Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Are Beam’s Latest Moves Good Bets?

You should never bet against Beam Global Spirits and Wine. You will rarely win.

Only two American straight whiskeys are major international spirits brands. Jim Beam is one of them. Twice in its history, the Beam company has more than doubled in size by absorbing a major rival. As a marketing and sales juggernaut, Beam makes few mistakes. It is bold when it needs to be, but seldom reckless.

Generally, those folks in Deerfield know what they’re doing.

Three recent moves deserve examination in the context of Beam’s legendary marketing and sales savvy. They are the introduction of Red Stag by Jim Beam, a new PR campaign for Knob Creek Bourbon, and last week’s acquisition of Effen Vodka from Sazerac.

We’ll look at Red Stag today, Knob Creek tomorrow, and Effen on Friday.

The risk with Red Stag, a combination of Jim Beam Bourbon, black cherry and other natural flavors, was that it would hurt the company’s flagship brand by making it seem less hand-crafted and more manufactured, like a flavored vodka.

Predictably, some purists objected. The flavoring of whiskey is a touchy subject due to the long, sad history of counterfeit hooch, similar to what we now call blends but which were—a century ago—misrepresented as straight whiskey. Red Stag, which is more like a pre-mixed cocktail, has nothing to do with all that, but the combination of ‘flavoring’ and ‘whiskey’ still brings out those passions.

The attractive origin story for Red Stag involves a Beam R&D guy at the Kentucky distillery, who would mix up something like Red Stag to take deer hunting, which also accounts for the name (much as Wild Turkey was named after a wild turkey hunt). The marketing folks concede that their research discovered the target demographic (young adult males, of course) already mixes Jim Beam with cherry cola, so Beam and cherry wasn’t a stretch.

Red Stag is still deep in the sampling phase of its national rollout so it will be months before its fate is known.

While Red Stag can be viewed as something conventional in consumer product marketing terms, a line extension launch; the new Knob Creek campaign is very much abnormal. That’s tomorrow.


Lew Bryson said...

Nothing about the Kid Rock Connection? I realize I'm not a "young man," but that made me much less likely to feel good about Red Stag.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I haven't felt qualified to comment because I know so little about Kid Rock and his work, although I liked that duet he did with Sheryl Crow a few years ago.

The nice thing about this kind of tie-in is that you can effectively isolate it to his audience. You aren't likely to see Red Stag ads featuring Kid Rock in mainstream media.