Liquid Thinking

Culture Shift

Reversing exclusion in drinks

27th September 2023

Categories such as Scotch have a short history of inclusion. For a long time their marketing reflected their ‘old, white, and male’ core consumer groups, or at least, didn’t do anything to reach out beyond them. And while brands such as Hennessy have become darlings of the hip-hop community and by extension, been adopted and desired by a much more diverse range of consumers, other cognac brands have been left behind. So how do you dust off your brand and make it relevant to those beyond the exclusionary trifecta? Well, you have to genuinely shape culture.

It's not news to anyone that representation matters. The past few years have been defined not just by the pandemic, but cultural shifts led and signalled by movements such as Black Lives Matter, Me Too, and the changing significance of events such as the FIFA Women’s World Cup. These pivotal touch points in history, have been unignorable.

And the magnitude of the change that they have brought about – at least in awareness, if not in measurable actions – has been profound. So profound that if you’re not working towards greater inclusion as a brand, then it looks like you’re working against it.

Cue brand paranoia. There’s been some pretty overt rushes to representation in the campaigns of brands across all industries, in a sort of virtue signalling gold-rush.

But, what happens if you have a brand that has hither to been enjoyed by a fairly narrow spectrum of society? Okay, we’ll say it, what if you have a brand that traditionally skews, old, white, and male?  

Moving beyond old, white, and male

Scotch is a good case in point. While movements such as Our Whisky have been highlighting the lack of female representation, or a diverse range of ethnicities in the imagery surrounding whisky, a number of brands have been working to shift their appeal beyond this core consumer group.

And while categories such as cognac have a few brands that have long been darlings of the hip hop world, there are vast swathes of it that feel cut off from a broader range of consumers. Traditional, pricey, or simply just not well marketed, there’s little about them that is actively reaching out.

So, it’s been interesting to watch the work of a few key brands recently, who are very clearly working to attract a more diverse range of consumers to their brands. First up, Courvoisier.

Modern, slick in its design, and a premium, quality liquid, Courvoisier is an interesting brand that sits somewhere between the prestigiousness or ice-hot cool that the most well-known, modern cognac brands enjoy (thank you hip hop) and the overlooked and slightly dusty obscurity of traditional brands. That may sound harsh, but we’ve watched the brand furiously try and reach a new consumer group with a heavy marketing push around the early 2010s, but there hasn’t been anything to radically update the image of the brand since.

However, its latest launch seems an obvious attempt to reach new demographics and put the brand in the hands of, for it, new consumers, namely it seems, younger, more diverse ones. Or at least, to make it more approachable, relevant and intriguing to them, in terms of its image. Let’s not forget its latest limited edition bottle costs a cool £200.

Staying clear of the rapper associations enjoyed by other brands, it has chosen to British Nigerian artist and designer Yinka Ilori, who has been employed as its ‘Ambassador of Joy’. His first task? To design a limited-edition Courvoisier VSOP bottle, inspired by a summer’s day in Jarnac. Released in four different ombre colour-ways, it is said to evoke the spirit of celebration. But what it’s really doing is making the brand seem less stuffy, and crucially, more approachable.

Welcoming new consumers in

As managing director of Maison Courvoisier Jon Potter, puts it: “Like Yinka's commitment to making art playful and community-driven, we believe in making the cognac experience a joyful one that can be enjoyed by anyone. We are continuing to redefine the cognac category by placing Courvoisier in consumption moments that are vibrant and vivid."

Yinka’s pastel-hued bottles are indeed, disruptive visually to a category dominated by golden fonts, and metal bottle adornments at its most flashy, and yellow, farmhouse-style labels in fountain pen script at its most traditional.

The quest to put bottles into a younger, cool, more ethnically diverse clientele is something Chivas Regal has been working exceptionally hard at. Its partnerships of late, have been very strategically building a brand world for the blended Scotch that’s about as far away from tweed, Loch Ness monsters, and bagpipes – and let’s just call it what it is, older white men – as you can get. We like to call this ‘doing a Hennessy’.

Recent efforts from the brand include a limited-edition bottle with Steflon Don, a street art project to decorate its Strathclyde distillery with a mural reflecting Glasgow’s homegrown heroes, backing of women’s football (in fact the Pernod Ricard brand recently became one of the first sponsors of Manchester United women’s first team), and the Chivas Residency, which supports ‘grassroots’ artists, which as the brand states, range from “grime to reggaeton”.

A sort of talent incubatory, The Residency project is not just a showcase, it’s about access to the industry, and opening doors that are difficult to pass through without connections. And here’s where the shift is. Chivas is working to attract a greater diversity of consumers to the brand, by opening up pathways for minorities, or under-represented communities to more broadly participate in culture. And by providing a platform for a greater diversity of voices, they are themselves, helping to shift culture. And at the risk of sounding crass, that’s not just ethical, just, and important, it’s also savvy.

Football, females, and fashion – a new trifecta?

Its latest project, again rooted in fashion, is a partnership luxury knitwear brand AGR, to create a three-piece capsule collection, inspired by women’s football. Back of the net! AGR has previously been worn by Nicki Minaj, Mabel, and FLO. The campaign for the designs is also fronted by a diverse range of models. And the designs, made from deadstock fabrics, in a bold, colour-clashing array of jerseys, shorts, and bucket hats. In this partnership, the brand is tapping into the vibrancy, credibility, and the accessibility of streetwear, and broadening its appeal to those who appreciate it.

Alicia Robinson, founder and designer of AGR, said: “Football kits are famously bold and colourful, which is something that has always been at the heart of my designs, so collaborating with Chivas on a collection that breaks boundaries by giving football culture a modern twist was a no-brainer. This three-piece collection is all about bringing people together through a shared passion and allowing them to express their love of the game through their own unique style.”

Brands that open pathways for minorities, or under-represented communities to achieve success and achieve greater visibility, will not just broaden their consumer bases, but forge incredibly loyal ones. But more importantly, they will help shift culture more broadly. Brands that rise to almost ‘cult’ status in popular culture do so by doing something that feels genuinely linked to disruptive, cool, and new, rather than surface-level attempts at tokenism.

These culture shifting collaborations with creators are a bold, visible, and accessible way for brands to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk. And, that’s especially important for brands belonging to categories that have long been perceived as only for a select group of consumers. Through these partnerships, the resulting visual disruption to their categories is becoming a marker of inclusion.

Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?

Please contact us at or 0207 101 3933