With booze drinkers demanding more variety than ever, marketers that don't move quickly fall behind. Beam Inc. has moved faster than most.
In the past 12 months the marketer has acquired the hot-selling Pinnacle vodka brand, expanded its popular Skinnygirl franchise into wine and vodka versions and launched flavorful line extensions of its flagship Jim Beam bourbon. And the moves have paid off on the balance sheet, including in the third quarter when net sales jumped 8%.
Beam -- which has operated independently since last year's breakup of Fortune Brands -- began its innovation strategy in 2009 with the launch of Jim Beam Red Stag, which added a touch of black cherry to the bourbon. Naysayers doubted it, but the line extension took off, drawing women and younger drinkers to the category. "Red Stag really became a catalyst for our company to say, "Wow, we can actually do this,'" said Chief Marketing Officer Kevin George, who joined the company in 2009 from Unilever.
This year, Jim Beam added Red Stag Honey Tea and Red Stag Spiced, while launching the first campaign for Jim Beam Devil's Cut, a line extension launched in 2011 that is made from the last drops of bourbon trapped inside wooden barrels. Ads play off booze lore: As bourbon ages, the portion lost to evaporation is called the "angel's share," so Beam named the liquid left behind the "devil's cut."
Mr. George said Beam makes sure its brand stories are "simple, easy to get, and able to be told quickly." And more often than not, Beam is putting the narratives on TV, where it continues to spend more ad dollars. "Video is a great way to tell stories," Mr. George said. "It's tough to tell a story in two words or on a billboard."
In May, Beam launched the first TV campaign for Skinnnygirl Cocktails called "Drink Like a Lady." Beam acquired the low-calorie brand in March 2011 from reality-TV star Bethenny Frankel, who still works on it. Skinnygirl was the fastest-growing spirits brand in 2011, according to industry consultant Technomic. This year Beam capitalized on the growth with line extensions such as cucumber-flavored vodka and California Rose. Beam this fall launched TV spots for Pinnacle, which it acquired in April, with the tagline "It's more fun on top."
Beam's next big innovation is Jim Beam Jacob's Ghost, a colorless whiskey named for brand founder Jacob Beam, which will hit stores next year. Ghost will be touted as highly mixable, suitable for cocktails more associated with vodka or tequila. Ghost is "a way to keep [drinkers] in the whiskey category without having them completely jump over to vodka," Mr. George said.Key executives: Matt Shattock, president-CEO; Kevin George, senior VP-chief marketing officer; Bill Newlands, president, North America
Key partners: Starcom Mediavest Group (media buying); Ogilvy (Pinnacle vodka creative); StrawberryFrog (Jim Beam creative); Walton Isaacson (Skinnygirl)
Great work: Devil's Cut puts a fun, slightly evil, spin on bourbon
Numbers: Power brands, including Maker's Mark and Jim Beam, grew sales 11% in first 9 months of 2012