As Stephen Colbert prepares to preside over an Irish wake for the eponymous character he's embodied for nearly a decade, one first-time TV advertiser with roots in the Ould Sod will be on hand to raise a glass to the dearly departed.
Tullamore Dew, an Irish whiskey label that competes with the likes of Jamesons and Bushmills, will make a high-profile appearance on American television during tonight's series finale of "The Colbert Report." The brand has ponied up for an ad in the second commercial pod, mid-way through the 11:30 p.m. ET telecast, and will run a 60-second version during the 1:35 a.m. encore.
As a prelude to the "Report" finale, Tullamore Dew ran a spot in Mr. Colbert's penultimate telecast, a buy that marked its official coming-out party on TV.
A distillation of a three-minute ad created more than a year ago by the New York boutique Opperman Weiss, the Tullamore spots are shot through with a (deceptively) funereal aspect. There's a whole lot of Hibernian brooding and singing going on among rain-dappled gravestones; strangely enough, all the elegiac stuff jibes nicely with Colbert's endgame. (Spoiler alert: The Grim Reaper is listed on the call sheet.)
In subsequent weeks, the 30-second cut-down will appear in prime-time slots on demographically apposite cable nets such as ESPN, FX and NBC Universal's Esquire Network. AMC will be the beneficiary of Tullamore's first buy aimed at a broader reach; the newcomer to the U.S. TV marketplace has bought time in the series premiere of the "Breaking Bad" prequel "Better Call Saul" as well as in the midseason "Talking Dead" opener. Both programs air on Sunday, Feb. 8.
While Tullamore's TV push has trebled the brand's overall media spend, as recently as five months ago parent company William Grant & Sons indicated that the tube wasn't in the cards for Dew. Senior VP-marketing Harvey Purchese in July told Ad Age that Tullamore "isn't a brand that has the budget to get above threshold levels in mainstream media."
So what accounts for the sudden reversal? According to senior brand manager Cindy Wang, recent developments in the Irish whiskey sector all but demanded that Tullamore take the plunge into TV. "It's a matter of making a statement right now," Ms. Wang said. "Irish whiskey is the fastest-growing among the segment … but of the big three [brands], we have the lowest awareness."
The U.S. is the largest global market for Irish whiskey, yet sales lag far behind that of scotch, Canadian whisky and the homegrown stuff, a catchall that includes everything from bourbon to white lightning. But the category is growing by leaps and bounds, and as the world's No. 2 Irish whiskey brand, Tullamore can't afford to keep its marketing dollars pinned to digital and print. (Case in point: Per International Wine & Spirit Research, Jameson last year moved nearly 2 million cases in the U.S., an increase of 17%, while Tullamore Dew's 73% annual growth brought it up to 165,000 cases sold stateside.
Having been aired in heavy rotation on European TV and after drawing 2.4 million views on YouTube, the Tullamore spot is ready for prime time. "We know we have the quality creative," Ms. Wang said. "Now we have the placement to make the most of a fantastic opportunity."
Tullamore declined to disclose what it paid to buy time on Mr. Colbert's final show, but media buyers estimate that a 30-second-ad in tonight's telecast could fetch on the order of around $27,500 a pop. Season-to-date, "Report" has averaged a 0.5 in the 18-to-49 "dollar demo," with a single ratings point equal to 1% of TV households. That ties CBS's "Late Night with David Letterman" and trails ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" by two-tenths of a ratings point. NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon" remains far ahead of the pack with a 1.2 rating among the 18-to-49 set.
Given the deluge of liquor ads in cable late night, it should come as no surprise that Tullamore isn't the only brown spirit this week to pour one out for Colbert. On Tuesday night, the host revealed that he'd sold the naming rights to "The Colbert Report" to Dewar's.