Jack Daniel's Mike Keyes

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Go into any crowded bar, and there's only one Jack. Fueling Jack Daniel's appearance with Coke, ginger ale or plain old ice is Mike Keyes, VP-brand general manager for the No. 4 spirit in the U.S., and Brown-Forman Corp.'s top seller.

When Mr. Keyes inherited responsibility for the marketing of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey in 1997, sales were growing about 1% a year. That's not bad for a time when other brown spirits were declining. Now with the category still troubled, Jack's domestic sales are up about 6% to 3.6 million cases, the highest point since 1985.

Marketing efforts still stress the small-town heritage of Lynchburg, Tenn., but they include big events such as sponsorship of the World Championship Invitational Barbecue and George Strait country music tour.

"Years ago, some people said, `We don't do that sort of thing because we stress our smallness,' " Mr. Keyes says. Now he says he's figured out how to say "yes" to efforts that "make sense for Jack Daniel's."

The 40-year-old company veteran also heated up programs he inherited, including the Jack Daniel's birthday bashes and Hispanic marketing initiatives in Florida, Illinois, New York, Texas and Southern California. His group inaugurated a popular "Crack Jack's Safe" promotion in which bar patrons are given the combination to open a safe for prizes.

Marketing expenditures have grown at double-digit rates while advertising, by Simmons, Durham & Associates, St. Louis, has gotten more contemporary. The three-year b&w postcard ad campaign now incorporates snappy lines such as "the same since the '60s -- the 1860s."

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