Animation-led storytelling drives bold vision for new Scotch whisky brand Fable
Pendulum Spirits Directors Andrew Torrance and Calum Lawrie have made a dream become reality with the launch of their independent bottling premium Scotch whisky brand, Fable. Using great animation and artwork, they have created a brand with a visual appeal designed to ensure that it stands out in the walls of whisky, not least in travel retail, where the duo have already confirmed some notable listings. The business partners discussed the thinking behind the brand, the challenges of getting it off the ground during a pandemic, why they see travel retail as a vital channel, and much more, with The Moodie Davitt Report Senior Business Editor Mark Lane.
Getting an all-new whisky brand off the ground in the midst of a global pandemic is not a challenge for the faint-hearted. How do you gain enough momentum with a new label to make it happen, when you can’t go out and sell the new concept and range of products in person? Two Scotch whisky industry veterans – Andrew Torrance and Calum Lawrie – have started to achieve just that with their creation Fable. Already their product is bound for ten domestic markets and has secured some key listings in a still traumatised travel retail channel. The duo – both of whom have over 25 years of experience in the drinks industry and are well known in travel retail circles – have not done things by halves. That is reflected by their range slogan ‘Far from ordinary’; through their work with renowned London agency GP Studio on design; and through their joint sizable investment in the ambitious new venture. Premium Scotch whisky Fable, an independent bottling brand under the stewardship of their majority-owned company Pendulum Spirits, has at its core a memorable animation – titled The Legend of the Ghost Piper of Clanyard Bay. It is based on artwork created by talented Bolivian illustrator Hugo Cuellar. Characters from the animation (including The Crows, The Hound, The Piper and The Labyrinth) appear on the eye-catching labels of the 11 initial Fable expressions, all from single casks and sourced from what Torrance describes as “hard to find” distilleries across Scotland. Each edition is limited to about 350 bottles (RRP €95), with whiskies at cask strength straight to the bottle with no added colour and no chill filtration.
“I think with a bit of persistence, and the look and feel of the brand, that’s probably what’s managed to break through. That storytelling and the design piece seems to have hit home quite strongly, which is what we set out to do”
– Pendulum Spirits Director Calum Lawrie
Pendulum Directors Calum Lawrie (left) and Andrew Torrance have poured their joint 50 years plus experience into creating a whisky brand with a difference
The path to the launch of the Fable brand began when Torrance and Lawrie came up with their idea for a storytelling-led premium Scotch whisky product series during 2019. Lawrie – who has previously worked in a variety of roles with drinks giant Diageo – outlines the initial thinking: “We saw an opportunity within the single cask category as there’s quite a formulaic way to release a single cask brand. We’re not a whisky family, we don’t have that heritage and provenance as such, so we thought we could create a brand and tell a story, and go out and find quality whisky to match.” He continues: “Storytelling, as we all know, is such a powerful tool and by adding elements like the creative arts to it, we thought we could then also speak to a new audience that is starting to take interest in the single cask category – those people who want to move away from the Scotch whisky brands that they know they can get anywhere in the world. “Working with GP Studio, I think we have ended up with a unique proposition, a brand that naturally lends itself to cutting through walls of whisky with its visual appeal and works very well for product activations, using video, leveraging social media and so on.” Torrance – whose CV includes spells with Beam Suntory and William Grant & Sons and as Managing Director of The Whisky Shop and whisky brand Copper Dog (for whom Lawrie was Marketing Director) – gives his take on the development of the brand: “What we have tried to do is create a range of whiskies with distilleries that are hard to find, with interesting age profiles. We purchase great quality casks from the Scotch whisky industry for Fable and match quality liquids with strong visual appeal and storytelling. We hope the whole package is something the consumer will love.
Five Fable expressions (left to right) The Clanyard, The Moon, The Piper, The Hound and The Ghost
“The storytelling part is very important to us. I think the Scottish and Irish are renowned as great storytellers, and we wanted to bring a piece of that to the whisky market. We have these great remote parts of Scotland, and we chose a place called Clanyard Bay, which is on the Southwest corner of the country, to be the central element in our story. In summary, we are matching great tasting whisky with an interesting and mythical story about this part of the world.” Armed with the animation, the visually-powerful Fable product deck and the distribution of samples to key potential customers and distributors, the brand has quickly made market inroads, despite the obvious promotional restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Both Lawrie and Torrance give credit to Pendulum Spirits Head of International Sales for Fable Whisky Kevin Griffin for how he has taken these tools and made some significant early listing breakthroughs with the likes of eurotrade (at Munich Airport), Harding (aboard P&O Ferries), Selfridges and Hawksmoor, the British steakhouse and cocktail bar chain.
