Whiskey Dress Down: Jack Daniel's Spoofs Vanity Fair Shoot

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Jack Daniel's hometown of Lynchburg, Tenn., is not suit-and-tie country. Jean overalls and t-shirts are more the style. But that doesn't mean its residents can't make a fashionable whiskey.

That's the message liquor marketer Brown-Forman wants to send with a new ad that seeks to generate more demand for its expensive Gentleman Jack variety amid the ongoing high-end whiskey boom. Sales in the U.S. super premium American whiskey market surged 13.5% to $467 million last year, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. Gentleman Jack sells for roughly $30 a bottle, compared with about $22 for regular Jack Daniel's, known as Old No. 7.

A limited-edition bottle of Gentleman Jack.
A limited-edition bottle of Gentleman Jack. Credit: Brown-Forman

The ad by Arnold Worldwide begins by showing workers at the distillery decked out for a Vanity Fair-style photo shoot, formal dresses and top hats included. "Just kidding," says the voiceover, as they reappear in their typical casual wear.

The goal is to get more drinkers of Old No. 7 to trade up to Gentleman Jack, which is marketed as having a smoother taste because it is charcoal-filtered, or "mellowed," twice. Brown-Forman wants to keep Jack drinkers in the family as more whiskeys flood the market, many from far beyond the traditional American whiskey strongholds of Tennessee and Kentucky. Consumers in other markets are now tempted by local whiskeys.

"One challenge for Brown Forman is maintaining premium/aspirational status for the Jack Daniel's family when a segment of the population gives a status halo to something that just happens to be locally produced," said Robert Ottenstein, senior managing director of global beverages for Evercore ISI, an investment advisory firm. In a recent report, the firm pointed to a the menu at Ocean Prime, a high-end steak and seafood restaurant in Dallas. The whiskey section featured five Texas-made brands, and even a "Texas flight" of three local offerings.

Matt Blevins, global brand director for Gentleman Jack, downplayed the threat. "This broad trend of people discovering whiskey, however they discover it, is a good thing," he said. "And if it's driven by smaller brands that are new and upstart, I think that great for our industry. What we are confident in is the quality of the product is at what matters in the end, and our product is as good a product as there is."

The Gentleman Jack ad reminds viewers that "they are the same folks who make Old. No 7." The spot continues a broader campaign that has put the spotlight on Lynchburg, including this recent Jack Daniel's ad spotlighting its NBA sponsorship.

Gentleman Jack has been growing of late, with sales up 7.4% in the three-month period ending in April, according to a recent report by Sanford C. Bernstein. But Brown Forman executives see greater potential for Gentleman Jack.

Globally, Gentleman Jack has roughly 10% of the super premium American-made whiskey market, Blevins said. Old No. 7, by contrast, has a firmer grasp on the next tier down, known as premium, with about 50% share globally, he said. "That tells us we have room to run on Gentleman Jack," he said. "Even people who love Jack Daniels … may not know Gentleman Jack."

As part of the new investment the brand later this year will sell limited-edition bottles with a metallic-engraved label design inspired by a Patek Philippe pocket watch worn by the real-life Jack Daniel. The liquid inside is an extra-mature 86-proof version of Gentleman Jack, compared with the regular 80-proof variety. The suggested price is $37.99.

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