The Changing Landscape of Luxury Spirits

by Ivan Navarro on 09/23/2014 | 5 Minute Read

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The luxury sector in Western markets has undergone considerable change in the last decade or so – the economic crisis and depression helped expedite a shift away from ostentatious, flashy design cues in favour of subtlety, craft and story. 

The rise of the Millennial generation has also heralded the dawn of ‘New Wave Luxury’, where the overall brand experience is valued almost as much, sometimes more so, as the material product itself. These changing perceptions of luxury have manifested themselves in the luxury spirits category, as brand messaging and structural packaging evolves to accommodate new consumer motivations.

ModernShe

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With increased wealth, independence and empowerment, ModernShe is turning her eye to luxury products and services that were historically ‘male territory’. As a result, many brands are seeking to specifically appeal to the rising affluent female consumer. 

ModernShe has turned to historically male-orientated whisky consumption as a new status symbol, as she sips her way to social and economic success. For example, spirits group Diageo estimates that over 29% of whiskey drinkers in the UK are women – a figure that is expected to continue to grow. 

To capitalise on this emerging need, Ballantine’s created a limited edition drinking set named ‘Balance’ to celebrate the ritual of drinking their 12-year-old Scotch. The set was designed by an all-female design agency and focuses on being more of a delicate, gravity-defying sculpture than your traditional whisky drinking set.


Storytellers

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The art of storytelling has always been a key aspect of the luxury spirits category, and an important differentiator. However, telling a story has increasingly taken centre stage for many brands, as they seek to appeal to consumer motivations for empowerment through knowledge and differentiate themselves in a market congested with messages of provenance and ingredients. 

Manifesting this unique story on-pack has moved away from text on the label to more of an intrinsic embodiment, such as the bottle structure, label shape or type of closure used. 

Path’s Pisko Revo concept tapped into this trend, with the story of why the product was first created represented by the tax-stamp format of the label, and the concrete ‘cork’ being a tactile representation of the ‘pisko’ manufacturing process in Peru. 

By telling the story across a range of different touchpoints, from structure and label, through to serve and glassware, brands are developing more depth, character and authenticity into their story.


Luxury of Less

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In Western cultures, the economic crisis accelerated the return to more crafted, considered, subtle manifestation of luxury that is less reliant on a brand name or marque. Fashion houses have been slowly reducing the size of their logos on their products - sometimes eliminating them altogether.

Many spirits brands have looked to strip back the superfluous from their identity, and inject an icon feel to their product expression. In a category full of high-theatre, intricate stories and ostentatious packaging, whispering can be louder than shouting. 

There’s still a strong need for brands to express heritage, provenance and premium values on spirits packaging, but with a new focus on communicating it with subtle cues on packaging structure or with tactile elements that convey craft and an eye for detail. 


Multi-sensorial experience

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Brands are aware that millennial consumers expect a broader experience from their drinks – either with a lifestyle focus, or a multi-sensory execution. With research showing that engaging additional senses heightens tastes profiles, spirits brands are looking to use sight and sound to enhance their product experience. 

The Singletons Sensorium sought to leverage this with a one-off event that consisted of a number of rooms, each with a unique set of sounds, scents and colours. As people sipped the 12 year old they’d experience different taste notes, depending on the environment that surrounded them.

Consumers are increasingly used to brands in other categories, such as cosmetics, fashion and automotive, using digital platforms to create engaging branded experiences. The use of digital technology is also helping drinks brands express the more ethereal notions and emotive values of their product, either visually or through sound. 

For example, at the Johnnie Walker House in Seoul, the Diageo-owned brand used digital art, textural movement and audio to create a video installation that evokes the character and taste of the whisky.

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By Ben Sillence, Director of Strategy at Path

Ben is a creative strategist with a background in product and packaging design, and joined Path in 2012. With a belief that strategic innovation works best with creative thinking, he has helped grow some of the world’s largest brands, such as JTI, SABMiller, P&G, Dell, PepsiCo and Kraft. Using a highly visual and design-led approach to strategy, he’s helped brands develop and use a front-end process that results in tangible results and meaningful innovation.

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