J&B. In their heyday, these brands sold millions of cases a year. In fact, in 1978, J&B was the category leader with annual sales of about 3.5 million cases. In 1998, however, J&B had sales of approximately 615,000 cases while Cutty Sark recorded sales of 285,000 cases.
J&B is hitching its star to cola in an aggressive bid to attract younger drinkers.
The new J&B campaign forgoes traditional Scotch advertising imagery in favor of an off-the-wall, primitive poster-art style that heralds “J&B + Cola” in almost all its executions. The campaign is currently in six test markets (Denver, Boulder, Madison, Milwaukee, San Diego and Providence) where the brand is now posting double-digits gains.
But Scotch and cola? Although the combination has not been a traditional favorite in the U.S., cola has been a critical catalyst in the rapid growth of Scotch over the past decade in countries such as France, Spain and Argentina.
Cutty Sark is also redefining itself to fit in with the tastes and lifestyles of its new consumer target: 21- to 30-year-olds. As a result, Skyy is promoting non-traditional usage including Cutty and Coke, Cutty and lemonade, Cutty sours and Cutty with any mixer that appeals to younger drinkers.
To reach these younger drinkers, who typically know little, if anything, about Scotch, Cutty Sark is focusing on two areas of special interest to men — women and music. Over the past few months, Cutty Sark has sponsored more than 90 concerts featuring up-and-coming rock and roll acts. The venues are typically smaller clubs that provide the brand with good consumer sampling opportunities.
Johnnie Walker’s “Civilization” ads run through September when a U.S. adaptation of the global “Keep Walking” campaign is expected to debut.
In addition, Cutty Sark has gone back to the future to develop some of the industry’s most visually arresting and instantly memorable advertising. The premise is simple: a campy sendup of 1950’s calendar girls in tastefully provocative poses aboard yachts (a nod to the brand’s traditional nautical imagery) along with a discreetly placed bottle of Cutty. The evocative effect is all in the glamorous, retro-style execution. It is exquisite.
With less at stake than their larger counterparts, it is easier for brands such as Cutty Sark and J&B to make dramatic shifts and oversized bets. The risks are greater, however, for the bigger, growing or higher-priced brands — Dewar’s, Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal. Nonetheless, these three brands also recognize the need to aggressively go after younger consumers and have developed new marketing programs to reach them.
Late last year, Dewar’s (annual sales close to 1.4 million cases) introduced a dual advertising campaign. One campaign, called “Profiles for the New Millennium,” focuses on user imagery. The second, called “The Highlander,” concentrates on the product and its heritage. Spending for the two campaigns is set at more than $20 million in the first year.
The Profiles effort is a re-working of the long-running “Dewar’s Profiles” campaign which was dropped in 1993. This time around, instead of featuring older, established individuals, the ads feature younger groups of people, albeit successful, but still on their way up. The ads are aimed at 25- to 35-year-olds “who are ready for a change in what they drink.”
The Highlander campaign is a more offbeat and humorous effort that brings the brand’s famous highlander icon to life in a series of unexpected ways. In one execution, for example, a shirtless, sunglass-wearing highlander is shown with a surfboard under his arm. “The highlander campaign gives us the opportunity to promote our key product and heritage values, as well as offer some usage suggestions, in a contemporary, entertaining and relevant way,” explains Dawson.
Meanwhile, a U.S. adaptation of the recently launched global advertising campaign for Johnnie Walker (“Keep Walking”) is being developed for a planned debut this September when the current “Civilization” ads will be retired. As with Dewar’s, 25- to 35-year-olds are in the crosshairs of the new effort. According to Elizabeth Sorota, Schieffelin & Somerset’s senior brand manager for Johnnie Walker, there is a real need to “build a stronger bridge” to a younger demographic. “The problem with Scotch now is that although consumers perceive it as masculine and somewhat associated with success, it’s also seen as somewhat solitary and outdated. It’s the drink your father drank and still drinks, and younger consumers don’t identify with it. They certainly don’t identify with it the way they do with bourbon.”
Part of Chivas Regal’s effort to reach out to a younger audience includes the Adelante program which features dancers performing live on a moveable stage in select markets throughout the country.
Mixing Scotch and cola has also long been popular among blacks. A similar practice contributed to the success of Hennessy Cognac, a brand Sorota worked on for several years.
Cola, however, isn’t necessarily a panacea for every brand of Scotch. For instance, concerned about protecting its aspirational positioning, high prestige and super premium pricing, Chivas Regal is reluctant promote cola as a mixer.
Last fall, Seagram rolled out a new global campaign with the tag line, “When You Know.” The ads are intended to talk to a successful and streetwise thirty-something consumer dubbed, the “newly grown up.” These are consumers who are reaching a stage in their lives where they have achieved some success and have enough money to indulge themselves in “a more grown-up premium spirit.”
While Scotch marketers have long acknowledged the need to rejuvenate their franchise, the combined initiatives of these leading brands represent the most comprehensive, dynamic and on-target effort to recruit younger consumers in the past two decades. This year and next, assuming the brands maintain their creative focus and continue to increase spending, may well mark a real turning point for Scotch in the U.S.