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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Can whisky walk?

Olaf van Gerwen offers an insightful perspective on how portraying drinks can unlock the potential of distinctiveness


You are a CEO in FMCG. Or you aspire to be. That means you know the value of brand. In many corporations, brand is the most valuable asset on the balance sheet. Now, C-level humans can sometimes be a bit, how do I say this, distanced from everyday people. For you, product is all about COGS, production pipelines, distribution and shelf life. Brand is all about DNA, story, marketing and IP. But for my mom, Heinz is a bottle of ketchup. It’s the same.

Distinctiveness is what sets you apart from similar brands. It is achieved by developing mental cues, or asset, that build associations with your brand in the minds of consumers. And if there are more cues out there to remind people of you, you’ll become more famous. And you’ll enlarge the propensity of your brand coming to mind when someone gets hungry or thirsty.

Now, when visualising drinks, a challenge occurs. There’s but a few drinks that really look unique. Vodka, gin and tequila all look like water. Not just a bit, but 100 percent like water. Whisky, brandy and cognac look like each other. Or like tea. Pepsi looks like Coke, 7Up looks like Sprite and soda water and many seltzers and sparkling water – you catch my drift. Surely there’s distinctiveness in taste, but visually drinks tend to lack it. Unless…

Can whisky walk?

Recently I visited a kind gentleman at Diageo’s offices in Amsterdam, let’s call him Dave. In my opinion, they are the kingpins of luxury drinks brand building and I was seeking business with them. We talked film production and photography. But mostly, we talked brand, marketing and advertising. Diageo owns many of the world’s most famous alc bev brands and whilst talking about them, we quickly recognised the challenge described above.

Now, I needed to make a bit of an impression with Dave, as he was – hopefully – my gateway to brand and design teams. Clearly, Johnny Walker is one of our dream clients. Its history in advertising is legendary and of impeccable quality and consistency. There’s tons of distinctive assets: the walking man icon, the 24 degrees label, the square bottle, and don’t forget the ‘Keep Walking’ narrative in comms. But, partially due to reasons mentioned above, the actual product does not get much love in communication. So I popped the question: ‘Can whisky walk?’. Dave froze for a second – or at least I think he did. I guess he realised the potential of that question. Can we use the product itself to support the brand’s personality and narrative? We parted ways with his promise to connect me to his design department (and yes Dave, this is me nudging you 😉).

It’s very likely that your product, by default, bears a striking resemblance to your competitors. Apart from serve design, glasses and garnishes, liquids need trampolines, pours, pneumatics, swirls and splashes before they become visually interesting. Brand teams should precisely define and guard rail what are the exact effects and aesthetics they’re after. If you ask a film director, such as myself, you risk falling victim to her or his personal taste and skills. Ask yourself the equivalent of ‘Can whisky walk?’ that makes the liquid design support your brand, and your brand only. And that is exactly what we did for Miller Genuine Draft.

Molson Coors asked us – let me rephrase that, we twisted our friend Paul’s arm to allow us – to think this through for their global brand Miller Genuine Draft. The beer is consumed by young audiences in high energy bars, pubs and parties. Their positioning statement says Miller is here to pioneer fresh socialising. Pretty much every beer has the word ‘connect’ in their DNA, but the arena of nightlife and the under thirty audience makes Miller’s positioning rather specific. TV ads were taking place at parties and showed beautiful people dancing, cheers-ing and having fun.

When there’s a party, there’s music. The kick drum in electronic music is the heartbeat of a city’s nightlife. We discovered that the kick drum in the music that Miller’s audience listens to creates fascinating patterns of ripples in the beer.

As sound waves hit the liquid, they cause vibrations that made the beer…..dance. A distinctive way of showing the liquid was born and we called it: ‘Urban Heartbeat’. We didn’t stop there: we made the beer inside the bottle dance, we made droplets of condensation dance and we made the bottles themselves get jiggy to the beat. The idea is that over time, if you see beer or bottles dance to the music, you’ll know it’s Miller Time. The case won several awards for brand refresh and brand asset design.

We shared our thinking with the team at Molson Coors and blew the hinges off. A new distinctive asset was born. In hindsight you can say that marketing teams didn’t know what they were missing, but it suddenly became clear: a distinctive and meaningful way to depict their actual product. We went on to shoot two global campaigns, and months later, we see markets use the images for tons of digital and social assets. With every consumer’s glance, the ‘Urban Heartbeat’ is growing in fame.

So yes, whisky can walk. Liquids can be un-bored and tell stories. No matter how much your liquid looks like your competitor, distinctiveness can be added as a powerful force in building brand equity. In the world of FMCG consumers, the distinction between product and brand is minimal. My mom agrees.

Olaf van Gerwen is founder and global creative director of Chuck Studios, the first and biggest global food specialist creative agency. By trade, he is a film director with over 600 TV commercials under his belt. Making food look its very best is his super power. Increasingly, he collaborates with brand and marketing teams, offering his expertise on the visualization of food and beverages.


Olaf van Gerwen
Olaf van Gerwen
Olaf van Gerwen is the Founder of Chuck Studios - the world’s first and only global food advertising specialist. He has directed and shot over 600 TV commercials in 30+ countries. Together with his team, Olaf helps food brands around the globe develop a distinct Culinary Identity. https://chuckstudios.com

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