Speaking of drinking and being merry, I caught myself eyeballing a plethora of options at a neighborhood liquor store Downtown Manhattan while heading to a holiday party. Between bottles of Clicquot and gift sets of Absolut, Johnnie Walker and Jack Daniel’s, surrounded by newer, less familiar brands, I wondered if the spirits market share game was a fair one after all.
In a recent issue of Fortune magazine, Jim Stengel, former P&G head of marketing and author of Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies, listed Jack Daniel’s as one of his top 10 brands, praising its ability to stay authentic yet implement innovation and grow.
As Jim commended the vision of Jack Daniel and his followers, I thought of spirits marketing in a more global perspective. In the last decade, dozens of liquor brands tried the Veni Vidi Vici approach in the US market. Take vodka, for instance.
Have you heard of the Ukrainian Nemiroff, French Balinoff, or the Jewel of Russia? I have – most likely because they all came to us for media planning guidance early in their market entry – yet, even I wonder what stopped them from becoming ‘global megabrands’?
Vodka and whiskey may not share the same audience, but they do share similar price points and advertising budgets. Vodka sales in the U.S. overtook combined sales of bourbon back in 1975, but bourbon has retained its loyalists. So what’s the secret behind the longevity of Jack Daniel’s? Apparently, it’s Jack himself – the identifiable character that makes the brand. Jack Daniel, Jim Beam, John Jameson – derived from the tradition, the name become synonymous with quality.
For most of 2011, New York subways displayed Jameson ads that quoted something along “I named my son after my whiskey,” emphasizing the loyal following behind the brand. The same approach is seen outside of the spirit world as well. Fashion brands often carry the name of its chief designer – Oscar De La Renta, Ralph Lauren, Miuccia Prada, Donna Karan – all implying their own style and quality.
Vodka brands, however, rarely use a dedicated ‘character’ to sell their products. Except Trump (a topic we will soon re-visit) and, perhaps, Svedka, no premium vodka brand boasts a recognizable ambassador. Maybe that is the reason behind the recent vodka backlash and its attempts to get out of being perceived as just an ingredient that provides alcohol. Or maybe the liquor marketing cycle has given way to other bar players — for now. In any case, the topic of spirits and consumer behavior behind choosing one is intriguing enough to be revisited. Until then, bottoms up!