How Dewar's is marketing to the subconscious mind

Dewar’s “White Label” Scratched Cask invites consumers to experience how it's made in its virtual experience.
Source: Bacardi Limited

After doing numerous consumer interviews, Bacardi Limited realized it had a slight problem among millennials with its blended Scotch whisky Dewar's. Despite Scotch being associated with sophistication with its focus groups, people thought that it was hard to drink.

"It says something about you when you order a scotch," said Brian Shaifer, director of marketing for Dewar's Blended Scotch Whisky. "But one of the misconceptions was scotch was very harsh tasting. We wanted to make it much more approachable, akin to a sweeter profile of bourbon."

The company released Dewar's "White Label" Scratched Cask, which has a smoother profile, to change perception. And, to make sure the message sank in, it engaged in subconscious marketing to convince consumers that what they thought about scotches wasn't entirely true.

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E4marketing principal Jeanette McMurtry, who is a psychology-based marketing consultant, explained that more brands are realizing the power of using psychological theory to reach consumers.

"The first few seconds of a glance at a logo creates a (stimulus), and people perceive the attributes, character and trustworthiness of a brand," she said.

One of McMurtry's financial clients was having a hard time persuading new customers to invest in the stock market. Her team told the firm that it should change its sales proposal to recognize the problems with the stock market, like volatility and fears that there will be other Bernie Madoffs out there to take advantage of them. Then, the company should show how the company could help navigate those issues.

"A lot of the marketing we do is catering to the conscious mind, the wrong 10 percent of the decision process," said McMurtry. "Oftentimes, that creates disconnect."

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Dewar's.also teamed up with digital marketing technology company CataBoom to create a scratch-off game. Consumers won cocktails featuring Dewar's "White Label" Scratched Cask, which they could redeem at participating bars. Upon enjoying their drink, they were given a coupon or a rebate for further incentive to purchase the product.

CataBoom CEO Todd McGee explained that he operates his company on the principles of Pavlov's theory of classical conditioning. By creating fun digital games — such as the Dewar's scratch off — and then providing consumers with some sort of gift, it gives the consumer a rush of an organic chemical called dopamine. The neurotransmitter controls the brain's reward and pleasure centers.

"If you consistently and instantly reward a behavior, you can change that behavior," he said.

McGee said the problem with loyalty programs is that a consumer has to repeat a behavior for a long time before getting their reward, which causes delayed gratification. Plus, too many companies engage in loyalty programs so no one stands out. Promotions are often oriented on prices. After the sale, consumers feel no need to return to the store unless there is another bargain. "Gamifying" something can increase engagement and create positive affinity for a brand, McGee said.

"We are wired to be attracted to things that give us fun," McMurtry said. "You create that dopamine or oxytocin rush, and it creates that unconscious decision of fun and there is something in it for me. It creates trust, and a much higher likelihood to continue these behaviors."

To further elevate the profile of Dewar's, it decided to showcase the skill it took to make the product. Since it couldn't fly everyone to Scotland, it created the Scratched Cask 360-degree virtual reality (VR) experience. The VR clip takes people through the process of creating the spirit in order to emphasize its premium nature. The company distributed VR viewers so consumers could watch the clip using their phones and the cardboard devices. In addition, it held events throughout the country where it invited people to step inside an American white oak bourbon barrel to watch a 360-degree, 4D projection mapping video, sample the product and see the VR experience.

"VR apps create that kind of (deep) engagement where you reward consumers, and you create this unconscious feeling of trust," McMurtry explained.

Digital media also helps brands reach consumers even more directly, now that they can get in front of them using mobile screens, McGee added.

"Social media has changed everything, but the reality is the consumer has not," CataBoom's McGee said. "People want to avoid pain and seek pleasure. We're tapping into that seeking pleasure."

The Marketing Arm vice president of planning and insights, John Kelly, who helped advise the Dewar's campaign, pointed out that consumers spend 43 minutes out of every hour on their phone while they are shopping at a store. They could be texting friends, comparing prices or looking at reviews on products.

"It's a touch point that we know they are engaged with," Kelly said.

"If you see a TV spot at 3 a.m. for a spirit, you're probably not close to that point of purchase," Dewar's Blended Scotch whisky's Shaifer added. "But if I'm reaching you at 4:45 p.m. on your phone, you may want to go to a bar or a store to pick up a bottle of Dewar's."

But, just promising a consumer they may be able to get a prize but not following through, stacking the odds against them or not giving them something they can enjoy can backfire, McMurtry said.

"If you have a game where you don't reward the consumer, they go backwards in terms of their ability to trust you," she pointed out. "You really have to give them a chance to win."