Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey is the best selling premium whiskey label in the world, according to the Distilled Sprits Council of the United States. So how does this 145-year-old remain popular with new and old alike?
“They change things every now and then to gain attention, but they don’t change too much,” said Lew Bryson, a beer and whiskey writer and managing editor of Malt Advocate magazine.
The whiskey brand prides itself on its authenticity and a message that resonates “from bikers to bankers” according to Jennifer Powell, the Senior Brand Manager for Jack Daniel’s. “The message of authenticity is the foundation upon which Jack Daniel’s is built and runs throughout all areas, from advertising to the whiskey making process.”
Jack Daniel’s uses the same method of charcoal mellowing that it started with in the 1860s at its distillery in Lynchburg, Tenn., where the drink is filtered through enormous vats of charcoal to make it smooth.
This whiskey is also part of American celebrity culture. Frank Sinatra drank Jack Daniel’s. Van Halen’s former bassist, Michael Anthony made a guitar designed to look like the bottle. Pop singer, Ke$ha sings about brushing her teeth with Jack, and Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Famer Jerry Lee Lewis recorded a country song about Jack Daniel's titled “Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7.”
These famous fans have been a boon for the Jack Daniel's brand.
“Pop culture plays an important role in the success of Jack Daniel’s because unsolicited endorsements by celebrities and in movies, music and television provide credibility and keep Jack Daniel’s relevant in consumer conversation,” said Powell.
Despite the popularity of Jack Daniel’s, brown spirits, like whiskey, have fewer sales than clear liquors, like vodka in the United States. In 2010, vodka generated $4.8 billion in revenue, while American whiskeys generated $1.9 billion. However, whiskey sales in America have been increasing over the past eight years, according to the Distilled Sprits Council of the U.S. Whiskey and vodka drinkers tend to be different markets.
“Whiskey has a market — rough and tumble. It’s the opposite of the cosmo drinking, Sex and the City type scene,” said Laura Ries, a marketing and brand specialist with Ries & Ries.
More than half of Jack Daniel’s sales are outside the United States, with the largest market in the United Kingdom, according to Brown-Forman, which owns the brand.
Besides expanding overseas, Jack Daniel’s offers new products to gain and retain customers. Products like Tennessee Honey, a mixture of its whiskey with honey liquor, and Single Barrel, a high-end whiskey.
“Within the spirits industry, there has been a significant amount of innovation with new products that piqued consumer interest and encouraged exploration,” said brand manager, Powell.
Given new buyer demands, Jack Daniel’s must follow the changing landscape or risk losing customers who crave something new.
“They’re putting enough new products out there for loyal customers to try something new without leaving the fold,” said Charles Cowdery, author of Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey.
At the same time, Jack Daniel’s continues to draw in new fans. For example, according to Cowdery, Tennessee Honey “is aimed more female than male. A way for a Jack Daniel’s drinker’s girlfriend to drink Jack Daniel’s.”
As successful as Jack Daniel’s whiskey has been, it must be careful not to stretch far beyond the original brand.
“Jack Daniel’s is protective. They look at how they can leverage their brand name without cheapening it,” said Peter Krass, author of Blood & Whiskey: The Life and Times of Jack Daniel.
The whiskey brand branched outside of alcoholic beverages in 1988 with its first cookbook, Jack Daniel’s Spirit of Tennessee Cookbook, which features recipes with the famous whiskey. In 2001, Brown-Forman licensed Heinz U.S.A. to manufacture a line of Jack Daniel’s barbeque sauces and marinades.
“The idea behind it is to extend the brand beyond whiskey so a person can be a Jack Daniel’s person but not actually drink Jack Daniel’s,” said Cowdery.
Nevertheless, Krass said “Jack Daniel’s mustard, barbeque sauce all tie back together to the same down-home image.”