Agency-created Rum Brand Continues to Grow, Six Years After Sale to Liquor Marketer

Sailor Jerry Uses Classic Rock Song in New Ads

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From nail polish to booze, plenty of ad agencies are experimenting with product development, as Ad Age recently documented.

But few have been as successful as Quaker City Mercantile, a Philadelphia-based shop that 15 years ago created a lifestyle brand called Sailor Jerry. The brand is named for Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins, a renowned American tattoo artist and Navy man of the mid-1900s. The brand's flagship product is Sailor Jerry rum, which has grown to become the fourth-largest rum in the U.S. with nearly 5% share, according to IRI, which excludes bars. Sales grew by 6.3% to $31 million in the 52 weeks ending May 18, according to IRI.

Quaker City, formerly called Gyro Worldwide, sold the rum to liquor marketer William Grant & Sons in 2008. But Quaker City remains the lead creative agency on the brand. Sailor Jerry's newest campaign, called "Life Outside the Lines," launched Monday. Ads, which are airing on national TV, mix shots of skateboarders and motorcycle riders with cult film imagery and glimpses of tattoo designs created by Mr. Collins. The campaign's soundtrack is "TV Eye," from the classic 1970s Stooges album, "Fun House." The ads follow Sailor Jerry's national TV debut in 2012.

Ad Age recently caught up with Harvey Purchese, senior VP-marketing at William Grant & Sons, which also markets Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey, Glenfiddich Scotch and Hendrick's Gin. Below is a lightly edited transcript.

Harvey Purchese
Harvey Purchese

Ad Age: Quaker City created the brand. Does that make it easier for the agency to craft ad campaigns?

Mr. Purchese: They really understand the brand far more and in far more depth than perhaps a conventional agency would.

Justin Pittney, who is the creative director on Sailor Jerry, he lives the lifestyle. He loves the world of rock 'n' roll. He's played in punk bands since he was a young man. So we don't need to go out to extensive third party sourcing for inspiration. The agency gets it, provides it, and then turns it into creative which is impactful, true to the brand, and from our experience, appealing to the target audience as well.

Ad Age: What are you trying to achieve with the new campaign?

Mr. Purchese: [For] the first spot that we ran a couple years ago, the focus was on ourselves, the imagery was from Sailor Jerry culture, and the message was very much about who we are. And now what we are doing is focusing much more on a mindset to broaden the appeal and reach of the values that he stood for. The imagery we are using is from the counter-culture at large. … It's about living life outside the lines. So we created a campaign to express that spirit.

Ad Age: How do you view the rum category right now?

Mr. Purchese: At the moment, the category seems to be in a bit of a slugfest between the two biggest brands. Bacardi launched Oakheart [spiced rum] into Captain Morgan's territory. And Captain Morgan launched White [a white rum] into Bacardi's territory. And they just seem to be slugging it out [in] almost entrenched warfare. Our approach [is] to stay true to our brand and to build our brand without compromising on what we stand for. And what we are finding is that consumers find that very appealing.

Ad Age: Do you have other varieties?

Mr. Purchese: Just the one core variant: 92 proof, bold and smooth as hell, as we say.

Ad Age: Would you ever consider adding new flavors?

Mr. Purchese: We are always looking at potential ideas on all of our brands. … We may well innovate in the future.

Ad Age: Tullamore Dew got a lot of attention recently for a short film digital ad that was praised in creative circles. Have you considered putting a version of the ad on TV?

Mr. Purchese: Not in the short term. Tullamore Dew isn't a brand that has the budget to get above threshhold media levels in mainstream media. So we'd rather stay making a big noise where we are than [get] lost in mainstream media.

Ad Age: Did the campaign help sales?

Mr. Purchese: All I can tell you is that Tullamore Dew is growing very, very fast. We don't have a complex analysis that links it directly back to the advertising but it certainly has been a factor.

If you look at the Nielsen data from this year's St. Patrick's Day, Tullamore Dew was the brand that gained the most share in the Irish Whiskey category. [The ad] certainly has been a factor in a very successful year for the brand.