Heritage As A Cultural Signifier Media

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Barthes demonstrates this theory with the example of a front cover from Paris Match, showing a young black soldier in French uniform saluting. The signifier: a saluting soldier, cannot offer us further factual information of the young man's life. But it has been chosen by the magazine to symbolise more than the young man; the picture, in combination with the signifieds of Frenchness, militariness, and relative ethnic difference, gives us a message about France and its citizens. The picture does not explicitly demonstrate 'that France is a great empire, that all her sons, without any colour discrimination, faithfully serve under her flag,' etc.[4], but the combination of the signifier and signified perpetuates the myth of imperial devotion, success and thus; a property of 'significance' for the picture.

A sign which conveys meaning. Ferdinand de Saussure popularized the idea of a signifier and signified. For example:

Signifier: Tree = Signified: the mental image of a tree.

Different cultural experiences or whatever shape

Connotations denotations

"A tree is a tree. Yes, of course. But a tree as expressed by Minou Drouet is no longer quite a tree, it is a tree which is decorated , adapted to a certain type of consumption, laden with literary self-indulgence, revolt, images, in short with a type of social usage which is added to pure matter."

Before I look specifically at the term heritage within the world of Scotch whisky, I will examine what heritage means as a cultural signifier. Professor David McCrone of the University of Edinburgh describes heritage as being a social construct and a tool which can be harnessed in re-constructing the past for the benefit of those in the present.

"Heritage is a thoroughly modern concept... We have constructed heritage because we have a cultural need to do so in our modern age. Heritage is a condition of the late twentieth century... the extraordinary phenomenon through which the past is opened not only to reconstruction but invention."(McCrone, pg 1)

Heritage has always been an important feature in the branding of whisky. Heritage can mean the product has had time to build a meaningful history and therefore narrative. It implies wisdom, if a brand has lasted for a long time one assumes the brand has been successful ergo appearing trustworthy to the consumer.

An older whisky is interpreted as being a more expensive and higher quality product, throughout the history of whisky branding terms such as 'Fine Old' have been used to signify a product of standing and of age.

"'Fine Old', 'Rare Old', 'Choice Old'...'Oldest Matured'... are terms that need not necessarily bear any relation to the quality or age of the whiskies..." (McLean, 2010 pg 21-22)

One can use theoretical understanding to delve deeper into the reasons an older whisky is more desirable ergo explaining why heritage carries such dominance in Scotch whisky branding. Aged whisky by definition can be referred to as antique. It is this antiquity that carries such significant importance in why it is desirable;

"The antique object no longer has any practical application, its role being merely to signify... Yet it is not afunctional nor purely 'decorative', for it has a very specific function within the system, namely the signifying of time." (Baudrillard 2005, p.101)

Here Baudrillard eludes to the grandeur that age carries, almost rendering the object without a functional use. With regards to visual historical signifiers on whisky packaging, the impression on the consumer is that of romanticism and of nostalgia. Scotch whisky packaging with historical signifiers or of age encourages a longing for times gone by.

"The demand to which antiques respond is the demand for definitive or fully realised [sic] being. The tense of the mythological object is the perfect: it is that which occurs in the present as having occurred in a former time, hence that which is founded upon itself, that which is 'authentic'. " (Baudrillard 2005, p.79)

For the most part age/heritage piques interest, and signifies withstanding the test of time, therefore creating desirability. It has long been engraved in popular consciousness that an older Scotch whisky is a better one; even amongst non whisky drinkers this opinion is nearly always carried. In a survey conducted by luxury Scotch whisky brand Chivas (theglobeandmail.com, 2011) an overwhelming majority of 93 per cent of people surveyed said that they believed older spirits are better. The age of a specific whisky is likely to have a direct correlation to its numbers and therefore availability, and as we know the less of something there is available the higher the premium.

Amidst the world of Scotch whisky specifically the term Heritage can mean one of two things. Heritage can either represent the physical age of a particular bottle of whisky or conversely could represent brand longevity through historical signifiers, whether they are accurate or not. It is for the former reason that a scotch whisky brand would want to denote heritage via the medium of its design - regardless of whether that particular whisky is reasonably young: 3-10 years or considerably older: 11 + years. An older whisky is on a whole, a more desirable whisky. One reason for this

The word heritage, when used in the context of branding is a multi faceted feature which Urde, et al. (2007) describes as meaning:

"... a dimension of a brand's identity found in its track record, longevity, core values, use of symbols and particularly in an organisational belief that its history is important."

