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Dewar’s Rebranding Just Months After Pulling Sexist Ad

by Oliver Klimek on April 8, 2014

Whisky brand revamps are usually non-events here on Dramming. But reading yesterday’s news that Dewar’s had ‘unveiled’ a new look for its range, this just cannot be left uncommented.

Most of you will have heard about the infamous “Meet the Baron” commercial that was retracted in December 2013 after it had caused a massive wave of complaints on social networks for being sexist. The ad depicted overweight women as undesirable and a threat to avoid at all costs. Luckily the campaign was succesful and Dewar’s deleted all traces of the spot within a day.

00058-1975-150-004And now, not even four months later, the brand receives a complete overhaul. The new labels are strongly inspired by the classic design with the concave top margin reminiscent of the row of award medals which used to be prominently featured on the old bottles.

The rebranding is all about the heritage of the brand, it is a look back at the rich history of Dewar’s Scotch whisky. This effectively is a 180 degree turn away from the “The Drinking Man’s Scotch” campaign, which the Baron ad was a part of and which was only introduced in late 2012, a campaign whose philosphy culminated in the sentence

“The tweed and tradition that dominate Scotch whisky will be subverted to reintroduce DEWAR’S to a new generation of modern and urban men.”

A complete reversal of the marketing strategy after less than 18 months? A complete redesign of packaging after less than four years? This all costs serious money, and to me this looks indeed more like Dewar’s has pulled the emergency brake than like a long-planned strategy change.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Josh Feldman April 8, 2014 at 7:11 pm

Fascinating. It’s hard to believe a rag-tag little band of whisky bloggers could have caused the enormous and powerful forces of corporate whisky PR to pull back on a brand repositioning. But the timing makes it tantalizingly appear that way. Now, beyond just making the label curve like the row of medals from the 1860s-1930s, I’d love it if they could make the whisky taste sweet and honeyed and floral and smokey like the actual whiskey that won all those awards back in the day… Then they’d win me back as a customer…

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Peter April 8, 2014 at 10:18 pm

You’re right, Joshua, very hard to believe. Do we know when the new labels are hitting the shelves? If it’s happening now, then this redesign process started long before a few bloggers spoke their minds and somehow changed the world. Redesigns like this can move fairly slowly, especially when gov’t approval of labels comes into play. Four months would be lightning fast, and would signal some serious internal PR problems. Has there been any reporting/rumor of that?

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Oliver Klimek April 8, 2014 at 10:36 pm

Of course all this is just speculation, and most likely we will never know what really was said behind closed doors. Still, less than 4 years until a packaging gets totally revamped again appears to be rather short. This was definitely more than just a tweak. According to the TTB files Sku has been publishing, US label approval takes less than two months, sometimes only three weeks. I can imagine it would not take excessively long when the new label only has a different design and nothing else has changed. And the complete u-turn in marketing strategy after less than 18 months must be a reaction to how the “Drinking Man” campaign was received. The reaction to the sexist Baron may not have been the only influence. Claire Forlani was sarcastically criticized for her fake Scottish accent for example, and maybe the “man’s drink” mantra was not received well either. I could well be that the Baron disaster was just the final trigger to step on the brake.

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Peter April 8, 2014 at 11:16 pm

A quick look the TTB COLA search doesn’t show anything new from Dewar’s so perhaps they’ve not even received or started that process. I’m playing Devil’s advocate a bit here, in general, I don’t think bloggers have the influence you think they do, so I think speculation based on that is unrealistic. Dewar’s definitely seems to be flailing around a bit PR-wise, I agree with you there. Little changes in four years, not a big deal, big changes in four years…not a little deal. While 18 months isn’t necessarily a short life for an ad campaign, it was not well-received by the ad community as well, so no surprise they’re going a different direction there. Seems like they’re grasping for any kind of stronghold foothold. Maybe they need to work an image of a dapper walking man into their image?

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Oliver Klimek April 9, 2014 at 7:50 am

You somehow make it look as if this was only confined to the whisky blogosphere. But in the case of the retracted ad the influence of social media (not only bloggers as you state) proved to be very strong. I was suprised how quickly Dewar’s reacted. This has gone far beyond a handful of obscure whisky blogs. Actually the ad was retracted before many blogs reacted at all (this one included). “Whiskylassie” even was asked to do a radio interview and the story spilled over to general media.

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Billy April 9, 2014 at 11:09 am

I’m with Peter on the overestimation of the influence of bloggers (although I in no way want to do down the work of Johanne and the others who spoke up), but you already know that :)

The reception of the recent ads (especially Claire Forlani back when they started) may well have accelerated this current rebrand, but I’d be surprised if this hadn’t been in development since before the outgoing campaign had even aired.

If we’re going for speculation, maybe this was the plan all along – do a sexist ad, get a bad reaction, introduce their new advertising campaign ‘in response’, profit.

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Oliver Klimek April 9, 2014 at 11:13 am

As I sad, I don’t think blogging had much of an influence at all here. I am a bit surprised that this “bloggers overestimating their own influence” thing keeps popping up again and again.

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