I saw the release bumf for the Johnnie Walker Blue Winter’s Edition the other day, and it reminded me of an occasion some time last year when I went into a supermarket and saw a box of cereal. At least, I’m fairly sure it was cereal, because the box was the right sort of shape, with that tab thing on top. Other than that, there wasn’t actually much hint as to what was inside, because the packaging was smothered, absolutely saturated, with images from Frozen. Not that I have any problem with the film (fun story, consistently solid songs, the irony of Jonathan Groff landing his big Disney role only to end up singing 4 lines in the whole film), or indeed with the idea of leveraging an association with a well-known brand to boost sales, but when a cereal is so concerned with selling itself that you can’t tell what the ‘itself’ it’s selling actually is, then things have gone too far.
In the case of the Winter’s Edition, maybe I’m being a bit harsh – Johnnie Walker aren’t leveraging someone else’s brand, they’re using their own, and credit where credit’s due, a lot of skill and effort has gone into creating and maintaining that brand and the quality of whisky they produce. But as far as I can tell, the idea behind this particular release is that Johnnie Walker do great whiskies, you should buy the Blue Label as a gift because the Blue Label is the best gift, everyone says so, and this one has Winter in the name, so it’s great for Christmas. It feels like the marketing equivalent of a Donald Trump speech.
I’m sure everyone’s got their own bugbear, some case where the salesman has left the product behind in a rush to grab attention. For a luxury item like whisky, with a price range that goes up further than the Kuala Lumpur skyline, there’s always going to be a trade off between putting whisky in the bottle and putting it in a bottle that people will buy. That’s fine, that’s what you’d expect, but everyone has their own priorities, and if you’re only interested in the liquid, how much mind should you pay the marketing framework?
Because it can go one of two ways. You could say that money is being wasted on highfalutin packaging, and the value for money of the whisky is dropping. Or you could say that Brand X has some great stuff on their hands, so they’re sparing no expense to present it at its best. I’d love to be able to taste a whisky and form an opinion divested of all those trappings, and I try, I really do. Sometimes I think I succeed, but if I’m honest, I don’t think I’m Zen enough to actually do it. There will always be a little bit of preconception colouring my judgment.