From northern Alaska to sprawling Shanghai, ask a local to name something Scottish and you might expect a few things. Whether it's tartan or shortbread, rainy weather or even Nessie, the usual suspects typically come to light. However, rightful clichés - or not - aside, when it comes to a "wee dram" there is one drink on everyone's lips: Scotch Whisky.
Since its invention and export, Scotch Whisky has been a household name synonymous with quality and success, becoming a major international earner and reputational asset, helping promote Scotland's image (and coffers) around the world. All fantastic news - but like any success story, this potent mix proves a compelling draw for wrongdoers, with undeniable power in exploiting the Scotch Whisky name, brands, taste and history for substandard - and even unsafe - imitations.
Tasked with protecting this considerable legacy for brands and consumers alike, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is a pioneering trade body in its field, protecting Scotch Whisky across the world through registration as a geographical indication and taking legal action against infringers. Determined to build on its global strategy and proactively defend Scotch Whisky, we were delighted when the SWA enlisted SnapDragon Monitoring's brand protection expertise, where we specialise in identifying and, where necessary and appropriate, removing online infringements.
Analysing key Scotch Whisky markets experiencing significant growth, including the likes of India and Russia, our SWA work quickly uncovered a range of potential online risks, while also noting territoryspecific 'quirks' borne through legal and cultural disparities. For instance, who knew that serving fake alcohol (carefully hidden behind the real thing) is deemed socially acceptable at a Russian dinner party, in a real-life equivalent of Keeping Up Appearances?
Crucially however, what these projects underlined is the need for focused online analysis, particularly in rapidly modernising territories where political shifts, demographic change and market relaxation have contributed to a hyper-reactive market. What's more, despite the encouraging prospect of widespread vaccination drawing ever-closer, the impact of Covid-19 this year cannot be overstated, prompting permanent changes [read significant rise] in consumer online activity, of which alcohol is no exception.
In broader terms, what does this mean? In our experience at SnapDragon Monitoring, be it specialist projects supporting the whisky industry, or working regularly with individual brands, anywhere in the world, to protect their intellectual property, when it comes to counterfeiters nothing is left to chance. From trademarks or copyrights to labels, packaging and even the whisky itself, if public appetite is strong, so too is the temptation for profit-seeking infringers. Indeed, following extensive research across the drinks industry, we have seen issues big and small: from fake labels, websites, spirits and whiskies (including genuine bottle 'refills'), to copied, invented or resurrected brands - you name it; it's out there.
So what do we recommend? Firstly, we advise that all firms (food and drink-related or not) explicitly build brand protection into their business strategy, much as marketing, sales and manufacturing are. Compared to tangible assets like your workforce or bank account, the likes of intellectual property can be somewhat overlooked; however, it is this investment which forms the bedrock upon which the product can thrive. Maintaining a strong IP portfolio (and, where necessary, expanding it) is therefore key to any well-protected brand, as is a comprehensive, transparent and healthy supply chain. What's more, given such factors go hand in hand with a brand's corporate social responsibility, acting to protect your brand makes sense from a moral imperative, safety emphasis and reputational perspective.
Secondly, be proactive. By flouting the regulations which keep brands and consumers safe, counterfeiters are free to sell where they want, when they want, meaning that brand vigilance and innovation is key to keeping one step ahead. So, whether actively pursuing illicit sellers both online and offline, or creating 'smart' packaging (such as holographic labels) to ensure authenticity, looking forward is essential to futureproofing your brand.
Finally, remember what matters most. A product or brand is only as good as its reputation, which is implicitly tied to the values, history and excellence that have gone before.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.