Scotch Brand Appeals to Nostalgia to Sell Super-Premium Spirits

Edrington Americas CEO on the consumer shift to vintage luxury booze

Paul Ross, CEO of Edrington Americas, is borrowing tactics from the craft spirits movement to market his high-end Macallan single-malt Scotch whisky. Scotland-based Edrington, known in the U.S. mainly for its Cutty Sark blended Scotch, decided to stop farming out U.S. marketing duties eight months ago, and since then, Ross has been trying to hitch a ride on two monster trends in liquor: luxury and craft. According to the Distilled Spirits Council, high-end and super-premium spirits are the fastest-growing categories in the industry and more than 400 small craft distillers have popped up in the U.S. To keep up, Ross is betting on craft standbys: word-of-mouth, experience marketing and social media.

Being Scottish, you approach the American spirits marketplace with fresh eyes. What do you see?
There is a real nostalgia about liquor. You can see it in the sales figures and the online searches of heritage brands like Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. That nostalgia is tied to craft, and I define craft as an excellent product with an authentic story about the people behind it. At the same time, people are looking to drink better and drink less. It means a shift toward vintage luxury spirits like ours.

How do you market vintage luxury brands?
We focus heavily on brand ambassadors. In fact, we expect everyone who works in our U.S. offices—more than 120 people so far—to be an ambassador in addition to their regular job. They each pick five bars to mentor and they get an annual budget to go to those bars with friends and family and talk to the bartenders and staff about our brands and our [129 year] heritage. It’s a good way to build word of mouth. We also employ four full-time brand ambassadors for the Macallan brand and two for our Highland Park single-malt Scotch brand.

How about reaching out to the broader market?
We hold invitation-only free branded events in major cities where people can taste our products, such as Macallan Scotch that sells for $150 and $200 a bottle. They can also enjoy food, entertainment and get information about our company. We host about 300 people per show and we put on several shows in each city, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami and San Francisco.

What segment of drinkers are you targeting?
When you look at who attends our events, they are multicultural, about 25-40 years old and 40 percent are female.

How are sales going?
We doubled our sales in the U.S. in the last three years (to just under $200 million), and we plan to double it again in the next five years.