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Under The Hammer Of Thor

by Oliver Klimek on February 1, 2012

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.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Marc February 1, 2012 at 11:24 am

Hi Oliver. Couldn’t agree with you more! Would I like to taste Thor? Of course! Would I purchase a bottle? Hells no! I’m so over the hype and PR of this release and the range. Thor even has his own twitter account and FB page. Less marketing, more whisky!

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Oliver Klimek February 1, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Serge has already published his review on Whiskyfun, seems to be a very good whisky! I wouldn’t have expected it to be different.

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Gal February 1, 2012 at 11:38 am

On the money Oliver.
I’ve been tweeting about it all week. And last night I asked
Mighty thor’s twitter account to lowner the price. He’s a god after all.
120 £ for 16 yo CS ? What the hell.
And 22000 is oh so limited.
Enough with the pr costing us a fortune.
Enough with wooden boxes.
We like Hp whisky. And we like to drink it.
More whisky. Less pr.
More whisky cheaper packaging.
A brilliant whisky needs no twitter. It will sell.

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Ryan February 1, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Gal, I hear you on that. It’s easy for us to say. Of course this whisky would sell without any fanfare, for half the price, and of course that’s what we want. But, then the distillery wouldn’t make as much money. With the hype and packaging, they can sell the same whisky for double the price and make more money off of it. They’ll keep doing it until people stop paying for it.

They DID do a good job on this marketing though – it actually took me a few moments to move from “ooohh, shiny!” to “what the hell!?” I’m sure there will be 22000 people that get stuck on “ooohh, shiny!”

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Oliver Klimek February 1, 2012 at 7:28 pm

I agree 100%, Ryan. We should never forget that marketing is not about telling folks how great the product is. It is about setting the stage to sell to as many people as possible for as much money as possible. Currently this ‘high price folkloristic flamboyancy’ strategy works well, so they do it. Should we blame Highland Park or the people who make this strategy worthwhile by being prepared to shell out triple digit amounts for such a bottle? A handful of critics isn’t really bothersome for HP. Sooner or later the pendulum will swing back towards intrinsic values. A good marketing department will recognize this sooner than a bad one.

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Gal Granov גל גרנוב (@galg) February 2, 2012 at 8:26 am

good points.
I do hope things change for the better(for us consumers). i really like HP whisky.
but i do hate to pay over for a bottle.
a 120 GBP is not cheap, and i would also agree to loose all the packaging, so prices can be cut. after all, whisky is for drinking, and not for decoration

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kallaskander February 2, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Hi there,

HP stopped using the Pictish symbols when they switched to the peddlers bottle they now use. Balblair put them on their packages and bottles when they switched to vintage bottlings at about the same time.
Since then HP rediscovered the Norse Celtic and Pictish heritage as they saw fit. They used it for über-premiumisation mostly.

And don’t we forget who the owner of HP is and what their ultimate aim is.

Something along

http://www.whiskywhiskywhisky.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=5959

Greetings
kallaskander

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kallaskander February 2, 2012 at 2:29 pm
Tore February 6, 2012 at 10:07 pm

hi Oliver
i would love to try the new highlander thor…i read the tasting notes,and love it..powerfull like the god of thunder..think it’s a nice idea from highlander!!

norwegian 26y.o.

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Pieter February 7, 2012 at 10:18 am

That packaging is expensive… how much does it cost? €15? Let’s assume the whisky is worth €60 without all the fanfare. Now they double the price because of some high-end good looking packaging. (I’m not a fan of these practises, but I must admit it’s fancy!)

I guess they’ve done enough research to know that they will sell all bottles. The only thing is that the batch size is (getting) really big now. If they try this with all the other special releases to come as well, then (also when this Valhalla saga is over) I really hope people will get tired of it and start buying 2 normal looking bottles from other companies.

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