Last year, when we discussed the hidden consumerism of St. Patrick’s Day, we mentioned the commercialization of whiskey that was particular to this holiday. But most alcoholic beverages include a certain blast of consumerism all year long, and whiskey is no different. Today, we’re taking a dive into looking at the overall consumerization of whiskey and what you should be conscious of when you purchase this shot-taking, mind-numbing, winter-warming favorite of the drinking populace.


The Most Common Marketing: Luxury Whiskey vs. “Common Man” Whiskey

This duality of commercial consumerism certainly isn’t limited to whiskey, but whiskey is an area where you’ll see it quite often. Whiskey types are grouped into “premium” or “luxury” whiskeys and then into more “down to earth” whiskeys. You’ll see a price difference (obviously) in these two approaches. In full disclosure, there are some quality differences between a small batch, aged luxury whiskey and a mass produced “down to earth” whiskey. However, not everything that is marketed as a luxury whiskey is a luxury whiskey, and the reason that “down to earth” whiskeys are marketed as such has less to do with the ingredient quality and more to do with selling whiskey. Luxury whiskeys appeal to two classes of buyers. One is the actual luxury buyers who likely know a great deal about whiskey and have refined pallets. That, most likely, is a small audience. The other buyer for a premium whiskey is what is known as an “aspirational buyer.” This is actually the meat and potatoes of luxury marketing and entails non-luxury buyers who will buy a higher priced “luxury” item as a way to appear to attain a certain lifestyle. Many luxury-brand whiskeys aren’t that different from mass produced whiskeys, but they’re marketed at a higher price point and with premium labeling in order to attract the aspirational buyer.


You’re not off the hook either, Mr. Joe Jack Daniels! Many whiskeys are purposely marketed to appeal to a non-aspirational buyer who is proud of his roots and just wants a strong drink without the pomp and circumstance. Whether you’re top shelf or grab-and-go, marketers and consumerization both strongly influence how you choose your whiskey.


Brand Identity is Everything When It Comes to Whiskey

Do you drink the whiskey that you drink because you love it, or because the brand speaks to you? Are you an Irish descendent in America who will only, only, drink Jameson? Has your family had a bottle of Jim Beam on the table at every holiday for as long as you can remember, so it’s what you drink as well? All things equal, if we’re being honest, there isn’t much difference between one mass-produced whiskey and another one. So what is it that drives you to purchase one brand over another? It’s carefully crafted advertising, most likely. While it may not change what you ultimately purchase, it’s worth taking the time to do a little bit of self-reflection and consider why you purchase the whiskey brand that you purchase (if you drink) and if you’re making that decision or if ubiquitous consumerism is making that decision for you.


What You Drink When: Or What Consumerism Tells You To Drink When

We’ve already covered the fact that marketing and society and institutionalized consumerism have told you to drink whiskey on St. Patrick’s Day, but what other times have you learned that you should be drinking whiskey because of media hype and intervention? Is it at a bar after a long, stressful day at work? Is it in shots at a bachelor party? Consumerism doesn’t just play into us with brands and aspirations, it also plays to our sense of pattern and appropriateness. Would you rather have a shot of tequila after a hard work day but your brain is hard-wired that whiskey is the drink for that time of day and situation? Again, it’s worth the moment of self-reflection to consider how many of your choices are your own.


Are You a Whiskey Drinker or a Vodka Drinker? Did You Make This Decision Yourself?

The consumerization of whiskey can be so powerful that you may be drinking an alcoholic drink of choice that isn’t even your actual alcoholic drink of choice! How much of what you’re choosing to drink is because it’s your actual favorite versus because years of media indoctrination have led you to believe that for reasons of identity or aspiration it’s your favorite? Why not take some time to explore other alternatives and then decide how closely your identity is tied to what you’re choosing to drink. You may find that you’re a pina colada person after all!


Consumerization finds its way into almost everything that we touch – and that touches our lips. That includes the sweet warmth of whiskey. We’re not implying that you don’t love whiskey, or that you don’t love the brand of whiskey that you drink. We simply want you to be mindful of how media manipulation and institutionalized consumerism may be leading your thoughts (and your tastes). We’ve said it before in this article, and we’ll close by saying it again! It’s worth some self-reflection time to evaluate what’s “you” and what’s “you being influenced.”


Cheers and drink up!


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Photo Credit: Cedric via Flickr