It all started on a Monday morning with a phone call from my industry chum Rupert. On his scrambled private mobile line, no less, from the first class BA lounge at Heathrow. "Listen", he said, "do you remember the Latin American advertising campaign you helped us with last year?" Well, how could I forget ?It was one of my less successful adventures in the world of Scotch advertising: I had found myself locked in a creative brainstorming session in a Hoxton bunker with two skateboarding morons, Josh and Jezza. We were working on a brief to promote deluxe blended Scotch to young fashionable early-adopters, whilst retaining and emphasising core product values and truths. I was there (naturally) to represent product and truth; Josh and Jezza (collective age somewhere in the region of 27) were there for the youth and fashion angle. And quite possibly adoption. The final outcome of the campaign had never been clear to me, but as I commented to Rupert, the combination of explicit sex and horses didn't really seem to fit with heather and tartan. So the whole campaign had been pulled. With two months to go before the end of the financial year Rupert had a small fortune that had to be spent. "So we're going to build another bloody Visitor Centre on Speyside and I want you to get down to the designers, pronto. Sorry, got to rush, flight has been called..."Two days later I was ushered into the palatial London offices of society designer Quentin Deacead, or Mr Dick, as he was known to the Armani-suited acolytes who hovered haplessly at his shoulders. Quentin is renowned for his work in the whisky industry, with insouciant Brand Managers queuing at his door like supplicants at the cave of some medieval mystic, seeking magical cures for their ailing brand identities, logos and labels. Quentin always seemed to deliver a new design which, rather like the Emperor's new clothes, fooled most, but not all of the people, most of the time. In return the supplicants left offerings not of nuts and berries, but cheques for never less than six-figure sums. He sighed. "I hate rushed jobs John, but the brief's robust, the budgets in place, and the objectives are clear. Besides all of that I owe Rupert a favour for nominating me as a lifetime Keeper of the Quaich. Forget all that heritage and craftsmanship bullshit; this one is all about taste. That's what really motivates our potential consumers - the origin and complexity of taste, the language of taste and the sensory pleasure that taste delivers. And that's where you, oh tastemeister, fit in."With a touch of the switch the table-top turned like something out of a James Bond film to reveal an expensively crafted Lego model of what appeared to be the distillery in question. "It's a guide free experience - none of those couthy wifeys from Archiestown with their homespun humour and detailed knowledge of wort
composition. Though we have hired a few tattooed actors from RADA to take on the role of artisans. Once the voice training and attitude coaching is complete they'll be ready to chip in with witty observations and pithy asides to our guests as they navigate themselves through the main stages of the production facility. "We'll be starting with grain of course - revamping the Bobby Mill to make it look as if it works, and delivering a full in your face grist and flour experience. Then through to the dough room - yeast, water and flour mixed together in the antique open-topped mash tun, before resting and rising in the tun-room. We'll strip out the fermenters and use them to make rustic benches for the garden-centre zone. A lot of work to be done getting the coal-fires back up to speed, but we have to have whisky's first hands-on direct fired copper-oven experience available in the still room for day one..."By this stage I was a bit confused. "Hang on Dick", I exclaimed, "this isn't a distillery, it's a bloody bakery!" The acolytes cringed and turned their eyes to the floor, but Quentin Deacead simply looked at me sadly, shook his head, and sighed again. "Once John, just once, you might like to read the brief," he explained.Rupert & Co, up to their necks in so much third-rate Speyside whisky that they can't even sell it to third-party bottlers, key-
identified the need for high-value consumers visiting distilleries in Scotland (identified as a result of worldwide three year research project): less whisky, more high-value bakery products. "Gordon Ramsay's designed the pies, Nick Nairn has specified the scones, Lady Claire MacDonald (here he paused and crossed himself) conceptualised the cakes. Your job is to write the tasting notes."Now it was my time to sigh - I never ceased to be amazed at the whisky industry's ability to surprise me. "Tasting notes for tarts", I said, "you must be joking !" Quentin silently pushed a cheque across the table towards me and as I read it I realised I was trapped like a biscuit in a barrel. More noughts than you could shake Bill Gates at - what could a hungry hack do? Four days later my phone rang again. "John? It's Rupert. How's the Broccoli Quiche?"
"Surprisingly peaty," I replied.