Kindly confirm that you are of legal drinking age in your country of residence before proceeding.or Exit
What’s in a name?
Work on the development of Annandale Distillery’s branding started in 2007, not long after we’d bought the derelict distillery. For reasons soon to be explained, branding in the Single Malt Scotch Whisky category is quite atypical of other major product categories.
Scotland currently has more than 110 Single Malt Scotch whisky distilleries, where each distillery gives its name to the whisky it produces; e.g. Glenfiddich Distillery on Speyside produces ‘Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch Whisky’, Laphroaig Distillery on Islay produces ‘Laphroaig Single Malt Scotch Whisky’, and so forth.
Let’s deconstruct the name ‘Laphroaig Single Malt Scotch Whisky’, as doing so will reveal rather a lot about how Single Malt Scotch Whiskies are branded:
Scotch Whisky – the product category ‘Scotch Whisky’ is a ‘geographical indication’ (similar to Champagne, Parma Ham, Stilton Cheese, Melton Mowbray Pork Pies, etc.). This defines where and how the product should be produced (e.g. Scotland in the case of Scotch Whisky) according to a very strict set of regulations, as specified by the Scotch Whisky Association and monitored via the Spirit Drinks Verification Scheme. This means that whilst whisk(e)y can be made anywhere in the World, Scotch Whisky can only be produced in Scotland. Conversely, all whisky produced in Scotland must be made according to the Scotch Whisky Regulations (2009) and it must be described and labelled as Scotch Whisky. Geographical indications are protected by law (currently UK and EU law for Scotch Whisky) and World Trade Organisation regulations. The purpose of a geographical indication is to protect the regional provenance of the product and to ensure authenticity.
Single – means that this particular Scotch Whisky is the product of just one distillery (Laphroaig Distillery on the island of Islay in this case). It’s for this reason that the distillery name will invariably appear in the product description/branding of every Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
Malt – refers to malted barley; the only cereal permitted in the production of Single Malt Scotch Whisky. (Single Grain Scotch Whisky can be produced from a mixed mash bill of cereals including wheat, maize and malted and unmalted barley.) Both the purpose and the process of malting is described elsewhere on this website.
Single Malt Scotch Whisky – alludes to a batch production process which involves distillation in copper pot stills. Again, this process is specified and regulated by the Scotch Whisky Association. The reason why copper is so important is described in the ‘Technical’ section of our website.
As a consequence of these regulations and traditions, Single Malt Scotch Whiskies have formulaic brand names; i.e. ‘Distillery Name Single Malt Scotch Whisky’. Inevitably this means that the primary brand name for Annandale’s Single Malts will be Annandale Single Malt Scotch Whisky. On the positive side, this type of formulaic branding gives the product category coherence and a distinct identity; consumers should be in no doubt what they are purchasing. On the negative side, it means that the Single Malt Scotch Whisky category has a profusion of brand names (~110), that are not very well differentiated from each other (especially for naïve whisky consumers) and give no hint as to the sensory characteristics of the whisky. For example, Glenlivet Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Glenfarclas Single Malt Scotch Whisky and Glen Garioch Single Malt Scotch Whisky may all sound rather ‘samey’ to the uninitiated but this belies the fact that they’re very different from each other; Glenlivet is bourbon-like, Glenfarclas has a distinct sherry/winey character and Glen Garioch is peaty/smoky.
Until very recently, the packaging of most Single Malts has generally adhered to a particular traditional style, with no obvious clues from colour and format as to the sensory characteristics of the whisky in the bottle. For example, the standard distillery bottlings of Laphroaig and The Glenlivet were (until very recently) both presented in similarly shaped green bottles with similarly nondescript labels, yet they are ‘chalk’ and ‘cheese’ in terms of their sensory characteristics (refer to the sensory map in the Product Story section of our website). As a consequence, when naïve whisky consumers are presented with a huge array of Single Malts, whether at the supermarket, in a specialist whisky shop, at duty free and even online, there are very few branding and packaging cues to guide their choices. In short, Single Malt Scotch Whisky branding breaks all of the conventional rules of marketing in terms of description and differentiation. Whether this rather unstructured approach to branding and packaging creates intrigue or confusion, is a moot point!
Back in 2009/10, we decided to adopt a very different approach to branding Annandale Distillery’s Single Malts. This is explained in some detail when we introduce Man O’Sword and Man O’Words. However, to begin with we needed to develop primary branding for Annandale Distillery per se, and for Annandale Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
In the English language, a ‘dale’ is a river valley. Annandale is the valley of the River Annan which rises in rugged uplands of northern Dumfriesshire and disgorges into the Solway Firth, just south of the town of Annan. By any standards, Annandale is one of the most scenic and beautiful parts of Scotland.
