For one thing, traffic in bars and restaurants is significantly down this year, which would normally pose a huge problem for a brand that draws 40% of its sales "on-premise." But Jameson's sales in bars and restaurants have risen an astonishing 20% -- a payoff from the brand's inroads with the affluent young professionals least affected by the recession.
Then there's the price point. At about $20 for a standard bottle, the brand falls squarely in the high-end premium category being squeezed by consumers, who are either trading down to cheaper stuff en masse, or clinging to super-premium labels as one of the last true indulgences they can still afford. And yet Jameson's retail sales this year were up an astonishing 28% through August, according to Nielsen.
The brand's gravity-defying sales have their roots in a long-running word-of-mouth effort that dates back to the 1990s, when the bulk of the brand's spending went into selling bartenders, wait staff and wholesalers on its merits. It was an arduous task: Irish whiskey had been popular in the U.S. until prohibition, but during that period bootleggers frequently slapped Irish brand names on their illegal booze, earning Irish whiskey a hard-to-shake reputation as harsh and unrefined.
|Jeff Agdern, VP-marketing, whiskey & cognac, Pernod Ricard USA|
The word-of-mouth strategy–originally solely focused in New York -- worked well enough to make the brand big enough to advertise in print and out-of-home venues in other major markets with a campaign focused heavily on taste. That effort has created a national brand that earlier this year launched its first-ever TV campaign, from TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York.
"We've achieved a mass that allows us to take advantage of a higher-reach medium like television," Mr. Agdern said. "But this is whiskey, and it requires face-to-face (selling)."