Brand Insight in association withLBB's Brand Insight Features

Brand Insight: Grant’s Whisky

London, UK
Grant’s and Purple Creative on digging into the archives to uncover cutting-edge solutions

Whisky. It’s as Scottish as the rolling heather hills, atmospheric skies and midges, but how do you bring a brand steeped in local heritage to an international market? William Grant & Sons began life in the sleepy Highland community of Dufftown and now owns the sort of internationally renowned brands that would perk the interest of any connoisseur of the amber nectar, including reserve blend Grant’s and single malt Glenfiddich.


Over the past eight years they’ve been working closely with design agency Purple Creative to bring their native flavour to a global audience. It’s a relationship that started with an in-store design job and has evolved into a rich collaboration that has resulted in, several brand refreshes, an intriguing virtual distillery tour for Glenfiddich and a time capsule for the whisky lovers of the future. As Purple developed the tone of voice and visual and digital identities for Grant's, they found themselves delving into the Dufftown archives and uncovering a the human stories that built the brand and histories with a universal resonance. LBB’s Laura Swinton spoke with Purple Creative founder and Creative Director Steve Bewick and Grant’s Marketing Manager Julie Pender to uncover the secret blend of hi-tech and heritage behind the brand.

Julie Pender

LBB> William Grant & Sons has been around since 1887 - the very definition of a sustainable brand. What do you think - aside from great whisky - are the keys to the brand's longevity and success?

JP> The family. Definitely the family. Having consistent ownership over the past 100 years offers us a consistency in approach that is unparalleled in publicly owned companies. Being independently owned and run for five generations by the family offers us opportunities to plan for the longer term. For example, Purple has just finished our Time Capsule project, where we embedded into the Grant’s Family Home wall a time capsule for the family to open in another 100 years. 



LBB> I love the way that the brand is balancing its heritage and technology - and in 2010 you appointed your first archivist. Why is it important to keep digging into the brand's past and what are the most interesting things you've learned?

JP> The family’s commitment to preserving their past for their future is actually quite amazing.  A previous Chairman, Sandy Gordon Grant, had a very apt quote that we found in the archive: “We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before… and those to come will stand on ours”. This is one of the many jewels we have uncovered. My personal favourites from the archives are some of the correspondence from the second generation of the family, when they were undertaking epic journeys around the globe to far flung places to first sell in our brand, which explains why even today we ship to over 180 markets. The handwritten correspondence reveal amazing depictions of what life was like over a hundred years ago, and are written on old hotel letterheads, leather journals and other notes. It makes me wonder: will anyone find our emails in 100 years and think the same?



LBB> Grant's is a brand that is both very Scottish and very global. How difficult is it to make that local story relatable for other markets?

JP> While our history and provenance is Scottish, we choose to focus on the stories behind the brand that enjoy universal themes: like sharing knowledge and expertise, and handing it down from generation to generation to make great tasting whisky. That tends to be what consumers across the globe ultimately seek.

LBB> How would you characterise the brand’s personality?

JP> That’s a fun question. I could answer in marketing speak, or put it more commonly in the way that we like to express it: Grant’s is the down to earth and really interesting guy at the bar, that you want to spend time talking with over a wee dram. He’s not braggy and he’s not flash – what he is great company - and someone you’d really like to meet again.



LBB> The relationship between Grant's and Purple started with a small in-store job in 2006 and has evolved into something quite special. Why do you think you work together so well?

JP> I think we work well together for several reasons: firstly the team at Purple are a talented group, who understands our brand very well. They have developed a passion for this brand as great as our own, and often act more like brand owners. They also have an effective collaborative style, and demonstrate it both with us and with our other agency partners, which has essentially made them a unique part of our team.

Steve Bewick

LBB> You’ve worked with Grant’s to create a brand voice to ensure consistency across all channels and throughout the world. What were the cornerstones of this ‘voice’ and what challenges are there creating and implementing such a voice, particularly when you have to consider different cultures and languages?

