Bringing the Iconic Buchanan's Brand Into the 21st Century

Truly timeless brands are rare—but truly timeless packaging is a virtual impossibility. “Buchanan’s had been a celebrated part of people’s lives for a long time, but one generation doesn’t want exactly what the previous generation did—and this is especially true with the younger generation today,” explained James Hernandez, global brand director for Buchanan’s at Diageo. By 2013, the iconic whisky brand had been sporting the same package design for more than 20 years. Not surprisingly, it had begun to feel a little dated when compared to other premium competitors.

“Some consumers would say, ‘it’s a great brand, but it’s not for me.’ Well, why is that? We kept digging and, of course, we discovered that there was some dust. It was starting to be seen as ‘my father’s whisky,’ ‘a little bit dated,’ ‘a little bit classic,’” explained Hernandez.

Before shot of Buchanan's.

To win over the up-and-coming generation of consumers—who are notoriously aspirational and increasingly choosy—the brand needed a fresher look. However, the team made an important distinction: “We decided to make it up-to-date and modern, but not younger. The idea was to stay true to the roots while fully entering the 21st century.”

Additionally, the brand team had also observed a trend toward premiumization in the whisky category. The Buchanan’s name possessed the quality and credibility to capitalize on the trend—they simply needed a package that would further elevate premium perceptions, ideally justifying a slight price increase.

With these objectives in mind, the Buchanan’s team engaged forceMAJEURE, a New York-based design studio, as their agency partner. “When initiatives end well, it’s often because they start well,” mused Laurent Hainaut, CEO at forceMAJEURE. “My entire team was invited to join Buchanan’s cross-functional team in Scotland for deep-dive meetings,” he recalled.

This in-depth briefing enabled the forceMAJEURE team to navigate a delicate and incredibly complex problem: how to modernize an iconic brand without alienating it from its heritage—or its current buyers.

“We hadn’t done anything to the Buchanan’s packaging in nearly 25 years. There’s only so close you can stay to what you are now if you want to be able to live with the result for another 20 years. We needed to take a bigger chance, or we would’ve been back in the same position in a few years’ time. So we told Laurent and his team that we wanted the design to be all new and different, but not to touch anything critical. Basically, we were asking for a hot ice cream,” said Hernandez.

The team identified four key visual assets that were integral to the brand, then worked to modernize their execution.

  • The original label took its inspiration from the legal contract naming James Buchanan as whisky supplier to the House of Lords; it reflected Buchanan’s confidence in his product quality and his commitment to the consumer. The new label continued to feature Buchanan’s signature, but was modified to appear cleaner and more modern, with updated typography.
  • The canteen-shaped bottle, reminiscent of World War I canteens, symbolized sharing. The new design preserved the overall shape, but adopted a smoother, more rounded bottle.
  • The James Buchanan seals on the sides of the bottle communicated quality and authenticity. The new seals were refined and adorned with ribbon—both of which were embossed into the glass.
  • The color green evoked lush Scottish landscapes and strengthened the connection to the brand’s heritage. For the new design, variants were still distinguished by glass color, but the glass was infused with a tinge of green.

After seven months, the team had completed the bulk of the design work. However, bringing their rendering to life required months of additional work, including developing outer packaging and a counterfeit-proof cap, as well as working closely with the supply and production teams to perfect the result.

In October 2015, the new Buchanan’s packaging launched. After more than two decades without a packaging change, Buchanan’s new look demanded a total 360 media campaign. Advertisements showed off the modernized packaging while reassuring consumers that the product itself was still the same Buchanan’s they loved. “The package was the centerpiece—and practically the only piece—of our TV advertisement for Buchanan’s. It was very similar to a car commercial that shows you the beautiful wide shot and then takes you through all the little details,” said Hernandez.

In the United States, the Buchanan’s brand experienced a 9% growth in dollar sales in the year after the redesign. The packaging fared extremely well in Buchanan’s other markets as well—including Mexico, Colombia and Central America—bringing the average value growth across markets to 20%.


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