Beam's First Global Campaign Aims To Make History

Bourbon Brand's Multi-Year Effort Is From Three-Agency Consortium

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In Australia, Jim Beam is marketed as "The Bourbon," in a move to make it the standard-bearing bourbon brand Down Under. But in the U.S., Beam has been going with the "Bold Choice" tagline as a way to appeal to consumers who want to stand out from the crowd. Meanwhile, across global markets the brand has been paired with everything from hip hop to country music.

It all got pretty confusing, which is why Beam is about to debut what it is calling its first-ever global campaign with common messaging and imagery across more than 100 countries. "You just want the consumer to see the same brand … and we weren't doing that very well and certainly not as well as our competitors," said Kevin George, chief marketing officer at Beam Inc.

The new campaign, called "Make History," will launch in the fourth quarter and last multiple years, spanning TV, digital, social media, print and out-of-home advertising. The effort will weave in some of the 218-year-old brand's heritage while calling on millennial consumers to make their own history, Mr. George said.

The campaign marks the debut effort by a consortium of agencies called Future Works that's composed of StrawberryFrog, New York; The Works, Sydney, Australia; and Jung von Matt, Hamburg, Germany. The three agencies had been working separately on Beam in their respective markets, but decided to join forces when Beam Inc. put its flagship brand out for a global pitch earlier this year. Together, the three shops beat other outside agencies that had sought the business. "We got the best creative talent from three different countries amongst those agencies that we knew well and they got the business with the 'make history' idea," Mr. George said.

Cowboy whiskey
The global effort comes as bourbon, which has traditionally been consumed mostly in America, continues to enjoy international growth. Mr. George credits changing consumer perceptions. In Europe, for instance, drinkers once considered bourbon to be a "harsh cowboy whiskey," he said. But overseas consumers have begun to gravitate to bourbon as "a great sipping whiskey that is very mixable with a slightly sweeter taste profile," he added.

Even so, bourbon, which by law must be made in the U.S., still has a ways to go before catching up with other whiskeys. Jim Beam had a 1.9% share of the total international whiskey market at the end of 2012, ranking it 12th among all whiskeys, according to Euromonitor International.

Beam, which was first distilled by Jacob Beam in Kentucky in the 18th Century, believes one of its key marketing weapons is its heritage, but the brand has struggled with "telling a history lesson without boring people," Mr. George said. So the new campaign seeks to contemporize the message, he added. TV ads are still in development, but early images of billboards display messages such as "Bourbon friends know things that beer friends don't," and "Once upon a hell of a time," as well as "9 p.m. The Dawn of History."

Millennials, Mr. George said, "have a want and a need to put their stamp on something" whether it be on a business or an evening out. So the campaign, he said, is Beam's way of saying "we made our history, what are you going to do?"

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