Jim Beam is pushing a new solution to bourbon’s summertime sales blues—the highball. The cocktail, made from bourbon, ice and a carbonated beverage like ginger ale, gets a starring role in a new social media campaign aimed at boosting Beam in the summer, when sales of dark spirits tend to lag clear liquor like vodka.
The effort by R/GA New York features “professional refreshers” including an air conditioning technician, a pool maintenance worker and a refrigerator specialist in videos that plug the drink in as “summery, light and refreshing.” The campaign includes Twitter ads that will target cities experiencing particularly hot days. These ads will ask people to tweet at the brand using three appropriate emojis, like a bourbon glass and thermometer, and “#JimBeamHighball” for the chance to get an “official highball kit” that includes a highball glass, t-shirt and in some markets a $5 discount for Jim Beam that can be redeemed on Drizly.
While bourbon and other whiskeys have experienced a renaissance in recent years, the brown spirit still suffers from seasonality. For instance, whiskey had a 42 percent share of spirits sales during Christmas week 2017, compared with a 30 percent share during Fourth of July week, according to the latest data available from Nielsen. Of the total amount of Jim Beam sold, just 20 percent comes during the three summer months, while the colder fourth quarter accounts for 30 percent, according to the brand.
Rob Nelson, senior marketing director for Jim Beam, says the brand wants to “infiltrate the refreshing drink occasion in the U.S,” adding that the highball “is a great way for us to provide consumers with a bit of an unexpected way to enjoy those occasions and really expand what [the] size of business can be.”
The highball could use some marketing help. It fails to crack Nielsen’s list of the 44 most popular bar drinks. And less than 1 percent of bar and restaurant menus include the cocktail, according to figures from menu-trend tracker Datassential provided by Jim Beam. But Nelson says discussion around the highball has been “on the rise,” adding that it has the “credibility of being a classic cocktail option.” And, he says, “it’s an extremely versatile drink. We’ve seen a lot of different takes on it.”
Esquire traces the cocktail’s origin to 1890 when it was created by Patrick Gavin Duffy, a bartender at Manhattan’s Ashland House: “Seeing as it’s nothing but spirits, ice, and soda water or ginger ale, you’d think it wouldn’t take much inventing, but before then no red-blooded American drinker would have conceived of introducing water, of all things, into good red whiskey, tiny bubbles or no.…”