SB> Grant’s is a social brand, one that encourages conversations. The tone of voice had to be warm and sharing, as if you were speaking to a friend over drinks. This tone transcends language and culture, it’s just a natural, human, friendly, warm place to be. 

Implementing this consistent tone of voice poses many challenges. We work with the Grant’s global team – who control the global aspects of the brand, like the website and above the line advertising – but it is often local writers who write most of the brand’s copy. And no writer is a robot – we all give something of ourselves to the copy we write, making it subjective. The secret, though, is to embrace the differences - we held tonal workshops with as many brand writers as we could, but the real key was to write multiple examples in the Tone of Voice guidelines, re-writing the same story three different ways, for consumers reading in print, online or on social media. 


LBB> What I love about what the Purple team has done is the way you’ve researched and curated the stories from Grant’s past and present and brought them all together. You’ve met the craftsmen and rooted around in the archives and so instead of one single big brand story, there’s a patchwork of voices, experiences, memories… why is this approach such an effective one? And are there any particular stories/people/ nuggets of history that particularly stand out in your mind?

SB> Playing Sherlock Holmes and trying to unearth new stories in the archive (with the help of Paul Kendall, the William Grant & Sons’ archivist) is one of the huge perks of the job. It’s one of the benefits of working with a brand with such a rich history and authentic provenance.  

Consumers want more depth – they want the truth (not marketing), and it’s up to us to give it to them in the most interesting and relevant ways possible.  

There are a lot of very inspirational people in the Grant’s family history. They all seemed to work every hour of every day in the early 1900s! The one that springs to mind is Charles Gordon. He was the first Grant’s salesman, and had to walk around Glasgow selling bottles of the blend door-to-door. To best tell his story, we had to research the Glasgow streets he trod, many of which have changed names since, and find pictures of a church, since demolished, in whose crypt they used to store all their casks full of blended whisky. There’s also a lovely story of another Charles Gordon in the 1960s (they weren’t all called Charles, honest) who used to cycle around the Girvan distillery he was building, urging the workers on. After nine months of this, the workmen eventually welded his bicycle to the cooling towers! 


LBB> You’ve worked with the brand for eight years now and you’re on your third refresh – how has the brand evolved in that time?

SB> Local focus to global. Inconsistent to consistent. Uncertain to confident. Library imagery, to one of the most comprehensive brand libraries in its category. Fourth most popular blended whisky in the world to third. Core range to premium range. 

The biggest change over the eight years though, is how much the Grant’s consumer has evolved. Defined and in-depth insights tell us that the Grant’s whisky drinker wants to seek and soak up knowledge, so over the years we’ve focused on building up interesting, quirky, conversation-starting and authentic brand stories, that will resonate with them.   

LBB> I’m intrigued by the concept of the ‘richer and deeper’ brand essence for Grant’s that inspires Purple’s photography for them… what does this phrase mean to you and how does it translate across the work that you’ve done for Grant’s?

SB> The Grant’s essence has changed again recently, but ‘richer and deeper’ essentially reflects the brand’s authenticity and depth. The more you scratch the surface, the more you uncover. We reflect this visually with photography that physically has depth and intrigue, drawing the viewer in. An extreme depth of field, with a blurred framing device, makes consumers feel like they are actually there and part of the action. We use the same photographer for consistency, a very nice and talented man called Thomas Skovsende. 


LBB> You helped develop a mentoring programme and toolkits, and now there’s the Glenfiddich Virtual Distillery Tour. The key to it all is to bring Dufftown (the home of Grant’s) to the world and allow the people to experience the people and place that makes the brand so special. Why has this approach proven so effective?

SB> We developed the Virtual Distillery Tour for Glenfiddich, a single malt, rather than Grant’s, the blended whisky. We started working with Glenfiddich on the recommendation of the Grant’s team, and to keep things creatively separate, one Purple partner heads up each brand. But we’ve created all the mentoring programmes for Grant’s too. Mentoring is increasingly important, as it gives brands the chance to spend an hour or more quality time with consumers, sharing stories and key messages in a relaxed environment. 

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