Red Stag, I speculated about the risk of category confusion. I need not have bothered, as that cat is long since out of the bag.
Consider Jeremiah Weed. The brand, a Diageo product, has been around since the 1960s. (Get it, ‘weed,’ heh heh heh.) It is a bourbon liqueur, which means it combines a little bit of bourbon with other flavors, neutral spirits, and sweetener. It is 50% alcohol. Wild Turkey American Honey, Southern Comfort and Yukon Jack are similar products.
Since the Federal government must approve all labels but has fewer controls on advertising, Diageo can get away with calling Jeremiah Weed ‘bourbon’ in a casual way, at jeremiahweedbourbon.com, for example. It is okay as long as the ‘mandatory copy’ (the small type at the bottom of the page) is accurate.
That original liqueur product has a cult following among American fighter pilots, not a bad endorsement to get, where it functions much like Jagermeister or Malört or just about any tequila, in that it is drunk ceremonially in shots, not because it tastes good, but specifically because it does not. It’s not a big seller, but steady and predictable.
So far, so good, but recently Diageo has decided to see if the brand has legs, so they’ve introduced new Jeremiah Weed-branded products that are classified, not as liqueurs, but as flavored vodka, blended whiskey, and flavored whiskey.
The vodkas are Southern Style Sweet Tea Flavored Vodka, Country Peach Sweet Tea Flavored Vodka, Sweet Tea Flavored Vodka & Bourbon Whiskey, and a ‘Half & Half’ that combines the Sweet Tea flavor with Lemonade. They’re all 35% alcohol. The web site jeremiahweed.com is dedicated to these products, not to the original bourbon liqueur.
Then there are the two new Jeremiah Weed Blended Bourbons. A blended bourbon is half bourbon, half vodka, but entitled to call itself whiskey. The Jeremiah Weed line now includes a blended bourbon and a flavored blended bourbon. Both are 45% alcohol. The flavored version (pictured) is, not surprisingly, cherry flavored.
Since the original Jeremiah Weed is not a big brand, these new expressions seem unlikely to set the world on fire, but they give people who already buy into the Jeremiah Weed image something else to buy, and that’s what line extensions are all about. The philosophy of companies such as Diageo is that consumers buy brands, not categories, so category confusion isn’t their concern.
Maybe they’re right, but I get a lot of “what is this stuff?” questions from consumers.
At least some people want to know what they're drinking.