Thursday, May 15, 2008

Jim Beam Launches Social Media Campaign.

Jim Beam is doing something interesting to promote white label. It's called a social media campaign. It was explained to me that social media "refers to conversation and community in the online space." Okay, I get it. Interactive. Like a blog.

They don't want to call this a campaign. They prefer "movement."

Here's the gist of it:

A crusade has begun. Jim Beam®, the world's number one selling bourbon, is thinking outside of the bottle in an entirely unconventional way by starting a movement to recognize, support and celebrate true character. By investing their multi-million dollar marketing budget into the success of selected individuals and organizations that represent the "Stuff Inside", ( Jim Beam is turning conventional marketing on its head.

By all means, visit the web site. It is the most content-rich web site I have seen from any beverage brand, although I can't say I spend a lot of time looking at sites for beverages that aren't whiskey.

But a warning to all of my whiskey-enthusiast friends. There isn't hardly anything on it about whiskey.

Apparently, that's the point.

(Go to for the whiskey part. The "Brotherhood of Bourbon" lives on too, as does Beam Racing. Maker's Mark, Knob Creek, and the Small Batch Collection all have their own sites. Jim Beam has many web sites.)

Is it truly unconventional? We used to call this integrated marketing. One of the things I love about marketing, after 35 years in the business, is that the basic principles and techniques don't change very much, but every few years everything gets renamed.

So I don't know how unconventional it is, but they are pulling it off much better than most.

I like the way they are using it to tie a lot of existing initiatives together, like their racing, music and comedy sponsorships, which they've been doing for years.

I also like that they let the "It's What's Inside That Counts" theme get well established before they introduced this double-meaning. They were patient enough to wait until just the right time to expand the meaning this way. That's very sophisticated branding. It's very hard for marketers these days to take the long view, even when the long view is part of the brand's positioning.

There is one, small, quibbly problem with the whole package, however. It's the fundamental claim that Beam whiskey hasn't changed since 1795, a span of 213 years. It's a great metaphor, a nice way of saying that their whiskey has been made by the same family for 213 years, using methods passed down from father to son (and the occasional uncle or cousin). All of that is absolutely true.

But taken literally in reference to the whiskey itself, it's problematic, since no whiskey sold today is like whiskey was 213 years ago, and you wouldn't want it to be. That goes for Beam whiskey and everybody else. Whiskey then wasn't aged, the stills were different, the alcohol content was different. As for the Jim Beam brand itself, it is a post-Prohibition creation, so less than 75 years old.

What would be a good, smart, sophisticated, pro-active way to make all that a positive? De-emphasize the theme's literal meaning and build up its application as a metaphor.

Color me impressed.

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