While the craft beer enthusiasts are certainly going strong, Jim Beam is hoping to tap into a different segment of the population with its new campaign: drinkers who are tired of hearing about the latest brewing techniques and just want a refreshing beverage—without the bloat and extra carbs.
The bourbon brand’s new ad, part of a broader “Need a Break From Beer” campaign, plays on craft beer stereotypes, joking about goat milk-aged IPAs, sinister dark brews and traditional German beers. Instead of “another beer,” the bartender offers one disillusioned customer a Jim Beam-and-ginger highball cocktail.
The ad may come off as a little silly or contrived, but industry trends are fueling its message. While craft beer has a loyal following, industry observers have noticed that casual beer drinkers are peeling off in favor of spirits and simple cocktails, even when they’re drinking at home.
Beer’s market share has been slowly declining for years. And while certain segments within beer continue to be strong, the overall numbers indicate that drinkers are looking for something other than a brew. Over the last two years, off-premise beer’s market share has shrunk by 1.2%, according to Nielsen. That’s including the meteoric rise of hard seltzers—many of which fall under the beer category as flavored malt beverages. Given those insights, the marketing team at Jim Beam chose to capitalize on this trend, which coincides with a steady increase in bourbon sales.
“We are seeing, just in general, a push away from beer—and wine, even—in favor of spirits,” said Malini Patel, managing director at James B. Beam Distilling Co.
“But in addition to that, you also see the rise of seltzers and more light refreshing drinks,” Patel said. “I think people are looking to drink things that are interesting, but also could be a bit more sessionable.”
“Sessionability,” which refers to drinkers’ ability and willingness to have more than one of a certain drink in a row, has become something of a buzzword in the alcohol industry. With low-carb, low-ABV drinks like hard seltzer and light beers seeing the biggest success right now, Jim Beam wants folks to think about a simple cocktail with its bourbon as another option in that space.
The highball is exactly that, according to Patel. It’s simple, so folks can make it easily at home while bars are closed or inadvisable to enter due to the pandemic, and it’s versatile. Each person can choose how much sweetness they want by either mixing Jim Beam with ginger soda or highly carbonated water.
But bringing bourbon into the sessionable drinking space does require changing its perception, Patel acknowledged.
“People still seem to think that [bourbon is] relegated to the dark corner armchair, sipping bourbon or sipping whiskey,” Patel said. “From a Jim Beam perspective, it’s just more democratic than that. We believe that it really is about bringing people together.”
The campaign will also include Beam Gardens—outdoor activations that mimic the atmosphere of a beer garden, but with Jim Beam Highball on tap instead of beer. While plans for those events have not been finalized yet as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to make in-person gatherings unwise, the brand hopes to announce locations and dates for the Beam Gardens soon.
The “Need a Break From Beer” spot, created by agency adam&eveNYC, began running on national TV this week. It’ll air throughout the year on more than 20 national TV networks, including MLB Network, ESPN2, AMC, Comedy Central, ABC, FOX and NBC.