Last Wednesday I attended the Seattle chapter of the Executive Women’s International forum http://ewiseattle.org/ at the Columbia Tower (with a spectacular view from the 75th floor). The guest speaker was Ted Simmons, advertising guru and previous CEO of Arnold Worldwide. An incredible story teller with “the guy next door” appeal.

His topic was about the success of Jack Daniels, which he’d discovered in 1967 while writing ad copy for the family owned business. This was in the small town of Lynchburg, Tennessee, and he was in his 20’s. Ted was concerned about whether he’d be able to meet their ad-copy expectations, and the line he was told at the time by one of the family members in a thick southern drawl was, “Ted, do the best you can, and if that ain’t good enough, then piss on it”.

Well, apparently it was good enough (today they sell over 11 million cases of whiskey a year). More stories about Jack Daniels unfolded, one campaign after another, about the founder’s family and the folk of Lynchburg. The story of the Jack Daniels brand seemed centered around living the simple life in a small American town (www.arnoldworldwide.com/arn.cfm — click on case studies, Jack Daniels and Brand Truth.

My own question to Ted skirted around the issue of gender and race, given the current exciting presidential primary race featuring a woman and a black man. I had noticed, during his talk, that every Jack Daniels commercial featured white men, so I asked whether there was consumer research done around women and multi-cultural audiences to see if they could, indeed, maximize their sales – or if he felt that this compromised the Jack Daniels brand. Ted thought it a good question, and said it was one they have struggled with. I believe he said, regarding research, no, not yet. The Jack Daniel audience is primarily male, 21-39, with a focus on the 20-something consumer in efforts to retain brand loyalty throughout their lifetime. Women are sprinkled within more recent ads, but are still not the focus. Sales are at about 1 million cases per year for the “female franchise,” leaving the 10 million left for the male consumer. I alluded that, to an audience of women, I assumed that more than a few of us have have had a Jack Daniels. And the conversations ensued around what other EWI members would do to appeal more to women.

But the answer(s) on both gender and race for Jack Daniels are still to be determined.

And yet, the brand has incredible momentum. The foundation for the Jack Daniels brand is built on Lynchburg values which are deeply woven into every fiber of brand’s soul, and it’s extremely effective. It made me want to pour a drink, and I’m not a white male. Says something for advertising…and the power of branding.

Michelle Anderson
Director of Strategic Marketing

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