Beam puts more into Black

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Despite fears about the economy, Jim Beam Brands is relaunching its Jim Beam Black bourbon with the brand's largest ad initiative ever.

The reformulated version of Jim Beam Black, an 86-proof offering, should be available nationally by late October, backed by fourth-quarter ad spending estimated at $2.5 million, with an annual budget of $5 million. That's a huge increase from last year, when Jim Beam Black received $164,900 in measured spending, down from $186,400 in 1999, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. In the first four months of this year, no measured media was expended on Jim Beam Black.

The ad schedule for the Fortune Brands unit's beverage includes buys in magazines including Conde Nast Publications' GQ, Time Inc.'s Sports Illustrated and Wenner Media's Men's Journal by the end of the year. The first broke in the Sept. 13 issue of Wenner's Rolling Stone. All bear the tag: "Jim Beam Black-it's time for a better bourbon" to impress the target, 25-to-34-year-old men who tend to buy premium-priced spirits, with the product's quality. The goal is also to move the bourbon category younger by demonstrating that the brand understands its target customer has moved beyond barhopping and tequila shots.

"He's a little more serious about his job and relationships. ... He's ready for a more premium whiskey because he's earned it," said Jim Maksymiu, group product director for Jim Beam bourbon.

The campaign, by WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, Chicago, also will encompass point-of-sale merchandise. Radio and outdoor are not part of the mix, though executives said TV may follow later. Company officials said 60% of the target audience should see the ads at least six times through the end of the year.

After bottoming out in 1997 at 12.8 million cases, bourbon sales have been nudging higher. Last year, sales reached 13 million, compared with almost 16 million cases at the beginning of the last decade, according to the 2001 distilled spirits study from industry publication Impact. Frank Walters, research director for Impact, said sales have stabilized as the children of baby boomers imbibe on the cocktails of previous generations.

Jim Beam Black's strategy is to aim younger since people who drink brown spirits-a declining category vs. booming white goods such as vodka and tequila-are aging more and drinking less. About 15% of bourbon drinkers are senior citizens, for example, vs. 7% who are in their early 20s, according to Impact.

The product also taps into younger drinkers' penchant for higher-end products, rather than the cheaper spirits that often stock their parents' liquor cabinets. "The landscape is shifting to the upper end," said Mr. Maksymiu, citing competitors such as Brown-F0rman Corp.'s Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, Allied Domecq's Maker's Mark and Austin, Nichols & Co.'s Wild Turkey.

On the market for 206 years, Jim Beam has had a black-label product for three decades. Mr. Maksymiu claims this new formulation, in the barrel for almost a decade, has more flavor than competitors aged just five years. Despite a sagging economy and a price tag that approximates $15 for a 750-milliter bottle-compared with about $12 for Jim Beam's base brand-Black's strategy has not changed. He said the company believes Jim Beam Black can withstand a domestic economy that appears on the brink of recession.

"Now is the time to do it. We're investing in the future and looking at the long-term for this brand," he said, although he added that the company would re-evaluate should market conditions greatly shake consumer confidence.

Mr. Walters, however, said he expected high-priced spirits to prosper, despite an economy that is stumbling. "People are still drinking," he said.

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