The mythical village of Clanyard Bay, drawn by Hugo Cuellar, provides many of the characters for the 11 expressions in series one of Fable
Meanwhile, Torrance himself, with COVID-19 movement restrictions finally lifting in the UK, is making some progress getting Fable on to the shelves of traditional whisky bars in Scotland. Lawrie says: “I think we could have had some resistance from some of our distributor partners in the first instance, because they’re not looking to buy and they’re probably looking to reduce their range if anything under the current circumstances. But I think with a bit of persistence, and the look and feel of the brand, that’s probably what’s managed to break through. That storytelling and the design piece seems to have hit home quite strongly, which is what we set out to do.” “The visuals of Fable have helped enormously,” agrees Torrance. “It’s phenomenal what has been achieved. We’re already in markets as far east as Australia and as far west as the US and Canada, without being able to travel to those places ourselves.
“It’s only in the last two or three weeks that bottles have actually gone around the world into consumers’ hands and we are now in that hold your breath moment. We can think it’s good, but as I always say, it’s always easy to sell one bottle, but it’s really hard to sell the second one”
– Pendulum Spirits Director Andrew Torrance
The Fable series has spawned some quality gift-with-purchase items such as the black clay tumblers shown above, with their inspiration taken from the cliffs of the real Clanyard Bay (below)
“That’s nice in a way, but I wouldn’t like it to be the norm. We are really missing that human interaction of face-to-face meetings to sell the brand, or going to a whisky festival. It’s only now that we’re allowed to go into on-trade environments to introduce Fable, and the reception has been very encouraging.” Torrance emphasises that travel retail was front of mind when creating Fable, seeing it as a crucial channel in the longer-term plans for the brand. He explains: “What I love about travel retail and its environment is people’s mindset when they’re travelling. The caveat is that when it’s the six o’clock KLM flight to Amsterdam for a business meeting, and you have to get up at half past three in the morning to get your flight out of Glasgow, it’s not the most enjoyable experience in the world. “But most of the time, I think when people are behind you in Schiphol, and they’re going on holiday they’re in a pretty good mood. And I think why it’s important to us is that I believe that travel retail consumers – like domestic consumers – are searching out new, interesting and high-quality products. “Especially if you’re a leisure traveller, you’ve got a dwell time that allows you to interact in stores whether it be 30 minutes, 45 minutes or an hour. Some of that time will be spent on product discovery and I think what we have created with Fable falls into that category – something different and something interesting that’s going to catch people’s, and hopefully the whisky lover’s, attention.”
Indeed, as Lawrie points out, the marketing collateral of the Fable brand is well-suited for travel retail environments. He cites an activation going live with Harding for P&O Ferries aboard Iona in August, which will see the use of 11 plinths to highlight the 11 different characters and expressions of Fable. Alongside, a large video wall will show the full animation on loop, and then on screens in the individual cabins, clips from the animation will signpost the product and activation. “A key asset for us in travel retail is the animation, not only in activations like this one, but also through the use of QR codes to launch the video,” says Lawrie. “Nobody used QR codes a few years ago but everyone is so used to them now. That was always part of our plan.” The high visual appeal of the Fable brand has also driven the creation of an extensive collection of high-quality gift-with-purchase (GWP) options, relating to the Clanyard Bay animation and ideal for travel retail, not least aboard cruise ships with longer dwell times. As well as gift boxes, flip books and clothing featuring characters from the activation, there are, for example, volcanic black clay tumblers handmade for Fable by ceramist Bella Jones, again blending in with the storytelling. “It’s another talking piece for the brand, and I think with the GWP items we have created, that’s quite powerful,” says Lawrie. “We want people to feel like they’re really being gifted with luxury pieces, and to leverage the positioning of the whisky itself.”
The Fable brand lends itself well to social media, which was prominent in Calum Lawrie and Andrew Torrance’s plan for their venture
The 11 expressions that come with The Legend of the Ghost Piper of Clanyard Bay are just the beginning for the Fable brand. “Fable is an evolving brand as well,” says Lawrie. “After a period of time, with a fair wind, these single casks will sell out, and the Clanyard Bay story will cease with it. And then we’ll start with a new story. So that means new artwork, new illustrator, new animation and new high-quality whiskies. It gives us the opportunity to keep engaging with new audiences or our current followers and provide something new and exciting. So I think that’s what is going to keep the Fable brand fresh.” Torrance ends the interview by noting that Pendulum Spirits staged its first board meeting just a couple of weeks ago and emphasises that it is still “very, very early days” for Fable. He concludes: “This is a project that’s certainly grown arms and legs and we kind of let it do that because of the extended enforced downtime of COVID – we said ‘let’s make this as big as possible’. “Our business rationale is that if we had great design, great marketing, great liquids and great implementation, hopefully you should have a strong product. It’s only in the last two or three weeks that bottles have actually gone around the world into consumers’ hands and we are now in that hold your breath moment. We can think it’s good, but as I always say, it’s always easy to sell one bottle, but it’s really hard to sell the second one.”
The Moodie Davitt eZine Issue 299 | 17 August 2021
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