Knob Creek Sends Brand Message in Empty Bottle

I admit I was non-plussed a few weeks ago when I opened up a package from Jim Beam’s Knob Creek Bourbon brand to find…an empty bottle.

As someone who writes about spirits, as well as marketing and the auto industry, I open a box from a distillery with great anticipation of finding a new product to try on a frustrating afternoon.

When I saw the point of the campaign—to warn fans that there will be a shortage of the stuff this year because we drank it faster than they could properly age their supply—I thought…harumph! Contrived.

Now that I have a bit of time to digest it…I lift my glass.

Knob Creek is a premium niche brand of Jim Beam. It is Bourbon aged 9 years. And because there has been such a run on premium aged spirits, I find in my travels that there is a certain skepticism among casual drinkers that there is much difference, say, between a 6 year old and 9 year old Bourbon, or a 10-year old Scotch and a 15-year old Scotch.

I have also met some skepticism on the part of drinkers that the stuff they are getting is really as old as it says on the label.

In fact, distilleries, in part because of the taxes levied on the stuff, have to keep a very tight inventory control. And they know if they started playing around with not fulfilling the promise on the label, word would leak out like a whiskey barrel in a shooting gallery. The last thing they want to do is compromise the integrity of their brands, let alone incur the wrath of the tax authorities.

So, this campaign was a clever reminder that no whiskey is bottled before its time. Beam spends very little on advertising Knob Creek. As sales show, they are selling as much, or as little, as it is bottling.

Beam’s age management is no different than its rivals. But it was a clever way to remind fans and doubting Thomases that it isn’t fooling around with its aging processes just to meet a spike in demand.

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