On the morning of 12 December, 2020, Simon Sinek’s TED Talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action had 52,852,152 views on YouTube. At the end of the day, it had two more because I watched it twice. I actually watch it every few months. I crave it like I crave watching a favourite movie or listening to a song I love.
In the clever 18-minute talk, he explains how companies, brands or people inspire loyalty by simply inspiring in a way that has nothing to do specifically with the company, brand or person. He presents his theory of the Golden Circle: three concentric circles representing the questions why, how and what, starting from the centre and moving outwards. He sums it up as, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Using Apple’s galactic success as an example, he explains that the company doesn’t present its computers and phones as highly efficient, user-friendly, beautiful machines (the “what”). Apple’s message, he explains, is, “We believe in challenging the status quo, we believe in thinking differently, we make products that are beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly.” By positioning itself as an idea, something that strikes at our emotions instead of the rational part of our brains, Apple presents the “why”. You can relate to it and want to be part of it.
“The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have,” Sinek defends. “The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe. What you do serves as the proof of what you believe.”
I was moved to re-watch this talk – which also brings fresh insight into the extraordinary triumphs of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Wright brothers – because I had just seen Glenmorangie’s new commercial. The minute-long spot evokes the vintage glamour of a Douglas Sirk film, the aggressive yet endearing quirkiness of Wes Anderson’s movies, and an aura of dreamy fantasy that feels like a mash-up of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland and a B-52’s video. The high-voltage technicolour palette is interspersed with powerful splashes of Glenmorangie’s signature tangerine. Images pop thanks to the creativity of celebrated photographer Miles Aldridge. The soulful, groovy crooning of British pop star Michael Kiwanuka propels the montage. Sturdy crystal rocks glasses filled with whisky and rattling ice are a recurring trope, but by no means the focus. Conspicuously absent are bagpipes, kilts and fireplaces. The tagline “It’s Kind of Delicious and Wonderful” leaves no room for analysis and given the use of “kind of” to hedge its assessment, it leaves no room for objection.
The whisky is merely the manifestation of a belief, a feeling, an impulse
If you pay sports-fan-calibre attention to the whisky industry, and the fact that you’re reading these pages proves that you do, you know that Glenmorangie has increasingly embraced a sense of whimsy in its branding, but thanks to the science-minded obsessions of Dr Bill Lumsden, director of distilling and whisky creation for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, the whiskies can be quite technical and high-concept.
That’s largely contributed to the brand’s massive appeal to career collectors, hard-core hobbyists and aspiring aficionados alike. I wanted to hear straight from Dr Bill, who helped design the campaign, what tipped the scales so forcefully on the side of the quixotic.
“I can talk about enzymic degradation of polysaccharides and some people really like that, but a majority of whisky drinkers, even those in the know, are not motivated
by technical aspects,” he told me. “I think of whisky on three levels: technical production, then in terms of how it tastes, and how it makes me feel. Sometimes you just say that you don’t need to worry about how it’s made or where a cask is sourced from. You just have to understand it’s delicious and enjoy it.”
The vivid, dazzling imagery of the commercial encourages that, even if I’m not holding a drink in my hand. It’s an idea that’s bigger than the whisky. The whisky is merely the manifestation of a belief, a feeling, an impulse. And boy, it sure looks fun. Who wouldn’t want in on it? That’s Sinek’s Golden Circle spinning at full speed, no science – or bagpipes or kilts – required.