I was sitting watching television with my 13 year old daughter when a perfume advertisement came on. At the end of it, she turned to me and said: "what on earth was that about?" I started off by explaining that it's difficult to communicate the essential nature of perfume - aroma - in a purely visual medium, therefore analogy needs to be used, maybe the director needs to paint a picture of what the perfume inspires.
As I was doing this the words began to falter. My life force seemed to ebb away. "You're right," I told her. "It is nonsense. It means nothing at all. It's all surface, it all gloss, there's no deep thinking behind any of this." Then I thought. Jesus. That's the way Scotch is heading.
At the risk of coming across like an old grouch (again) what on earth is going on with Scotch whisky events? I recall in the old days you would be gathered into a room, there would be bottles, there would be someone charming and well-informed telling you about the whisky in question, and you would taste it. OK, it's fairly traditional, but it seemed to work. Clearly I was wrong on most counts.
These days it would appear the only way in which you can get any sort of credibility for a whisky is by inviting (i.e. paying) for 'celebrities', hiring an expensive venue, putting on a show: - a film, a band, a DJ, dancers, jugglers, fire-eaters; recreations of a number of World War II films.
You fly in ice from Greenland's melting glaciers while being blissfully unaware of the deep irony in doing so; you pour whisky onto model's bodies and get your guests slurping from their perfect contours; you hire elephants to spray whisky over the excited crowd; you put on a foam party rave with the cunning twist that the whisky is the foam; you do the launch underwater, in space, on Mars. The spectacle is all.
If in doubt, you have jelly. You have jelly in the shape of a distillery, jelly in the shape of the distillery manager, you have Scotland-shaped jelly, you have whisky flavoured jelly, you have jelly, jelly, jelly, everywhere.
I like a party as much as the next person - which as far as I can tell means that I actually hate them (the party that is) - but I will happily attend something whisky related if it is indeed going to tell me - and all tho' other folk in attendance, something about the juice on offer. I can put up with a little dry ice, maybe with the new expensive film, as long as there is someone there who stops it all at some point and says, "the real reason we are here today is…this" and pours me a dram.
What I don't need is to be at what is essentially a kid's party: games, balloons, entertainers, tiny amounts of food… and blinkin jelly. Whisky is a grown-up drink so why infantilise it? Right enough if I knew the answer I wouldn't be scratching a living writing this. Trust me.
I mentioned this to a friend of many years standing (and sitting). "The thing is, the whisky firms are just rushing around looking for the next shiny thing," said wearily. There's this lack of direction and consistency - a fear of being left behind, which is taking whisky away from what it is: a drink, and into some conceptual area.
It smacks of agencies thinking in terms of the concept and not actually sitting down and drinking and understanding the liquid. You can imagine the meeting:
"Give everyone a scooter?" "No".
"Bungee jumping? "No."
"Monkey tennis?" "No."
…… "er.. jelly?" Brilliant!
This isn't necessarily the agencies fault - it's the brief they are given and the lack of someone at the client's head office having the cojones to say. "Actually, no."
So here's a few suggestions. Instead of making self congratulatory films, invest in the Scottish film industry. Instead of paying a band to play at a reception for 100 people, invest in the Scottish music scene, or sponsor Celtic Connections and put on tastings. Start a fund to pay for apprenticeships for young craftspeople in Scotland. Forget the spectacle and get back to the, dare I use the term, truths about whisky. Ultimately that's what people want.
Oh and by the way please stop it with the jelly.