House of Walker Scotch Tasting and a Lesson in Brand Marketing

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The invitation came from UrbanDaddy.  The event was being held at Living Social and was a scotch tasting from the “House of Walker” as in Johnny Walker.

Scotch tasting or not, it was really a marketing event.  My day job is largely marketing so I found the whole thing interesting on that level.  Here was social media used for advertising, and sponsorship.

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It was also a superb occasion to meet two buddies downtown for a night out.  We met at the Living Social DC headquarters, a beautiful old 4 story building in downtown DC near Chinatown and the Verizon Center.  From the moment we entered the PR began.  The event, although completely free, was glitzy and upscale.  It was staffed by scores of petite young women in black cocktail dresses and high heels and I’m not going pretend I didn’t  enjoy that.  It was way better than some gruff old Scot with a beard and a thick accent.

012We were inspected for Homeland Security which is just part of living in the DC area, and then registered on iPads as we walked past a very slick slideshow on a video wall.  The crowd was surprisingly diverse!  Age, race, gender, ethnicity, and even demographics were all widely represented.  Thus, Asian hipsters, obvious Nats fans, and cool, if suburban middle-agers (us) were all there.

We were each given what looked like a plastic hotel key and told this was our “drink ticket” and to hold on to it.  The first stop was at a small posh theater where we watched a short film (featuring the bearded Scot with thick accent) on the history of the Walker label.  That was followed with a briefing from our “Whisky Ambassador” on what would take place over the next hour or so.

We then moved into another room all set up for some tasting.  We started with the real anchor of the Walker label, Johnny Walker Black.  The setup looked serious.  We each had two small samples in front of us and a pitcher of water, bucket of ice, and eye-droppers.  (all I could think is this is going to really burn my eyes!)  The Ambassador walked us through the three ways to taste the scotch, first a sip straight up, then with a little water in it, and finally with an ice cube in it.  Each had slightly different characteristics and brought out different notes in the scotch.

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More importantly, that first sip was so anticipated!  We made this reservation a week earlier, and then been at work all day building the anticipation of that first sip.  Then we watched the film and stood in front of the shots while he explained them.  By the time we finally got to taste it I had a Pavlovian reaction and the quality of the scotch was probably the last thing on my mind!  The eye dropper, by the way, was to put drops of water in the sample.  Thank God, that would have ruined my contacts!

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After the tasting we were ushered into yet another room to taste the Black and another relatively new label, the Double Black.  At this point the sample was close to a full drink and of course, it was 7pm and none of us had eaten yet.  As the whisky began to make its way to my brain, everywhere I looked was a cute young lady to answer questions, show us to the next stop, or explain something about the scotch.  We moved from the Black to the Double Black, and then on to yet another room to try the legendary Johnny Walker Blue.  This is a 25 year old blended scotch and was served in a snifter, neat.  While it was delicious and memorable, we all happily agreed that we liked the Black just as well.  Good thing since the Black is about one fifth the price.

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The final stop was the basement speakeasy of the building where we enjoyed scotch based cocktails with Johnny Walker Red.  By now everyone in the bar was exuberant and the atmosphere was less educational and more bar-like.  Nobody was drunk, but were were in high spirits.

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The thing I found really interesting was that Washington, DC is an affluent city where many bars boast scores of single malt scotches.  Because their whisky is a blend, many scotch snobs would look down on it; and yet here they were hosting an event to build fans.  Again, it was more about the marketing than about whisky but even though boldly transparent, I still enjoyed the hell out of it and would now consider ordering the Black or Double Black in a bar.  The difference is, now, in addition to the whisky, the glass would also contain this fond memory and pleasant association with the brand.  To me this was a great example of using social media to bolster brand among likely future customers!

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It was also a great night out with friends that progressed to a very hot new establishment, the Daikaya Noodle House in DC.  Look for that post soon!

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