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A look back at classic Scotch whisky ads of the past

Published: August 3, 2015

These days whisky marketers have an array of armaments to get their message out there, from classic mediums like radio and TV through to social media and the deployment of Twitter hashtags, Facebook pages and Youtube channels.

Decades of experience and refinement have led to the pinnacle of modern advertising and the creation of such wonderful ads as this:

A black and white television ad that plays on Scottish stereotypes but also features celebrity endorsement and a stern voice over.

However, Scotch whisky ads haven't always been so polished.

In the days of Don Draper et al - before the dawning of the digital age - old school advertisers had a far more limited range of avenues with which to sell their products.

Few of these methods were as successful or as timeless as the classic magazine ad.

Here, we take a look back at some of the classic examples of Scotch whisky ads found in Scottish Field magazine and magazines like it over the years:

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Grant's Standfast

Grants ad 2

An ad for Grant's Standfast whisky. Picture: Scottish Field

In 1912, the recipe for Grant's No. 1 was written down by William Grant, the blend went on to become known as Standfirst - after the Grant family's clan motto - and with the help of some slick advertising, that played on the whisky's provenance, it went on to establish Grants as one of the world's leading whisky brands.

Haig Gold

Haig whisky advert. Picture: Scottish Field

Haig whisky advert. Picture: Scottish Field

Unless you've been hiding under a whisky barrel over the past couple of years or so then you will have no doubt heard about David Beckham's new whisky, Haig Club.

You know the one that comes in the fancy square bottle resplendent in blue and gold that looks like it'd be more at home housing aftershave?

Well, this is that whisky's forerunner, the Haig Gold, a wonderful little single grain that was one of the best-selling Scotch whiskies in the world until the 1970’s when its popularity declined.

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Highland Queen

Highland Queen whisky advert. Picture: Scottish Field

Highland Queen whisky advert. Picture: Scottish Field

Created by Roderick Macdonald in 1893, Highland Queen used Glenmorangie as the mainstay of its blend and paid homage to Mary Queen of Scots, who landed at the Port of Leith - the home of the blending company founded by MacDonald - in 1561.

The blend is still on sale but was at its most popular in the 60s and 70s.

The Antiquary

The Antiquary. Picture: Scottish Field

The Antiquary. Picture: Scottish Field

Still much-lauded to this day, the Antiquary has always prided itself on being a premium Scotch.

Created in 1888 by John & William Hardie, the whisky took its name from the famous Gothic novel written by Sir Walter Scott and built its recipe on malt whisky from Tomatin distillery.

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The Challenge old Scotch whisky

The Challenge Scotch whisky. Picture: Scottish Field

The Challenge Scotch whisky. Picture: Scottish Field

Perhaps one of the rarest whiskies on this list, the Challenge was bottled by Anderson and Shaw, whisky blenders based in Glasgow.

The trademark and subsequent ads were based on Sir Edwin Landseer's painting The Challenge, which showed a Scottish red deer stag poised for battle.


Ballantine's ad from 1970. Picture: Flickr

Ballantine's ad from 1970. Picture: Flickr

Still one of the best-selling Scotch whiskies in the world, Ballantine's have always used slick advertising to get their message across. In the 60s and 70s, the slogan 'Be a Ballantine's loyalist' offered their fans to feel part of an exclusive club.

Created in 1827 in Glasgow by George Ballantine with a recipe that supposedly relies on around 50 single malts including Miltonduff and Glenburgie and four single grains.

Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.

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