'The right amount of craic': Inside Jameson's social strategy

Irish whiskey has attracted legions of American drinkers in recent years, who prefer its light-bodied sweetness to scotch’s smokiness and the rounder contours of bourbon. Riding that wave is Jameson, the blended Irish whiskey produced by Pernod Ricard.

The brand has received shoutouts from Lady Gaga and Rihanna — the former called the whiskey “my long-time boyfriend” and the latter mentioned the brand in a song — and has been a perennial favorite of American barhoppers. With a retail value of $990 million in 2014, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Jameson was No. 12 on the list of the most powerful whiskey brands in the world.

“The whiskey category has seen a huge resurgence with younger consumers, females as well as Hispanics experimenting more,” said Sona Bajaria, brand director, Jameson at Pernod Ricard USA. “So we’re definitely paying attention and ensuring that we use social and digital in an optimal way.”

When Pernod Ricard bought the company Irish Distillers Ltd. in 1988, the strategy was to go after vodka and white-rum drinkers, marketing it not as Irish whiskey but as a light and pleasant drink that went down as easily by itself as it did in any cocktails.

In the social era, the brand’s approach to marketing has had to evolve. Jameson is churning out a mix of long-form and shot-sized content across a range of platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and most recently Snapchat. The common thread, across all platforms, has been to evoke its 200 years plus heritage with the new slogan: “Sine Metu,” meaning “without fear.”

“What we’ve learned over the years is that whether you’re a new drinker or someone that’s been drinking for a while, people want to hear the Jameson story,” said Bajaria. “People love the brand story — we’re just customizing it according to the platform and our target.”

People may or may not “love the brand story.” They certainly do enjoy getting blotto on affordable, easy-to-drink hooch. According to IWSR (International Wine & Spirit Research), Americans drank 24 million cases of domestically produced whiskey in 2013 — almost a 30 percent increase from a decade ago.

These are Americans of all ages, too, which means Jameson is taking a two-pronged approach toward its marketing. “Jameson Drinking Buddies,” for example, is a long-form video series targeted to more mature drinkers. Jameson partnered with five different craft brewers from across the U.S. to show the uniqueness and high quality of both beer and whiskey craftsmanship. It brought these brewers to its factory in Ireland, sending them back home with Jameson Whiskey barrels to age their beers in. The trips were filmed and snippets of the videos were also put out on Facebook through paid spend.

But Jameson also wants to show it speaks the same language as millennials just as they’re coming of age. On St. Patrick’s Day, the French-owned Irish distiller along with agency 360i ran a sponsored geofilter on Snapchat, age-gated and targeted to Snapchatters 21 years-old and up. This built on the success of its 2015 St. Patrick’s Day effort, where it used 3D video autoplaying ads of bartenders sliding shots across the bar on both Facebook and Instagram, and according to the brand, “outperformed benchmarks by three times the number of estimated views.”

SPD Jameson Snapchat Filter Example

“I think it boils down to making sure we have the right amount of ‘craic,’ or the Irish word for fun or enjoyment,” said Bajaria. “We are real, down-to-earth, unpretentious and know how to have fun.”

The brand’s aggressive marketing has landed the Jameson a spot in L2’s 2015 Spirits Index ranking, making it one of the best digital marketers in the category. It has more than 57,300 followers on Instagram, 41,500 subscribers on YouTube and over 2 million likes on Facebook. (Still, with an L2 “digital IQ” of 113, it has some catching up to do with competitors like Macallan, for instance, whose digital IQ is 130.)

“Digital is all about trial-and-error, and learning, evolving and optimizing every day,” said Bajaria. “But the risks are worth taking because that’s what the environment calls for.”

While the brand declined to give figures, Bajaria said that digital and social spend now comprised the majority of its communications budget. It will continue to grow, with an “assembly line” of five to 10 people working with both agencies and in-house content marketing teams at Facebook and Instagram to keep the content stream flowing.

“We’ll continue to look at new channels, but Facebook and Instagram are the two critical pillars of our social strategy,” said Bajaria. “They obviously have great targeting capabilities, which is exciting for us, but there is also the opportunity to actually partner with their in-house teams and build things together.”