East, Midwest Shops Chase Leaner Jim Beam Account

A need to take a “fresh look at creative” while focusing on filling its new-products pipeline was the impetus behind spirits marketer Jim Beam’s decision last week to put its $20 million ad account into review, sources said.

The Deerfield, Ill., distilled-spirits marketer, which sent out requests for proposals to more than 20 undisclosed shops, is said to be limiting its search to agencies in the East and Midwest. Incumbent Young & Rubicam, Chicago, will defend. AAR Partners, New York, is consulting.

The agency that wins Jim Beam’s business looks likely to gain an assignment for Jim Beam & Cola, a new cola-and-bourbon mix launching in April.

Y&R has been given the assignment for that product launch. But if it fails to defend the business, its successor will pick up advertising duties on the product, a Jim Beam representative said.

The company’s vice president of marketing, Tom Hernquist, a former Nabisco marketing executive who joined Jim Beam last February, said in a statement: “To succeed in the challenge of building our key brands, it is important to make sure that we have the best advertising support. Y&R will be a part of the review process and will continue to work on our brands throughout the review.”

Executives at Y&R could not be reached for comment.

Since his arrival at the company, Hernquist has revamped the marketing department. He hired former Kraft executive Boris Oglesby in October as vp of super-premiums and cordials, a new position. At the same time, he appointed Jim Beam veteran Tom Maas to oversee the company’s premium brands, which include the flagship Jim Beam line.

“They’re trying to continue to grow and gain market share,” said Eric Bosshard, director of research at Midwest Research in Cleveland. “They’ve been more aggressive than we’ve seen them before.”

The review includes all brands under the Jim Beam name, as well as DeKuyper cordials, Knob Creek bourbon and Vox vodka. According to the RFP, the company is seeking an agency that has worked in the fashion, fragrance and alcohol categories and has expertise in reaching Beam’s primary target audience of 21-34-years-olds.

The company is also looking for agencies that have experience with nontraditional media, including guerrilla marketing, promotions, public relations, event marketing and direct marketing, the RFP said. Such an emphasis on below-the-line activities would explain the media spending forecast in the RFP of $7-20 million, which is significantly lower than the $30 million the company spent on advertising during the first 11 months of 2002, according to CMR.

Jim Beam’s ad spending had been steadily increasing since 1999, when the company spent $12 million, according to CMR.

Jim Beam will likely look to increase its share of “on-premise” sales in bars and restaurants, where younger drinkers gather, rather than in liquor stores, which tend to skew to older consumers, Bosshard said.

Y&R’s work has targeted younger drinkers in ads that have a modern style. Campaigns for Jim Beam have focused on sociability, using black-and-white photographs of groups of friends drinking bourbon inside a bar with the tagline, “Real friends. Real bourbon.”

A campaign for Jim Beam Black showed men in suits with only their torsos showing having a glass of whiskey. The copy read: “Smooth, mellow and refined. Actually, we’re talking about the bourbon.”

Y&R won the Jim Beam business in March 1999, following a review. The incumbent, Fallon in Minneapolis, did not defend, citing “strategic differences” after working on the account for 10 years. Fallon’s long-running tagline for the flagship brand was, “Get in touch with your masculine side.”

Jim Beam is owned by Fortune Brands, the No. 2 company in the spirits category with $5.7 billion in annual sales, according to Hoover’s Online. Diageo leads with $17.3 billion in annual sales. Brown-Forman is No. 3 at $2.2 billion.