Was the Maker’s Mark ‘Watered Down Whiskey’ Plan a PR Stunt?

Last week we came across a disheartening story: In an effort to meet increasing international demand, top whiskey brand Maker’s Mark announced plans to make do with less by literally watering down its products and reducing the alcohol content of each bottle from 45% to 42%.

Full confession: we have very strong opinions about bourbon! We find Maker’s to be a slightly overrated and overpriced distillery distinguished mostly by its unique packaging, but we still thought this was a very dumb idea for a brand whose appeal is all about the quality and, therefore, purity of its products. The folks behind Maker’s seemed to get the point of the predictable public backlash, announcing this week that they wouldn’t go through with the brilliant plan after all and releasing the following statement:

“You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down. While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand — and you told us in large numbers to change our decision.”

We initially attributed this strange tale to an epic misreading of public opinion. But were we too quick to judge? Yesterday the “social infotainment” site Digital Dash made a bold suggestion: maybe this was all a clever PR stunt! What better way to get your brand noticed than to announce an unpopular change and then backtrack on the whole thing? And why announce the move in the first place? Most drinkers, ourselves included, would not have noticed the shift from 45% to 42%.

We know the “marketing scheme” theory is a bit of a stretch, but it’s also the only way this story makes any sense.