Consumers have become a precious bunch. At one time all that was required of a bottle of whisky was for it to look like a bottle of whisky. It had to stand tall and look round. That was it.
Now the brief is uniformly non-uniform. ‘Bespoke’ ‘personalised’ ‘experiential’ and ‘interactive’ are the gush words of today’s meetings of marketers. But these are not terms that easily translate to a assembly line, where standardisation, simplicity and efficiency are traditionally prized.
“Packaging 30 years ago was really simple. Now consumers are demanding more complex packaging – a personalised approach,” says Alister McIntosh, manufacturing director for Chivas Brothers, taking time away from the official opening of the group’s Prestige Hall bottling facility in Paisley in Scotland in September.
The new hall allows Chivas Brothers to expand its booming operation of low-volume, high-value products that must feature ever more complex packaging, packaging that can counter counterfeiters as well as convince consumers.
The Pernod Ricard division has become a master of the art. To convince anyone to part with $200,000 for a bottle of blended whisky takes an inordinate amount of skill and effort. But with prestige products, such as the afore-described Royal Salute Tribute to Honour, it’s not just about the 45-year-old liquid. It’s a trip to Scotland to meet the master blender Colin Scott, it’s a flagon of deep colours and multi-layer embossing, debossing and jewels (413 diamonds to be exact). It’s the perception that the product is so special it wasn’t produced, it was born. So rare it could almost justifiably be called unique on the press release, although not quite – 21 bottles were made.
“Prestige is a big focus area for Pernod Ricard,” says Eric Benoist, international marketing manager of Chivas Brothers, who was also in Paisley for the grand opening and royal visit. “There’s a softening of growth in the emerging markets, but if you look at the medium term there is a lot of demand for prestige products from those markets.”
Tribute to Honour is probably not the product that is spearheading luxury spirits growth – its low volume makes it more a matter for hand-sale than point-of-sale. What Chivas calls ‘prestige’ could probably also be described as ‘luxury’ and starts at about £70/$100 a pack point – such as the Royal Salute 21-year-old.
Simultaneously, luxury/prestige products are part of the wide-ranging gifting channel [note: the verb form of ‘gift’ has been in use for 400 years, according to the Oxford Dictionary]. But, in theory, a gift should be aimed at the end consumer – for once the customer is not the customer but the conduit. In practice, though, gift packaging has to flash its skirt at the punter with the readies, not the loved one, friend or boss back home. Indeed, you can never assume the product ever leaves the hands of the customer you put it into.