Jack Daniel's has been selling its "Gentleman Jack" whiskey variety since the late 1980s, positioning it as "silky and warm" with a smoothness that comes from being charcoal-filtered twice.
But for all of its life, the super-premium Tennessee whiskey has been overshadowed by regular black-labeled Jack, which has sucked up most of Brown-Forman's media budget. That will begin to change this weekend, when the Gentleman makes his first TV appearance with an ad that will air Sunday night during the premiere of Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown" series on CNN.
From now through December, the marketer expects to spend at least $7.7 million on media for the campaign, called "The Order of the Gentlemen," which will include print, out-of home and digital. Havas-owned Arnold Worldwide handled all the creative while Interpublic Group of Cos.' UM is the media agency.
In 2012 Gentleman Jack got only $770,200 in measured-media support, compared with $16.8 million for the Jack Daniels brand family, which includes the fast-growing Tennessee Honey extension, according to Kantar Media. Brown-Forman is upping its investment in Gentleman in search of a larger share of the premium whiskey segment, which has been driving category growth for the last couple of years. The brand -- which accounts for about 3% of the marketer's booze volume -- grew by 2.5% in the three-month period through February, according to Bernstein Research.
"It's a good-sized brand, but it's not growing as fast as the category is growing right now and that's frankly unacceptable to us," said John Hayes, senior VP-managing director for Jack Daniel's, who oversees Gentleman. He said average premium brand growth has been more like 10% to 15%.
The TV ad [above], called "Secret Meetings," stars actor Titus Welliver who appears in a dark alley describing the brand as a "twice mellowed Tennessee whiskey men order when they want to feel like gentlemen." That "twice mellowed" refers to the fact that the brand is dripped through charcoal twice, as opposed to once for other Jack varieties, which makes it smoother. The average price is about $30 compared with $20 to $25 for a bottle of regular Jack.
The campaign targets men who are men who are transitioning from their "carefree single" days into more maturity, Mr. Hayes said. "These people still have a fondness for [regular] Jack Daniel's," he added. But as they grow up, Jack Daniels "might represent a bit more of their younger days and they are ... looking to step up." And when they do, Brown-Forman is looking to keep them in the family, rather than sampling one of the other premium whiskey brands that are flooding the market.
The campaign puts a strong emphasis on customer-relationship management. Out-of-home ads will direct viewers to call a phone number in which fans can learn more about the brand and the "order of gentlemen." Along the way, the brand collects information like email addresses. Consumers can also sign up on a web site for a special "friend of the order" card that can be used to get access to special events. The brand also plans to engage with fans though social media and will send small gifts -- like money clips or drinking glasses -- to fans who talk about the brand.
"You can't join the order of gentlemen. You basically earn it though being an advocate of Gentleman Jack," said Greg Pestinger, a senior brand manager.
The program builds on Jack Daniel's long history of one-to-one marketing that pre-dates social media, and even the internet. Jack Daniels black label has had a loyalty club since the mid-1950s. "We have hundreds of thousands of these people that proudly still have their wallet card," Mr. Hayes said. And it's not unusual for him to run into some of them at a bar.
"I gladly buy them a drink and say, 'Thank you very much,'" he said.
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