In October 2004, French luxury goods conglomerate Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton S.A (LVMH) bought Glenmorangie plc from the Macdonald family who had been in possession of the company since 1918. The portfolio included Glenmorangie, Ardbeg and Glen Moray distilleries as well as the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS).
This was not just another takeover like Pernod Ricard’s acquisition of several distilleries from Seagram. As it has turned out, this was not only an attempt to get a foot into the whisky business but also a strategic move to convert the somewhat dusty and folkloristic image of Scotch whisky into that of a luxury commodity.
What LVMH has done in recent years teaches us a lesson in marketing, whether you like the results or not. In this series of articles I will take a closer look at their actions.
Where did the Sixteen Men of Tain Go?
“Handcrafted by the sixteen men of Tain” was the motto of the Old Glenmorangie, utterly rooted in the tradition of artisan whisky making, refined by centuries of experience. Bottles were adorned with deliberately old fashioned looking labels that proudly showed the distillery as a drawing.
But this corporate identity was counterproductive for the integration of Scotch whisky into a portfolio of global luxury brands. The poor sixteen men of Tain with their callous hands, sweating in the still house or stacking up casks in dusty old warehouses could have never won a fight with glitzy supermodels holding chi-chi handbags and champagne glasses in their skinny hands.
So LVMH decided to do a major revamp of the Glenmorangie brand, turning the most popular single malt sold in Scotland into a brand of global appeal. Ditch the old still-necked spirit bottle, design trendy new labels and invent new names that will evoke a feeling of luxury for anyone from Sao Paolo to Shanghai.
Now the transition is finished, and we have a product range that displays the same nonchalant boredom as anything else that has been put through the grinder of a globalized marketing department: Perfectly marketable products called Original (aka 10 yo), Lasanta (aka Sherry Wood Finish), Quinta Ruban (aka Port Wood Finish), Nectar d’Or (aka Sauternes Finish), Astar (aka Artisan Cask) or Extremely Rare (aka 18 yo).
Luckily the whisky itself hasn’t changed too much. It was good before and it is good now. Just the prices are up to pay for the marketing expenses.
But Where is the Luxury?
Distilleries like Dalmore, Glenfiddich, Macallan and others regularily release very old whiskies for extremely high prices. Single malts aged 40, 50 or even more years can be sold with four or even five-digit price tags. Now you would have expected a dedicated supplier of luxuries like LVMH to come up with something along this line. But all they have to offer is their new Signet with no age statement (!) for €100+ and a 25yo for a measely €300. And we take notice that they already call their 18 yo “Extremely Rare”.
This is a clear signal that Glenmorangie – despite having been in contiuous operation for over sixty years – have no old stock to speak of that they could use for true luxury bottlings. If they had, they wouldn’t have hesitated a minute to offer it to the rich and famous. But who cares? Clever marketing will make up for that.
The series will continue with a look at Ardbeg.