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Why Ballantine's whisky is going for golf in a big way

After England’s disappointment at the World Cup, at least some British sportsmen enjoyed success at The Open and the Scottish Open recently. One brand that has thrown its weight behind golf is Ballantine's whisky. Brand director Peter Moore explains why golf has become so important to the brand.

Ask anybody to name the planet’s best selling whisky brands and chances are they will guess at Bells, Famous Grouse or Johnnie Walker. It’s also a fair bet that the brand of Ballantine’s Scotch Whisky, founded by George Ballantine in Glasgow in 1827, won’t even enter the conversation.

But get your head around these stats: Every second of every day of every year two bottles of Ballantine’s whisky are sold to somebody somewhere in the world.

At any one time Ballantine’s has six million casks of whisky held in storage to sell or to use in mixing its various whisky blends. Bearing in mind a standard cask holds approximately 190 litres of whisky that means Ballantine’s has almost 1.2 billion litres of whisky in stock or to put it into some imaginable context that is around 400 Olympic size swimming pools of whisky.

So, it is fair to say that despite the brand not tripping off tongues in the UK, the planet’s second highest selling blended whisky brand - Ballantine’s - is a pretty huge business, especially in its major exports markets of Korea, China and on the European continent.

With impressive stats like this to bandy around you might think that marketing, distributing and selling the stuff is easy, but like all heritage brands Ballantine’s has to strive to stay one step ahead of the competition, of which there is plenty.

GOLF LINKS
To this end, Ballantine’s brand director Peter Moore and international marketing manager Jon Lane were in Scotland recently to unveil new packaging for its prestige range of whiskies at the Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond and also to celebrate signing up as a sponsor of that golf tournament for a further three years.

Golf is becoming increasingly important to Ballantine’s. As well as the Scottish Open, the brand also sponsors its own golf tournament - The Ballantine’s Championship held in Korea - and Ballantine’s also sponsors US Open champion golfer Graham McDowell, pictured left.

Ballantine’s was also a sponsor of The Omega Mission Hills World Cup held in China last year and Ballantine’s actually sponsored its first golf tournament way back in 1960 at Wentworth.

Explaining why the brand continues to so closely align itself with golf and why he has just signed up as a sponsor of the Scottish Open for a further three years Moore says: “We are immensely proud to be strengthening our links with golf over the next three years here at the Scottish Open, particularly because we have also committed to hosting The Ballantine’s Championship until 2013.”

“We feel that the synergies between golf and Ballantine’s are just right and whisky, golf and golfers have many shared values. To become a golf professional takes a great deal of time, commitment, dedication and skill, which is exactly the same as making great whisky. We do get lots of offers for sponsorship based around other sports, but we have found golf to be a very rich territory for us and there is still lots for us to do in golf so we have not moved into any other areas as yet. We feel that you can play a little too much with your brand equity and if you are not careful can end up doing damage. We feel it would be wrong to depart from our golf strategy simply to chase too many eyeballs.”

Like all other industries the whisky industry has suffered from the global recession, but Moore says that the recent re-signing of the brand’s golf sponsorships pays testament to the belief in marketing by Ballantine’s parent company Pernod Ricard.

“The past few years in the whisky market has been tough like all markets,” says Moore. “The Duty Free market took a down turn as traffic through these outlets dropped very quickly when things turned bad. That said we found markets like China, France and Eastern Europe continued to perform well for our brands. We have remained committed to marketing our brands and have continued to invest in marketing while many other brands have moved away from it. The renewal of the sponsorship of both of our golf-based properties proves out commitment to golf and that we feel it is absolutely the right thing to do for this brand. We have also continued to invest in advertising in our overseas markets as we believe that advertising is important for our brands.”

“We have always felt that the danger of not investing in your marketing when times are tough is that when economically things start to recover you find yourself and your brand playing catch up, which is never a good place to be.”

NEW LOOK
The packaging re-design comes around six years after the last design tweak was affected shortly after the brand was acquired by Allied Domecq. Now part of the Pernod Ricard drinks portfolio, it was felt that now was the right time to bring the bottle design and packaging for its prestige range of 17, 21 and 30 Year Old whiskies up to date to reflect the quality product inside the glass.

Brand director Peter Moore says: “We have really looked to move the brand and look on now. We had to stay true to the brand heritage but wanted to bring it into the modern age. We did some initial research in our key markets of China and Korea to make sure that they were buying into what we were doing with the new look. The new packaging was first launched in the Asia Duty Free outlets a few weeks ago and will go into Korea around the end of August, then we will roll it out worldwide.”

The new packaging designs were developed by relatively small London design studio Nude Design, which has worked with Ballantine’s on design projects before.

“We have worked with Nude in the past and we really like what they do. They are quite a boutique agency, not one of your massive global design agencies. They came up to Scotland to spend some time with us so that they could really get under the skin of Ballantine’s and understand the brand and what it stands for.

“We believe that the bottles and the cases look crafted now and reflect the workmanship that goes into creating these products. The packaging now compliments the product inside. Before we felt it was too quiet. Ballantine’s is not a really showy brand, but we wanted the packaging to really look the part.”

The new packaging was revealed to the UK whisky (and marketing) press at the Scottish Open Golf Championship held last week and it is golf which Ballantine’s uses to great effect to build the brand right around the world. Ballantine’s continued belief in golf paid dividends recently when the pro golf player that the brand has sponsored for a few years, Graham McDowell, won the US Open at Augusta, one of the biggest competitions in the world.

DIGITAL MARKETING
The brand is also becoming increasingly focused on digital marketing and has three websites, but it is the recently launched Planballantines.com site that is perhaps the most forward thinking site it has. It is very much focused on social media and looks to bring together all of the major social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube) and offer Ballantine’s fanatics a way to really interact and communicate with the brand.

“We are very much involved in digital,” says Moore. “It used to be an additional thing we would do on top of the usual advertising, point of sale display and PR and so on, but now digital marketing is very much front of mind for Ballantine’s. We have proprietary websites for Ballantine’s, The Ballantine’s Championship and also we have the Plan Ballantine’s website, which is really targeted towards social media users and platforms, enabling Ballantine’s fans to keep in touch with us and interact with the brand through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and so on. The number of Facebook fans is growing quite rapidly, we have around 46,000 fans at the moment and are adding around 3,000 a week. The challenge for all brands today is how to interact with consumers and persuade them of the genuine value that they can add to their experiences.”

Featured by The Drum

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