Ewan, Peter and Jo playing Peat or Treat as part of Inner Ear's Instagram Live stream from Lagavulin Distillery as part of Fèis Ìle 2023 in Islay
The “Peat or Treat” Gameshow we created for Lagavulin, Photo by Dougal Perman

Encouraging Visitors to Buy Whisky for Lagavulin and Caol Ila at Fèis Ìle 2023

“Let’s encourage people to visit the distilleries and buy the special whiskies we sell here. And let’s do it by creating entertaining and informative digital event experiences and streaming them on Instagram Live.”

Fèis Ìle, the Islay whisky festival, is a treasure trove of delight and discovery for whisky lovers from around the world, who make an annual pilgrimage to the island, off the Argyll peninsula to visit the island’s nine distilleries and buy limited edition whisky, especially distilled, matured and bottled for the festival. The festival provides a great opportunity for each brand to attract visitors to its distillery and sell premium products.

Inner Ear

Working with the head of digital for malt whiskies at Diageo, we come up with two different approaches. For Lagavulin, which has a famous brand, much-loved internationally, a charismatic celebrity brand ambassador in the form of Nick Offerman and a healthy following on Instagram, we devised a game show called “Treat or Peat”, a quicky game of bluff and bluster where the contestants have to guess whether their box contains a treat — memorabilia from the distillery, a prized item for superfans of the whisky — or a lump of peat. The audience were given a question to answer and then when the quizmaster and contestants were tasting the Fèis special bottle. Two audience members, who posted the correct answer, were selected at random and represented by the contestants. The one who guessed which box contained the treat was the winner. We did two broadcasts of the programme on Instagram Live as live in the moment, ephemeral pieces. They went down really well with the audience and got a great response.

Lagavulin Highlights, Fèis Ìle 2023

Coal Ila is Lagavulin’s sister brand on Islay. It’s a subtle gem of a malt, set into the hillside by Port Askaig with a stunning view of the Paps of Jura, on the other side of the Sound Of Islay (which is what Caol Ila means in Gaelic). It’s a core ingredient in Johnnie Walker and much used in blending, but it is a much-loved whisky in its own right. It has a respectable following on Instagram but it doesn’t have the same reach as Lagavulin so for Caol Ila’s Fèis Ìle 2023 digital experiences we planned two Instagram Live Rooms chats with two influencers, on in the US and other in London. Each programme featured a brand ambassador and the distillery manager in conversation with a whisky blogger and Instagram influencer. The conversations focused on tasting the special bottles and included chat about the Fèis and what the distillery offers visitors; Instagram audience were positive, with lots of interest in the whisky and the place. Instagram Live Rooms connects two different accounts to have a live video chat and goes out simultaneously on each of the channels involved, so you can combine the audiences from each one, bringing them both closer to Caol Ila and extending the reach of the brand.

Caol Ila Highlights, Fèis Ìle 2023

Creative planning was fun. A lot of thought, road testing and revision went into the game mechanic and programme scripts. We also had to solve a number of technical and logistical issues to make these live digital experiences work. Internet connectivity is always a challenge on Islay. Working in whisky distilleries means considerable risk assessment and health and safety compliance requirements over and above those we contend with at venues and arts festivals. We’ve done a lot of this kind of work and are well used to those necessities. We worked closely with the Diageo IT team and the event operations teams and did a lot of on site testing to pick locations which looked the part, showcased the distilleries well and had reliable internet connections. 

Live media production with vertical video also presents challenges, especially as we wanted to be able to have graphics overlays to display legal compliance information, which is not something the Instagram app offers. And although there are several software hacks that enable broadcast from a laptop (so we could use streaming encoding software, vision mixer, graphics and so on), they don’t facilitate Instagram Live Rooms. We were tending towards using a high-spec mobile phone and finding a creative way to display the on screen information. This would have made things easier in terms of using the Instagram app, but we would still have needed to capture professional sound and output to a large vertical monitor and speakers, so the presenters at Caol Ila could see and hear their guest contributor, for the Live Rooms link up. To resolve these issues, we invested in an ingenious device that had audio and video inputs, graphic overlays and other useful features for live streaming and ran the Instagram Android app natively. We will blog about the device and its capabilities soon. We tested it as much as possible, in many different scenarios and were happy with the results. It wasn’t perfect, but live streaming is full of unpredictable surprises; it’s how you deal with them that matters most.

These lively, fun and engaging approaches to bringing the audience closer to the action, and enticing them to visit in the future and buy whisky, combined the immediacy and ephemeral nature of Instagram with as much of a professional televisual experience as we could integrate, without compromising the liveness. We were all happy with the results and are considering other interesting options for vertical video. And while we were there, we also recorded longform talks from the festival as exclusive content for Diageo Malts Club members and captured candid moments from each day to make highlights reels.

Do you have ambitions for unusual digital experiences, using game mechanics or vertical video formats? Get in touch with us to discuss how we can help you bring your audience closer to your project.