Patience Gould was unsure about Diageo’s latest approach to Scotch marketing, but is coming round to David Beckham and blue bottles
Recently I was lucky enough to be invited by Diageo to a roundtable meeting to detail the rationale about its up and coming launch of Haig Club – its first mainstream foray into the grain Scotch whisky market. The aim was to explain the importance of grain whisky in its own right and, of course, to taste it. The information was in confidence until the formal press announcement, all of which added a goodly dose of cloak and dagger to proceedings.
Furthermore, the whisky was unnamed and unpackaged but Chris Clark – Diageo’s master blender who blended the whisky – was on hand to explain the rather industrial (in terms of sheer quantity at any rate) process of grain whisky production, which he did with considerable patience; it’s not easy and not that pretty either. And then we tasted it. Made from blending whiskies aged in three cask types, this is a good, rather more-ish, interesting and taste-wise much more immediately accessible whisky than a traditional blend of Scotch. According to the powers that be, it is “versatile and can be used in any cocktail made with rum”. An interesting statement.
All of which had me in a fever of anticipation, waiting for the formal announcement. So why was I disappointed when it came? Well, to start with the “celebrity endorsement” – of David Beckham and British entrepreneur Simon Fuller – made me shudder. Then I looked at the packaging – a bright royal blue in colour and more akin, shape-wise, to the after-shave market than a spirit. I shuddered a bit more and dabbed some behind my ears.
Accessibility though, is clearly what Diageo is looking for as head of whisky outreach Nick Morgan explained: “There are lots of people who want to taste Scotch but for some reason don’t, so we wanted to produce something that would have more appeal.”
However the result here is almost a dare to be different and history has proved that folk are not keen on being that different, particularly the younger lot, which is presumably why Monsieur Beckham has been brought in.
He, as one pundit put it, is second only to the Pope in the world renowned stakes, with huge iconic status in Asia. But while this grumpy old woman – that is, me - has never seen Beckham at the cutting edge of taste, he apparently is that when it comes to style. What’s more, aside from the tattoos that cover his perfectly honed torso, he’s so squeaky clean that it’s hard to imagine him downing a glass of wine, let alone a jigger of Scotch. That’s good too as he’s apparently going to front the ‘drink responsibly’ issues when it comes to Haig Club.
So what does Mr B think of this deal and “tie-up”? He says: “The House of Haig has a rich history and I’m proud to be working at the heart of a home-grown brand which has built an incredible heritage over 400 years. Working closely with Diageo, we look forward to collaborating on Haig Club, valuing and treasuring the Haig traditions while reinventing this whisky for years to come.” Corporate speak that says very little.