This is how Diageo delivered samples of I. W. Harper to journalists and others this week to announce the brand's reintroduction in the USA. It is a little hard to see, but "I. W. Harper" is embossed on the lid. The covering is faux calfskin. The hardware is steel, medium duty. It's very nice.
Why such a fancy box to deliver two 100ml bottles, a glass, and some literature? It's a common practice, spanning my career (40+ years) and I'm sure many years before that. The idea is to make a splash, get attention, rise above all of the other things competing for a writer or editor's attention. The extravagance of the delivery vehicle is meant to convey the importance of its message. Sometimes it seems cost-be-damned. Also, no one seems to care about waste. After I've seen this thing, been suitably bowled over, and removed the two things I actually want, what am I supposed to do with the rest of it?
This isn't the most extravagant thing I've received. A few weeks ago, Jim Beam sent me a chair.
Also this week, Jim Beam sent me two 375ml bottles of their new Jim Beam High Rye and Rolled Oat bourbons. At the bottom of the enclosed literature it says: "To comply with FTC guidelines, if you choose to write about these products, please disclose that you received these samples without payment." I'm apparently supposed to tell my readers when I receive free whiskey samples, but it's nobody's business if I got a free chair.
From time to time there is a tempest in a teapot about producers providing free samples to writers. That anyone believes I would write something a certain way for the purpose of getting samples, or even chairs, is beyond ridiculous. Inches away from where the pictures above were taken, there is a stack of unopened boxes containing samples. I'm lucky, because I don't write about scotch. Those writers are buried in the stuff. As for people who cover all distilled spirits, or all alcoholic beverages, I can't imagine how they deal with the volume.
Before you ask, yes, I recycle.
Since I. W. Harper is a historic brand, established in the late 19th century when the whole idea of brand marketing was new, this kit is probably intended to evoke the sample cases whiskey salesmen, known as 'drummers,' carried on their sales trips. There is a great depiction of this in the film "Stagecoach" (1939).
Unfortunately, that connection was probably lost on most of the people who received the I. W. Harper package. Diageo could have sold it better, probably some creative director tried, but got overruled by brand managers worried about appearing "too old-fashioned." It's a delicate thing, re-booting neglected historic brands like Harper, Old Taylor, Old Grand-Dad, and Old Forester. You want the historic cred, which Harper has in spades, but you don't want to look out-of-date.
Speaking of Old Taylor, which is now owned by Sazerac, this week I also received a sample of the new E. H. Taylor Cured Oak. It's a 50 ml bottle. They didn't even include a press release (that was emailed last week). So how did it get my attention? They put a sticker of their buffalo logo on the outside of the box. That's usually enough.