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October 13, 2014
Whisk(e)y Looks to Win Younger Drinking Crowd
 
Very few liquors can trigger a conversation like whiskey can. Or is it whisky? It seems that our American brands "favor the whiskey," while our European friends "favour the whisky."

Tastes good no matter what you call it.

Brands of whiskey have relied on history, tradition, and style to push their products to responsible and legal drinkers. Whiskey has the reputation of needing a process more than others. Though many would think that the reputation is good, the sales are proving otherwise.

Yes, whiskey has seen its popularity lose to vodka, gin, and even rum amongst the next crop of young drinkers. Brand Republic is reporting that whiskey brands are re-forming their branding techniques in order to attract a new crowd to grow with.

Why rum, gin, and vodka? Because the social proof associated with drinking those spirits is much lower than the social proof of drinking whiskey. Yes, those people who like Tennessee whiskey versus Bourbon versus Scotch whisky all have different styles.

Our traditional drink is a bourbon with 2–4 ice cubes (best with crushed ice) and a splash of water. We're also "that guy" who shakes their head at the soul who dares to mix soda with a bourbon over nine years of age.

But who would care if someone preferred a vodka cranberry over a screwdriver? Or a Tom Collins over a gin and tonic? Or a strawberry daquiri over a rum and coke? Immediately, the argument loses its fire.

This younger crowd, the article points out, is not interested in learning the culture or the style of drinking a certain spirit. They want to simply taste the spirit while being a part of an entire experience. It is certainly a different perspective.

But is it really? The article showcases two ways whiskey brands that are battling this new assault on their sales. First, they are trying to talk with consumers instead of trying to teach them. Instead of positioning themselves as a teacher, the brands are looking to engage the young consumer. Could be effective, and if it fits the brand's strategy, the messaging could change to make the consumer a participant in shaping the brand.

The second way is creating craft varieties, therefore leaving the legacy of their flagship offerings to push something brand new or unique to the new consumer. This could be a very good strategy. The consumer would believe that the brand is creating something just for people like them. If they like the craft offering, they have the strong possibility of trying the real money-maker for the company.

Can this work? It's possible. Other bigwigs believe it can. David Beckham, of football/soccer fame, launched Haig Club Whisky, a craft single-grain whisky. Though it isn't a blended style of whiskey, which seems to be the trending type, Haig is brand-spanking new, so it has no legacy new drinkers need to worry about knowing.

We found this interesting because this speaks to how people want to associate. No one likes to be considered an outsider, so the fact that the traditional single, aged malts are facing difficulty proves that the new drinkers think the old guard is not ready to accept the new — the new look somewhere else to be welcomed. It is good for these brands to see that something needs to change. 

With revamped advertising methods, these whiskey providers will continue to succeed. But we're sure you knew that.

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Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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