KW Keith Wood, Markt Schwaben,Germany
KG Kenneth Graham Crieff, UK
MM Michael Medve Emeryville, USA
PM Pierre Mullin Fredericton, Canada Does packaging affect how the customer views a brand?KW: At the moment the whisky industry is enjoying a real boom period which is forecast to not only continue, but to possibly increase even further with the development of new markets in countries like China. So, as all major distilleries and corporations look to increase their market share, product branding and image are more important than ever in this exciting period of growth.In this great industry, product branding and recognition is achieved primarily through the packaging and projection of individual product image. So yes, the packaging has great influence on how a customer, or prospective new customer views a brand.Some companies choose to project an image of tradition and ‘olde worlde elegance’ while others move towards new styles which project clarity in their labelling and packaging.To give an example, in a recent whisky tasting I spoke with a freelance marketing expert (from an industry other than whisky) and asked him to compare two styles of packaging of the same product. This was an example of one single malt whisky, but with one bottle in the previous livery and another bottle of the same whisky in the new livery.He immediately focused on the changes pointing out how the new livery and bottle shape offered more clarity (and less clutter), especially on the label which made product recognition much easier for a customer.In addition, with the new label being slightly smaller, it allowed the lovely colour of the whisky to be seen on a shelf, rather than just the labels which would have been prominent with the older version.So, with this in mind, I have to say that the packaging most certainly projects an image of the product and in turn, the image will determine how the brand is perceived by a customer.KG:Well yes, of course it does. Presentation of any product starts with a visual impact that draws the customer to it. Better quality of packaging leads a customer to believe that the product inside is just as impressive. It’s a psychological thing – a bit like buying a car. If it looks uncared for on the outside, then the chances are that little attention has been given to the inside.MM:Absolutely. I will never forget the look on my friend’s face when I showed him my brand new bottle of Ardbeg 10 Years Old. As with the marketing of all products, you must have a unified theme. The beautiful sunny background works perfectly for Arran, but Lagavulin might seem out of place in such a bottle.PM: I believe that packaging has a certain impact on brand perception, mainly at the extreme ends of the spectrum. For example, very poor packaging produces an immediate, yet often unconscious, negative impression, regardless of what we may profess about “it’s what’s inside the bottle that counts”.Conversely, well conceived distinctive packaging imparts an aura of competence to a brand.2. Does packaging have an impact on a customer when buying whisky?KW: Whether a whisky projects an image of tradition and of not having been changed through the ages, or one of being very modern and perhaps even ‘designed’ for today’s market is the choice of the distiller or bottler, but either way, this image is projected and as such it cannot do other than have an impact on someone buying the product.However, there are people who will make repeat purchases of a brand that they like no matter what the packaging projects, so I would conclude that even though it does affect the customers’ perceptions, it would probably have most ‘impact’ on a new customer looking for something they have not tried before.KG: I think this really depends on the customer. Occasional whisky drinkers may well be influenced by the outside packaging and marketing of whisky is not immune to using illusionary tricks with shape, colour and images. Indeed I would not be surprised if some companies insist on being placed next to certain competitors on the shelf so they stand out.However, I would guess that enthusiasts are more likely to look at information contained on the label rather than what it looks like.MM:When I go shopping for whisky with friends, often they will point at the whisky in the special decanter or wooden box and say: “How much does that one cost?” It says more about the value and quality of the whisky to the less informed than any amount of discussion about distillation, casks and aging can. If the purchaser is looking for a status symbol, a 30 year old with an impressive decanter is worth the price increment over another 30 year old in standard packaging, irrespective of quality.PM: Sure, to a degree, but I would put it in third place as a criterion, after quality and price. All else being equal, when I am shopping for something new and have a few ‘to buy’ expressions in the back of my mind, I’ll go for the nicer packaging as a tie-breaker. On the other hand, you could probably package my favourites in re-cycled beer bottles and I would still buy them.3. What innovations in packaging have caught your eye recently?KW: As I mentioned, the industry is currently enjoying a boom and many companies are looking to bring their products to new drinkers and the new markets, so they are taking this opportunity to re-package their products and project specific images. Some products have been ‘modernised’ with the introduction of taller, narrower bottles and smaller, clearer labelling (like Macallan and Bowmore), while others (like Highland Park) have chosen to re-package with a much more traditional presentation which reflects more of their roots.But whichever the direction chosen, these products are more noticeable now and I am sure will benefit from immediate product recognition in the marketplace.KG: Clever packaging such as that which Glenrothes employ, really stands out. A shelf full of their bottles looks very appealing – simple and understated. Personally, I am not overly keen on fancy museum style cases or wonderfully constructed wooden boxes. To me this smacks of over elaboration.MM:I’ve heard endless praise for the packaging of Douglas Laing premier barrel. I have to agree that the ceramic decanter is both very different and very attractive with a classic edge to it.I think the repackaging of Highland Park was money well spent. It used to be the only connoisseur’s whisky without a classic look to it. The new logo, bottle and artwork are a magnificent fit.PM: At the negative end of the spectrum, there are certain brands that look more like a bottle of vintage liquid household cleaner than something I would think of imbibing.