Jim Beam: A Marketing 50 Case Study

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Photo: Tony Pettinato
In a crowded, fragmented market such as spirits, it's hard for a slow-growing, mature brand to get attention. So, faced with that dilemma, Jim Beam borrowed a page from small children everywhere: It started acting out.

In February, when Jim Beam's Nascar driver, Robby Gordon, was assessed a penalty for an equipment violation, the bourbon brand sprang to his defense, passing out T-shirts protesting the decision at the next race and making public a letter from the company's CEO to Nascar howling at the "unfair" decision.

In June, Beam ran ads from Energy BBDO, Chicago, in and around Chicago protesting what was believed to be Cubs owner Sam Zell's imminent plan to sell naming rights to Wrigley Field. On both a website (saveourname.com) and a parkside billboard, Beam saluted the classic ballpark's character and implored Mr. Zell not to change its name, on behalf of baseball fans everywhere.

"We ask all Chicagoans to join us in preserving the heritage that the name Wrigley Field brings to the game of baseball," Rory Finlay, chief marketing officer of Beam Global Spirits & Wine, said at the time.

Such tactics give a feistier image to the venerable Jim Beam brand, which Information Resources Inc. identifies as the third-largest whiskey, with sales of $58.2 million for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 5.

Most package goods don't weigh in on such issues, of course, but the brand-as-activist approach is what Mr. Finlay meant when he painted the 20-foot mantra "Building brands people want to talk about" in the hallway outside his office last year.
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