Jack Daniel’s : How the Brand progressed without changing

It takes space in bars, both, top-of-the-line and rudimentary. It’s a favourite among civilians and celebrities alike. You can toss it on-the-rocks or in a cocktail. Jack Daniel’s is now a household name, but this hasn’t always been the case. How well do you really know Jack? And, how has a brand that has remained true to its roots, found itself all over the world? More importantly, how has it managed to march ahead while staying grounded?

It has got Character

Jack Daniel’s, the whisky, is inseparable from the singular character of Jack Daniel, the man. While Jack may have been only 5 feet 2 inches tall, his personality far outsized his height. And it was this lofty personality that was dedicated to produce whisky which he took pride in selling and drinking. Only the most premium quality whiskey would do- at a premium price.

Everything about Jack Daniel’s and its back story had character- The founder, the formula and the fact that the recipe hasn’t changed over the last hundred years and counting. Even the square shaped bottle design has remained the same, barring some minor tweaks. In the words of Laszlo Ravasz marketing director at Brown-Forman, “Why change what you believe to be the best?”

Shortage

Sales had increased so much that the distillery had reached its full production capacity. Supply overruled demand, which meant that Jack Daniel’s was sold only on allocation basis from the mid-50s to the mid- 70s. The scarcity in availability further drove up consumer’s demand for the brand. In fact, the brand didn’t stop advertising. It went on telling people what they couldn’t have, which raised the value perspective of the brand.

Its Connection with Music

The history of Jack Daniels is woven with music, right from the founder himself. He realised that music drew people together and in the 1890s, Jack formed a small town band with members from the community and called it the “Silver Coronet Band.”

Frank Sinatra was so enamoured with the brand that he called it “nectar of the Gods.” Sinatra would carry a bottle on all his foreign tours and take a sip before every concert. When he passed away, he was even buried with a bottle of Jack Daniels. Such was his love for the brand. Bruce Springsteen once wrote mentioning that he shared some Jack Daniels with Sinatra.

Musicians right from Jimmy Page, Keith Richards and Slash to Mick Jagger and Tom Petty have been photographed drinking Jack Daniels. Music is a big part of Jack’s DNA and is now tied in with the company’s marketing plans through sponsorship of music festivals and events.

Its Advertising Campaigns

Jack Daniel’s advertising campaigns have always been unique. Its longest running advertising campaign is ‘Postcards from Lynchburg’. It was first published in 1954 in Time magazine and then ran for four decades. It still appears in one place : The London Underground. The visuals comprise a black-and-white photo with copy about Jack Daniel’s, the founder, and the folks from the little town of Lynchburg, Tennessee, where the whiskey is produced. The creative director was Art Hancock, who was 27 years old at the time. Hancock, who was so smitten with the brand and Lynchburg, Tennessee stated, ‘We’re not selling a bottle of booze, we’re selling a place.’

The folksy appeal of the ‘Postcards from Lynchburg’ campaign made the campaign a runaway success. While Americans were dressing in suits, going to work in offices and taking the train, they still had a yearning for the outdoors, for a sense of community, for something that had authenticity. Here was a story that they could buy into. It was typically a tale of blue-collared workers in a small town, told to white-collared workers in a city. It was a brand built on the foundation of storytelling, authenticity and heritage.

The brand made a conscious decision to stay away from typical lifestyle advertising featuring colour photographs of men in a dinner jacket holding a glass of whiskey. In 1989, a New York Times article wrote, “Its advertising strategy will be 35 years old in October, and the latest black-and-white ad for the Tennessee whisky is not a whit different from the approach of the first one in 1954.’

Pricing Decision

Jack Daniel’s has always been priced at a premium. David Ogilvy also noted, “the high price makes me assume that Jack Daniels must be superior.’ This was by intention. Art Hancock was strict about avoiding discounts. Instead, the brand concentrated on developing some of the best advertising campaigns in the world.

While the brand has embraced music activations, events and digital media platforms, its storytelling has remained unchanged for the last century and a half. Jack Daniels values its customers and regards them as friends. And relationships, just like Jack Daniels, get more refined with time; even though they may stay just the same.

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