Because of its proximity to the sea, Annan has a strong maritime heritage, stretching back many hundreds of years. At present, the port is silted-up and used only by a clutch of fishing vessels and pleasure craft, but once-upon-a-time the Port of Annan boomed.
There have been two very significant periods in the modern history of the Port of Annan:
During the Scottish diaspora (notionally between the late 1700s and the mid-1900s), approximately 2 million Scots migrated from their native homeland to start a new life, principally in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. A surprisingly large number of these migrants embarked from various small ports on the Scottish shores of the Solway Firth, including Glencaple, Dumfries, Carsethorn and Annan, to name but a few. Some migrants departed on direct sailings to far flung places in what would now be considered ludicrously small sailing ships, whilst others transited via Liverpool to join larger vessels. The fact that there are ‘Annan’ and ‘Annandale’ place names in all four of the above mentioned countries is surely not a coincidence (e.g. Annandale is a major suburb of Sydney, Australia)!
From 1818 to 1865, there was an established shipbuilding industry in Annan, operated mainly by successive generations of the Nicholson Family. Towards the end of this era, John Nicholson & Co. built a series of nine clipper ships (sleek, narrow-beamed sailing ships designed for transporting cargo at speed).
The eighth Nicholson clipper, named Elizabeth Nicholson, spent a large part of her life in the China tea trade. She recorded the fastest ever passage between Fuzhou (China) and London during the North-East Monsoon Season, departing December 14th 1867 and arriving in London on March 15th 1868 (92 days) under the command of a Captain Crosbie (possibly from Annan). Her mission was to be first-to-market with her hugely valuable cargo of new-crop tea, for which the crew would be bonused generously. The Elizabeth Nicholson was a contemporary of Cutty Sark and of Thermopylae, and equally fast.
Branding is most effective when rooted in substantial and meaningful concepts. We believed that the maritime heritage of Annan was of particular significance because it links into the worldwide community of people who identify as being Scottish in some way or other (variously estimated at 25 million) and also because of its associations with global voyagers.
Annandale Distillery was established in 1836, making it one of the earliest ‘legal’ whisky distilleries in Scotland. However, Annandale is particularly unusual because it was closed in 1918, seemingly for good, until the derelict site was bought by the current owners who reintroduced Scotch whisky production in 2014.
Whilst other potentially ‘interesting’ brand concepts were considered, such as the distillery’s proximity to the Scotland – England Border and Annan’s links to various substantial Scottish figures (more of which elsewhere), qualitative research conducted by our sister company, MMR Research Worldwide (www.mmr-research.com) revealed that the worldwide maritime link and it’s association with the ex-patriot Scottish community, along with the notion of a distillery reborn, were likely to be the most engaging and compelling concepts to associate with Annandale Distillery.
Bearing in mind that the ‘Annandale’ part of our brand name was essentially non-negotiable (see above), this aspect of brand development focused on motivating concepts and notions that could be communicated via graphical devices and colours.
The design brief was issued to Springetts, a brand design consultancy based in London with whom MMR Research Worldwide had a long and fruitful relationship.
Right from the start, it was obvious that the ‘A’ of Annandale provided a strong visual device that could be developed graphically.
The final logo design has two key features: The curved ‘legs’ of the ‘A’ to represent a bulging, wind-filled sail, thereby alluding to Annandale’s maritime heritage. The crossbar of the ‘A’ could be a Celtic kilt pin or a fiddle bow (you decide).
The colour purple also forms an integral part of Annandale’s primary branding. Purple was selected because the associated concepts (particularly confident, genuine, powerful, classy, sophisticated and trustworthy) are also associated strongly with the Single Malt Scotch Whisky. It’s reasoned therefore that conceptual consonance between the colour (purple) and the product category (Single Malt Scotch Whisky) would enhance Annandale’s branding.
It’s interesting that Bruichladdich Distillery chose light blue as the primary colour for branding their whiskies. The rationale, perhaps, is that light blue would give the packaging standout on-shelf amongst the darker tones favoured by most whisky brands and also, breaking the mould and being disruptive would perhaps make the brand more interesting. This is a bold strategy! The concepts associated primarily with light blue colours (i.e. modern, easy-going, friendly, comforting, youthful, simple, carefree and happy) are not those normally associated with Single Malt Scotch Whisky. This type of contradiction, known as conceptual dissonance, would normally detract from a branded product, largely because it’s contradictory. However, in breaking the mould, perhaps Bruichladdich has opened-up its product to a new customer base!
Finally, the marketing strapline…… ‘Established 1836 – Reborn 2014’ clearly distinguishes Annandale from the other ‘new’ distilleries.
Annandale’s primary branding was launched in 2009. Ten years on, it remains fresh and interesting and seems to have stood the test of time!
Toby Coates – MMR Research Worldwide (originally from Thurso)
Sue Bicknell – Springetts