The Spirit of Storytelling

— Bianca Mashal, WE 

Think about the last cocktail you had. Ask yourself: How much do you really know about that liquor brand — do you know where the spirit is made, and how? Its heritage? The man behind the craft? You’re quickly floating amid a sea of boozy questions.

Every day it seems another consumer brand is hacking the news cycle with heritage campaigns aimed at educating and engaging consumers, embodying the idea that “Everything Old Is New Again.” Liquor brands, too, are getting in on the action by leveraging their rich histories and traditions as a way to engage their target audiences.

Recently, top-selling American whiskey Jack Daniel’s went back to its roots to celebrate its distillery’s 150th anniversary. A New York Times feature on the brand shed light on a little-known fact about its heritage and craftsmanship — that Jack Daniel (the man, the myth, the legend himself) learned the distilling trade from Nearis Green, a slave in 1850s Tennessee. Now in a time when whiskey continues to boom, and race in America is a hot button topic — both in and out of the media — a timeless brand like Jack Daniel’s finds relevancy again as it enters the discussion like butter, by honoring its past. To offset the serious, history professor vibe of the heritage storytelling, Jack Daniel’s invited consumers to celebrate its milestone with a whiskey barrel scavenger hunt. On the prowl for 150 hidden authentic Jack Daniel’s barrels, consumers around the world are now a part of the brand’s history and its future. While the traditional storytelling definitely got consumers talking about Jack Daniel’s as a heritage brand, this activation keeps the convo going — with continued news cycles and social activity populating our feeds. Score.

Jack is not alone — premium gin pioneer Hendrick’s keeps him in good company by creating a brand personality as distinct as its product itself. First introduced to market 16 years ago, Hendrick’s blends its quirky, youthful cool with the old, evocative Victoriana of parent company William Grant & Sons. Think Hannah Horvath meets Jane Eyre. The result is an identity that is tangible beyond what’s inside the bottle — but throughout all of its marketing efforts. Last month, Hendrick’s cleverly and “whimsically” capitalized on its recipe’s signature use of cucumber essence by taking over “Cucumber Day.” A holiday just as popular as most of the other “International Such and Such Days.” It’s safe to say that cucumbers are about as exciting as watching paint dry, but by extending its inimitable brand voice into this campaign, Hendrick’s stirred up another reason for consumers to fill their glasses with their gin. As if we needed one.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, my WE colleagues and I recognize the roles heritage and craftsmanship play in storytelling. We hunt for the story that inspires people to share, talk and act. We’re eager to help our clients tell stories people can’t wait to retell. For example, through our work with Woodford Reserve, we have been challenged to continually refresh its yearly $1,000 Mint Julep campaign and get consumers pumped about the Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby. To do this, we invited the brand to take a risk: to transform the program and its story by modernizing the classic mint julep. Who doesn’t love a makeover? Woodford Reserve dove in like a boss, and soon we were joining in to help up its game. The spokespeople bench grew to include an award-winning bartender, beloved by both consumers and the media. To add credibility, an elevated media strategy built a stronger association between Woodford Reserve and the Derby. And getting consumers involved to determine Woodford’s charity partner provided a new extension of awareness and buzz.

We had to find a new, compelling approach for 2016 to maintain the relevancy and desire we had created. (The plot thickens!) Examining Woodford’s longstanding, storied history with horseracing and the Derby led us to embrace the idea of the trifectahoning in on Woodford’s history, craft and style, this theme reached in and synced with every facet of the campaign — from the spokespeople, to the distinctive julep cup designs, to the special mint julep recipe. And for the second year in a row, our agency helped Woodford Reserve become the winning bet consumers could count on. The results? The “Today” show, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Town & Country and hundreds more pieces of coverage — we’ll drink to that!

So, are you ready to tell your story? WE is ready to make it happen, with a glass already raised. Cheers.