Paging through a wine industry magazine in the reception area of a recruitment company, waiting for what turned out to be a five minute ‘screening’ interview, the question of whether innovation necessarily means we need to come up with something new or different, came to mind. Of course it suggests some degree of change or rethinking of the status quo but not necessarily tampering with the essentials.
I was reading the editor’s thoughts, which was echoed in other articles in the magazine, on the challenges facing the wine industry. Besides the industry already being a very competitive one on a global scale, South African middle class palates are acquiring a taste for especially whisky among other high end liquors, while we are seeing the young, fast-growing craft beer industry providing another ‘sophisticated’ alternative to the market.
What brought me to the abovementioned question were thoughts on what it might be then, that is so attractive about whisky and craft beer? It might not be necessary to tell you, at this point, that I did not come to my conclusion by means of conducting thorough market research into the South African alcoholic drinks industry. I am simply sharing what I believe may indeed be a contributing factor in a preferential shift towards whisk(e)y and craft beer, from wine. And, from here my thoughts on the extent to which innovation brings about something ‘new’.
It could be that craft beer now offers an alternative beverage which could be described as smoky, earthy, floral, or grassy. It enhances the whole beer drinking experience from guzzling down a six-pack to something more culturally acceptable. Even better if you’re already a beer drinker who reluctantly opted for wine at times. But, what then about whisky? Is that not the age old product associated with kilted men and wintery rooms warmed by fire, which you can only like once you have ‘acquired’ the taste? I think, from a marketing perspective, this is exactly the point, and exactly the strength some of these ‘struggling’ wine labels ought to utilise.
Whereas many other liquor ads tend to focus on personal success or some form of self-actualisation (yes, you can probably youtube some examples to refute this generalisation), whisky ads follow a trend of using stories to have you buy into their character and values of old. It plays off the romantic longing for the former, the simple, and the honourable; the timeless which is still hoped for.
My theory then, that besides craft beer offering a new taste experience, it reintroduces something of old. The ‘story’ you are now drinking was not manufactured along with millions of other bottles of beer in a factory but was crafted by an artisan. You are drinking the fruits of a process which requires not only skill but passion-driven patience which operates through integrity – that unwillingness to produce an inferior product, for your skill is your means of worship. I recently shared a camp fire with a craft beer maker who confirmed this by telling me about his insistence on using the finest ingredients only. Or perhaps, it is your glass of whisky which contains a liquid representing age old methods, according to tradition, preserved in story.
Then, I was left similarly mesmerised and also envious, observing a pen master and a master archer show off their remarkable skills. I am not only envious of their abilities on display, but also of their ability to focus on one thing and staying committed to perfecting it, allowing it to serve its designed purpose through them. Unlike our cultural condition which leaves us constantly chasing moments of self-gratification, thriving on the inability to say ‘no’, resulting in constant dissatisfaction, these stories present us with commitments to a patient, sacrificial pursuit of a vision based in truth, achieved through the ability to say ‘no’, resulting in satisfaction. These people are not themselves the end goals of their actions; they find enjoyment in the ability to practise things ‘properly’ or ‘by design’.
Powerful stories are those reminding us of who we truly are, what we truly desire. Innovation is often the ability to communicate eternal truth in a new way.
Top right picture is from Johnnie Walker's 'The Man Who walked Around The World' ad [video].
Bottom left picture of product by craft beer maker with whom I shared a camp fire [Zebonkey].