Scotch rocks market with whisky galore on the box Vintage TV campaign puts distillers into high spirits

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The Independent Online
Computer-generated grouse walk across our television screens. A man drinks whisky to celebrate going surfing in Australia. Spirits advertising, never seen on television before 1995, is here with a vengeance.

Last year, the industry spent pounds 10m on television advertising alone. Christmas and the New Year were a crucial time for sales.

United Distillers, producer of Bell's whisky, is said to have spent pounds 2.3m on Bell's and Gordon's gin this Christmas. Glenmorangie, the top-selling single malt in Scotland, is estimated to have spent pounds 600,000 on a mixture of television and other advertising, including a relaunched Internet site.

The drive appears to be paying off according to latest figures. For the nine months up to September, Scotch whisky sales reached 18.9 million litres. The corresponding figure for the year before was 17.1 million. Alan Gray, whisky analyst for the stockbrokers Sutherlands, estimates that 33 million litres were sold by the end of 1996.

Much of this was undoubtedly due to the Chancellor's decision to cut duty on spirits by 4 per cent in each of the past two years. However, whisky manufacturers are aware they cannot rely on kindly budgets alone to boost their sales.

Research by the Glasgow-based Fraser of Allander Institute for Allied Distillers reveals the Chancellor would need to cut duty on whisky by 4 per cent a year for 13 years before the burden of tax on spirits equalled that on wine and beer.

Television advertising was something that was "long overdue", according to Alan Gray, a whisky analyst for the stockbroking firm Sutherlands.

By shunning television for more than 40 years, partly because of a "gentleman's agreement" in the industry and partly because exports in the 1960s and 1970s were so healthy, "it has been said Scotch whisky missed a generation, and I agree with that," Mr Gray said.

In past decades, exports to southern Europe grew by as much as 9 per cent a year, so distillers were able to put up with static sales in Britain, which accounts for 10 per cent of the Scotch whisky market. But when exports slowed down, tales of "Scotch on the rocks" became more common.

In tandem with the two successive budget cuts, the first for 100 years, the spirits industry is beginning to move away from its "old man" image in order to lure young drinkers from designer beers, wine and alcopops.

"This was the second Christmas the industry used television," Mr Gray said. "It was long overdue. It seems they were very silly not to do it before. Television is the medium young people identify with."

Andy Neal, consumer marketing director for United Distillers, said the advertising has been planned to attract a wider audience without alienating the traditional older whisky drinker. The Bell's advert is a leaving party, featuring a thirtysomething man leaving his firm to go surfing in Australia. It is complete with a coy reference to an office affair with "Amanda", and the catchline, "The time is right".

"Whisky has been around for 500 years. It is going to take years to change the way people think. We are working on a five-year programme," Mr Neal said.

"Notwithstanding that when we started advertising in Scotland and the North-west ... our share of the whisky market there went up 1 or 2 per cent, which is quite significant. And we are confident [after] this Christmas that nationally we will have our best performance."

Campbell Evans, spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association said the industry had taken a "major step forward" this year. "But it is only the first step in a long-term programme."