When whisky makers send out samples to journalists and bloggers, they usually come in a jiffy bag or a small cardboard box. Inside you will find – depending on your importance to the producer – smaller or bigger sample bottles, usually with laser printed labels, sometimes even handwritten. There will be an accompanying letter saying something like “Here is our latest whisky. Please try it, we would like to know how you like it.” If you are lucky, you even get an invitation to the offical launch at some fancy place nearby or far-off – depending on your importance to the producer.
That’s so 2010… For the launch of Thor, the first episode of their new Valhalla Saga, Highland Park have thought of something a little different. They sent out boxes containing little boxes containing little bags containing little rune charms, along with mysterious clues about what may happen in a couple of days.
What a clever move. It is actually a paradigm shift from regarding the writers as essentially business partners on eye level (I give you a sample, you give me a review) to putting them on the same level as the potential customers, as targets for public relations and marketing…while still leveraging their position as multiplicators in the market.
And it worked out! Last weekend almost all bloggers who received such a package got out their cameras, took pictures of the mysterious content and multiplicated them on social media like Facebook and Twitter. With or without noticing (who is to judge this?) they have become beacons of anticipation, hype mongers on their task to create excitement just like before the release of a new Harry Potter tome or Apple gadget.
But this release sets new standards in other respects too. Not so much the mock Viking boat packaging that actually looks more like a lyre. Everything is wrapped in Norse ballyhoo that puts virtually all competitors to shame.
Highland Park isn’t just a simple whisky anymore that you enjoy in your comfy leather chair from a nosing glass, exploring the unique flavour profile of heather honey, mild peat and gentle fruitiness that makes it such a marvelous dram. No, it has become an elixir, a magic potion that sedates you, transfers you to the stormy and misty shore of the Orkney Islands…and then onwards and upwards, right to Valhalla. There you feast on it surrounded by the pantheon of Norse gods, and you drink it from the skulls of those Celts from that other island on the opposite side of Scotland.
Hasn’t whisky marketing become a bit like car marketing? The How being more important than the What? The ‘inner values’ of a car are secondary. Fuel consumption, CO2 emission, torque? Will I be able to fit a whisky barrel into the boot? Can I run it on Bruichladdich X4 without engine modifcation? Forget it! What counts is the erection that I get when powering along the autobahn at full throttle in top gear, or steering it on a long and winding coastal road.
Highland Park Thor is introduced by emotional marketing at its very best, hats off! Rational thinking proves insufficient anway to explain the pricing of £120 for a bottle of 16 yo cask strength whisky with a ‘limitation’ of 23000 bottles.