Can J√§germeister‚Äôs Bold Rebranding Effort Shake Off the Brand’s Long-Standing Frat Bro Image?

German-focused Opperman Weiss campaign targets millennials

The brand is going for dark and moody in its latest campaign. JaŐągermeister
Headshot of Sammy Nickalls

J√§germeister is fully aware of how it‚Äôs been perceived over the past several decades‚ÄĒand how it‚Äôs been celebrated at frat parties on college campuses across the country. From J√§ger-bombs to shots, the liquor is arguably less known for its complex flavor profile than it is for its party vibes. Chris Peddy, Mast-J√§germeister U.S. CMO, is not trying to hide J√§ger‚Äôs past. Instead, he’s looking to change society‚Äôs associations with the iconic licorice-flavored amaro.

This past May, J√§germeister unveiled its new brand identity coupled with a campaign entitled “Be the Meister,” which the brand said in a statement is intended to encourage its consumers to “be meisters of their own lives, with the mantra, ‘Do what you do masterfully and you can live by your own rules.'” The move is an attempt to shift the focus back from frat boy J√§ger-bombs to the liquor’s German heritage, as well as its creation by Curt Mast, who blended 56 herbs and spices to make¬†the liquor.

J√§ger‚Äôs creative agency, Opperman Weiss, came up with a new campaign that incorporates dark, intriguing ads that take viewers into German nightclubs to behold the “Meister of Cold,” played by supermodel Nadja Auermann. “This Bauhaus‚Äďinspired glimpse into the Berlin underground is an own-able, modern way for the brand to maintain its category leadership while solidifying its position as a truly refined spirit,” Jeff Weiss, co-founder and CCO at Opperman Weiss, said in a statement. “This is no doubt a pivotal time for J√§germeister.”

The marketing campaign has included “new broadcast, digital video and radio, extensive social media, a revamp of our drink strategy and new in-store and on-premise bar activations,” according to Peddy. He added that the company’s Brand Meister (brand master), Willy Shine, has been instrumental in the revamp, creating a new drink strategy that “reflects the diversity of the brand” by including “new innovative cocktails, classic cocktail variations, and shot and specialty beer pairings.”

But why the sudden drastic shift from red solo cups to the so-called “Meister of Cold?”

Peddy explained¬†that their consumers have an “appreciation for the people, heritage and product quality that goes into a brand.” That‚Äôs why every aspect of the new branding touches on “every pillar of the brand‚Äôs identity,” including its alchemist heritage in the forests and the streets; “dark fun” (which Peddy noted was “dry humor with a German twist”); and the brand‚Äôs [aesthetic] of the stag, the cross and the three colors of green, gold and amber.

Of course, a sudden craving for authenticity isn‚Äôt the only reason J√§ger would take such drastic measures. According to Erica Carranza, vp of consumer psychology at market research and strategy firm Chadwick Martin Bailey, abandoning the “frat boy and Red Bull” image is an obvious and necessary strategy.

“[A]s a consumer, if you don‚Äôt like the kind of person you think drinks J√§ger, you‚Äôre not going to drink it yourself,” Carranza said. “That‚Äôs because consumers aren‚Äôt just asking themselves, ‘What brand do I want to use?’ At a deeper level, they‚Äôre asking: ‘Do I want to be the kind of person who uses this brand?’ To really attract new consumers, brands have to give them a tribe that they want to belong to.”

Perhaps in an effort to do just that, J√§germeister turned to the most controversial generation of modern time: millennials. J√§ger‚Äôs previous target demographic was fairly large‚ÄĒ21- to 39-year-olds. However, in 2015, the brand shifted focus to 21- to 29-year-olds, with a heavy emphasis on what Peddy calls the “sweet spot,” ages 21 to 24. “With the new positioning, the brand‚Äôs objective is for consumers to reconsider J√§germeister as a cool, aspirational, and premium brand,” Peddy said.

But will this new positioning alienate its prior fan base?

Not if they do it right, according to Sandy Rubinstein, CEO of full-service digital marketing and advertising firm DXagency. By concentrating on heightening its image from party to premium‚ÄĒespecially by highlighting the spirit‚Äôs 56 ingredients and subtly changing the bottle design‚ÄĒJ√§ger is growing up alongside its initial loyal fan base among partying Gen-Xers, Rubenstein said. “There is a tremendous value to being a product that consumers are introduced to early, but those same consumers are now interested in what‚Äôs in the bottle and that‚Äôs a tremendous opportunity for the brand to capitalize on,” Rubinstein said.

The concept of brands “growing up” isn‚Äôt new; in fact, outlets such as Forbes and Men‚Äôs Journal discussed J√§ger‚Äôs coming-of-age in 2015, when the public‚Äôs perception of complex cocktails seemed to spike. However, Carranza warned that while the brand‚Äôs new strategy is undoubtedly a departure‚ÄĒafter all, if there‚Äôs an opposite of a frat party, a Berlin nightclub is pretty much it‚ÄĒit may not translate to America, where¬†J√§ger is¬†one of the best-selling imported liquors. “I‚Äôm not sure that the avant-garde German crowd in the ad represented a tribe that‚Äôs appealing to American millennials,” Carranza explained. “There may have been a better direction they could have gone in presenting a new image of the kind of person who drinks J√§ger.”

@sammynickalls Sammy Nickalls is a freelance writer and the former departments editor at Adweek.