Aside from stating age or the implication of age, whisky branding also harnesses visual signifiers in the quest of portraying heritage. A whisky brand, using heritage as its visual language could appear trustworthy and long established, or conversely run the risk of appearing stayed, old fashioned and fusty. There really does seem to be a thin dividing line between heritage as pedigree, and as a sign of stagnancy.

In chapter

National stereotypes

"Nationality fuels alcoholic drinks. Virtually all wines, beers and spirits proclaim their country of origin as an integral part of their branding." (Ollins, pg 132)

The second facet I have chosen to analyse is the use of national stereotypes and nationality in the branding of products.

"[…] ads push Scottishness simply because Scottish culture is inheritant [sic] to whisky." Wingbermühle Annika, Cultural Industries: The British Experience in International Perspective. 2006 p12

National stereotypes have been a prevalent keystone in the design and marketing of whisky since commercial distilleries first came to be. The term 'Scotch Whisky' is defined in UK law and protected at European Union and World Trade Organisation level as a recognised 'geographical indication', much like Champagne or Melton Mowbray pork pies. Indeed, before geographical indication was secured worldwide a Japanese, whiskey producing village re-named itself 'Scotland' thereby legally entitling them to label their bottles "Made in Scotland".

"The rules at the time on the international stage said that it could only be Scotch whisky if it were made in Scotland. It was a bit loose on the definition. One very ambitious distillery decided to make Scotch-type whisky in a town that it renamed Scotland so all bottles then could say "made in Scotland". Finley, Diane (October 6th, 2005)

Despite there being numerous whisky/whiskey producing nations, it is Scotland that remains synonymous with whisky, and one of the top five export earners for Great Britain. Furthermore, with 90% of scotch whiskies being shipped abroad rather than consumed at home - The majority of scotch whiskies produced are to be marketed to a global consumer, not necessarily anglophile consumers; indeed there are innumerable scotch whiskies that are created for export only, and are never tasted by the British public.

Anecdotally, I recall visiting a French supermarket and being mesmerised by the range of scotch whiskies available. "The French buy more whisky in a month than Cognac in a year." TIME (2002) It was also interesting to note that I saw a wash of tartan, claymores and other such ubiquitous Scottish insignia. It seems that abroad even more so than in the UK the romantic idealisation of Scotland sells the drink, and marketeers steer their products via the means of these rich visual pickings. Many would argue that these signifiers carry no connection to modern Scotland, yet they remain to be harnessed, and are as prolific as they ever were.

"That all Scots wear tartan, are devoted to bagpipe music, are moved by the spirit of clanship and supported Bonnie Prince Charlie to a man - all these libels of 1762 live on as items in the Scottish tourist package of the twentieth century". Burns (n.d.)

If they live on in the branding of Scotch whisky and in the global mindset there must be a reason. It would seem that through branding the Scottish whisky industry has helped these libels live on in global consciousness despite them bearing no truthful resemblance to post modern Scottish culture, this can explored by looking into Anderson's theory of 'Imagined Communities'. Anderson discusses a nation as being a community socially constructed, which is to say imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group. Anderson's theory supports the idea that through branding and marketing particular signifiers have been given the opportunity to further spread and become a part of a national and global consciousness. Through communication these libels are accepted and even expected of Scotland and its produce.


"In the world of alcoholic drinks the nation and the brand are inextricably intertwined, but this is only the most overt manifestation of a relationship that has been around since goods were first traded, that is still very much alive, and that is being very rapidly undermined." Pg 136

"What it all boils down to is that in many kinds of food and drink, especially drink, nationality is some kind of seal of quality. Nobody in their right mind would buy Italian whisky or for that matter Scottish olive oil." Pg 136

"It seems to me to be clear that apart from a few sectors - products associated with particular and traditional skills, or products made unique by the nature of the soil (Scotch Whisky…and similar idiosyncratic and luxury goods)… - apart from these sectors, and they are of course influential way beyond their actual size, the real national brand is in terminal decline, while the fantasy national brand Neutrogena (Norwegian), London Fog (British), Baileys (Irish), Häagen-Dazs (Scandi-wegian) is flourishing." (Olins) pg 146-147

"Scotch whisky is said to derive its particular characteristics from the natural qualities of local water and soil and from the inherited genius of those who distil it. Single malts come from different areas and each with its own special flavour." Pg 136

"So with a few exceptions that's the way national branding will move - Into fantasy land. As in many other aspects of branding perception will matter more than reality." (Olins) pg 147 ALUDE TO imagined blahs

National stereotypes:




Aspiration DEAD


McCrone, D., 1995. Scotland - The Brand: The Making of Scottish Heritage. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Hall, S. and du Gay, P., 2003. Questions of Cultural Identity. London: Sage.


