Friday, October 12, 2007

Old No. 7

Sara calls my attention to a recent article in Business Week magazine by David Kiley about the way that Jack Daniel's is marketed overseas ("Jack Daniel's International Appeal"). JD is the best-selling American whiskey brand in the world; and alone among all American whiskey brands, it sells more whiskey outside of the US than inside, with Brown-Forman (the owner of the JD brand and distillery) expecting to sell 4.8 million cases abroad next year.

Given the weakness of the dollar and the fact that American whiskey is easy to like with its luxuriant sweetness, it's not that surprising that JD's overseas business is booming. But one aspect of their success is a bit unusual. The marketing message emphasizes JD's rural roots and the quality and honesty of the product, and that marketing message is remarkably similar throughout the world:
It's all a matter of emphasis, but Lynchburg's homey roots play some role in every market. To make sure, Brown-Forman, unlike a lot of spirits marketers, contractually has the last word on ads in all world markets and generates all ads from its U.S. agency, Arnold Worldwide, in Boston. To drive home the brand strategy, Master Distiller Jimmy Bedford travels abroad around 100 days a year, educating new hires at distributors and in the bar trade about Jack Daniel's and American whiskey, going as far as to conduct tastings of Jack Daniel's with and without its signature charcoal filtering.

The marketing isn't identical in every country, of course: ads in Britain play up the ruralness of Lynchburg, where the JD distillery is located, while that's not done in Indian ads because most JD consumers there don't have the positive associations with rural life that Brits do. However, the ads all look the same and all convey the same sort of message regardless of where they are printed. The ad pictured could easily be translated and run otherwise unaltered in an American magazine or on the side of a British bus. Not only that, but the marketing message has remained essentially unchanged for the last fifty years.

Jack Daniel's isn't my favorite American whiskey, not by a long shot (although I really like the JD Single Barrel), but I have to respect them for their constancy and their refusal to retreat into the gimmicks that American brewers and white spirits makers (Bacardi mojito, anyone?) have traditionally resorted to. The downside to their success has been a reluctance to let the whiskey mature as long as it needs to and a growing problem with the quantity of their water supply. But still, JD is an American classic, and I am happy for their ability to sell their product at the ends of the earth.

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