Beam Inc. is (not surprisingly) timing its first big U.S. marketing/advertising push for Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey around St. Patrick’s Day.
Beam acquired the Kilbeggan brand -- along with the Connemara, Tyrconnell and Greenore brands -- as part of its January 2012 acquisition of Cooley Distillery, which has two whiskey distilleries in Ireland (Dundalk and Kilbeggan, the latter being the world’s oldest distillery, founded in 1757).
The acquisition marked Beam’s entry into the Irish whiskey market -- the fastest-growing spirits category in the U.S. in 2011, with a 23.6% increase in sales volume, according to the Distilled Spirits Council.
Since the acquisition, in the U.S., Beam has focused primarily on expanding Kilbeggan’s previously very limited distribution, reports Bob Gorman, director of marketing, world whiskies at Beam. While the brand is still working on distribution growth, it can now be found in bars and liquor retailers in all 50 states -- and that foundation has already enabled it to vault from being below the top 20 Irish whisky brands in the U.S. (based on dollar sales) to being in the top 10, he tells Marketing Daily.
Kilbeggan has, of course, done some consumer marketing along the way. For instance, it ran a “Halfway Day” campaign last fall touting Sept. 17 as a “holiday” (being halfway to St. Patrick’s Day) worthy of its own celebration. That campaign included a suspense/mystery-spoof video on FunnyorDie that teased viewers about what, exactly, was meant by “Halfway Day,” combined with special events in Kilbeggan’s five key U.S. markets: Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco.
Now, the St. Patrick’s Day “main event” is here. Starting in mid-February, Kilbeggan began an integrated campaign, from agency Walton Isaacson, that includes videos, social media, digital advertising, print and out-of-home, under a creative theme/tagline of Kilbeggan being “Ireland’s Best Kept Secret.”
Kilbeggan has created six videos to be hosted on its YouTube channel and featured on its newly relaunched Web site and “refreshed” Facebook page -- the redesigns reflecting the brand’s updated packaging design, as well as its new marketing positioning, according to Gorman. (The brand’s Twitter presence has also been relaunched.)
The first video posted (30 seconds), “Tight Knit,” shows a bartender in Kilbeggan explaining how locals are coping in their own way with their anxiety about the potential local supply ramifications as a result of others now being let in on their “secret” 250-year-old Kilbeggan whiskey.
The video then pans to Kilbeggan local “Darren,” who has taken to knitting obsessively to relieve his angst. (He knitted the sweater he’s wearing, which bears an image of a Kilbeggan bottle, as well as jodhpurs, Bermuda shorts, regular shorts, eye patches and mufflers for the sheep supplying his wool.) The bartender closes by noting: “It’s fine that Kilbeggan is out in the world now and…[skeptically] I’m sure the Yanks will take it slowly.” This video has drawn more than 9,000 views on the brand’s YouTube channel since its posting on Feb. 27.
The second 30-second video, posted on March 5, shows a Kilbeggan resident worrying about her husband Paddy’s stockpiling of Kilbeggan bottles all over their house (including in the shower), in anticipation of the shortage he is sure will result now that the “secret” is out.
The other videos will be posted piecemeal, as the campaign continues through the end of March.
One key to the marketing strategy is having hired six brand ambassadors -- recent college graduates from Ireland, says Gorman. These ambassadors are proving to be highly successful in raising brand awareness by engaging consumers through social media, as well as in-person at events in the brand’s key markets, he reports.
Other supporting elements include banner ads and pre-rolls being featured in targeted online media buys, ads in local/regional newspapers tied to events, and OOH ads in key markets.
Beam is also actively engaged in expanding Kilbeggan’s distribution and sales globally, according to Gorman.
Meanwhile, a legal complication has arisen: On March 4, New Rochelle, N.Y.-based Sidney Frank Importing Co. announced that it had filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York against Beam Inc. and its subsidiary, Cooley Distillery PLC.
The suit alleges that Beam and Cooley breached a long-term contract between Sidney Frank and Cooley for the supply of Michael Collins Irish Whiskey -- that since Beam acquired Cooley, it has “refused to honor its existing contract and engaged in wrongful behavior in efforts to eliminate Michael Collins Irish Whiskey as a competitor in the market,” in the words of Sidney Frank’s release about its filing of the suit. Sidney Frank asserts that it has and will continue to sustain “substantial economic damages” as a result, and is asking for compensatory damages (to be determined by a jury, but “believed to exceed $100 million”), as well as punitive damages.
Gorman says that Beam cannot comment on the suit at this juncture, beyond saying that Beam is “confident of our position, and that we will prevail” in the case.