Narrative: "A theory of symbolic action-words and/or deeds-that have sequence and meaning for those who live, create, or interpret them". (Fisher 375)

To better understand the thought process behind the branding of certain Scotch whiskies my investigation will utilise an understanding of the 'narrative paradigm' as defined by Walter Fisher. Professor Walter Fisher describes the human being as a fundamentally "storytelling animal" going on to explain "the natural propensity for human beings to organize and share their experiences in the form of stories and to create meaning through these processes". This supports the use of a narrative with regards to brand name creation. This human propensity to gravitate more to a product with a narrative, particularly if it piques excitement or intrigue, lends itself to brand name and copy on bottles, websites and other related brand material.

The narrative paradigm enables us to better understand brand communication and comprehend its ability to persuade. Due to narrative being such an integral part of our lives, as consumers our experience of brands is defined within a narrative structure.

"Since all humans have the ability and propensity not only to engage in narrative activities but also to judge narrative probability and fidelity, the narrative framework democratizes rhetoric, making it accessible to all humans" (Fisher, 1931).

Fisher describes narrative as being a universally accessible device: As humans we all posses an inbuilt affinity to construct and absorb information via the means of a narrative. Scotch whisky brands use narrative as a tool, whether the narrative contains elements of truth, is a fabrication or is a construct of the two; it serves a single purpose: to make the product more interesting and to load it with a certain chosen meaning. A truly successful narrative does more than just convey a message however, it can encourage collection.

WHY cos it makes you buy into brand, brand loyalt, collection collect more than one, inspires oyu elevates it into more than a brandf

Utilising or fabricating a narrative relevant to a specific distilleries bottling is an increasingly relevant approach to the branding of whiskies. With distilleries launching a plethora of different age/taste expressions within their range, creative marketing for each expression is paramount to singling it out as an exciting new release, moreover encouraging people to buy more than just one expression from a single distillery. While some distilleries settle for simply labelling their bottles as 12 year old, 15 year old, 17 year old etc, others weave particular stories and individual names around each product.

Often the name is simply based on geographical locality, for example 'Ardbeg' an Islay distillery have dubbed some expressions with the following; 'Uigedail' - named after "the mysterious loch which supplies the peat-laden water used to make Ardbeg", 'Corryvreckan' - taking its name from "the famous whirlpool that lies to the north of Islay, where only the bravest souls dare to venture" and 'Airigh Nam Beist' which is Gaelic for "place, or shelter of the beast or animals… and a very ghostly place it is too!" this method for naming products has earned Ardbeg a devoted following, their bottles are sought after, collectible items, often selling out within weeks of being released. While simply using the names of localities to the distillery, the marketing team behind Ardbeg pepper their wording with fanciful contrivances that add mystery and magic to what could have just been an un-pronounceable place name. Even so, for a consumer who briefly glimpses one the aforementioned bottles, the Gaelic names will no doubt capture the interest of a consumer.

In cases such as the aforementioned Ardbeg, the company intend to gain the consumers loyalty and encourage collection via the message of an intriguing narrative. The aspect of collectability is no doubt monetarily beneficial in the short term for a brand; furthermore it will encourage a long term consumer relationship. As the following statement testifies:

"Ardbeg really has figured out to push the buttons of slightly obsessive nerds like me … they've given each of their bottlings [sic] a story and made them intriguing to both collect and compare -- I'm apparently condemned to having to buy and taste their whole line!" (Geek Like Me, Too, 2010)

Baudrillard (STUFF) discusses

"Branding has moved so far beyond its commercial origins that its impact is virtually immeasurable in social and cultural terms. It has spread into education, sport fashion, travel, art, theatre, literature, the region, the nation…"(Olins, 2003 pg 14)

"...Brand names identified themselves with Scotland: either specific places (Not neccasarily factual) - such as Dew of Ben Nevis, Dew of the Western Isles, Strathton, Lorne Whisky and the Dozens of Glen this or Glen that"

Article name: Heritage As A Cultural Signifier Media essay, research paper, dissertation