TURNING DUSTY AND OLD TO HIPSTER GOLD.
Traditionally viewed as the drink-of-choice at 19th holes and unironically argyle-colored 1-percenters everywhere, Dewar's made a tremendous splash, surfing in on the wave of brown spirits' resurgence.
In 2006, I was handed an opportunity to really create and own a full 360 marketing, experiential and advertising campaign. Moosylvania, a very-recent offshoot from St. Louis stalwarts Zipatoni, was just thrown the keys to making Dewar’s Blended Scotch Whisky (not a typo, the Scots don't have an 'E' in 'Whisky') the toast of the bearded hipster jetset. To their credit, they had begun to sense a re-emergence in the coolness of brown spirits and dive bars in places like Brooklyn, Portland and Chicago - and wanted the right creative team to position themselves correctly, as these are consumers very much in the center of their brand-loyalty-forming days.
Funny thing, we noticed is how much these guys really sort of acted and looked like founder John Dewar’s son, Tommy. And like so many of these bespectacled, mustachioed world-beaters, Tommy lived an independent, enchanted life courtesy the family largesse (that's about as nicely as someone can say 'trust-fund-baby'). In his world travels, Tommy Dewar penned many a questionably-sober nugget of wise truths about life, politics, relationships, business and yes… drinking. Luckily we received an advance copy of a book that Dewar’s had commissioned about Tommy Dewar’s life and the answer to the campaign was right there. We called it “Dewarism” - the time-honored approach to life, the universe and everything - from a man so slick, so timeless and hip that he could wear a monocle to the Sigur Ros show on Tuesday and they'd be in Urban Outfitters everywhere by the following February.
First thing we needed to do was make this bigger than an ad campaign. This had to be a cultural movement. And as I had cautioned many a higher-up at Bacardi (their holding company), “the revolving door on coolness works once every twenty-or-so years, let’s not blow this.” We needed the support of the tastemakers, the cultural trend appropriators, and every early-discoverer in between. So we needed some music, filmmakers, artists, events and venues to help - preferably all at the same time.
That was the progeny of “The Dewar’s Collective” - a roving, loose-knit expanse of artists smart enough to know a little corporate might isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Our “BFO” (Big Flippin’ Opportunity) was first, helping us create a roster of musical artists for our TV, radio and trailer campaign and had Dewar’s inundated with emails trying to find out “who did that one song in that one commercial with that quote?” With nothing more than talented local AfterEffects Whiz-Kid Keith Fenter, some wry observational writing by yours truly and a few stock images, we created smart advertising people actually paid attention to - even being bestowed the honor of the inimitable "copyranter" blog complaining about how much he hated it.
Our whip-smart print and radio ditched the traditional media placement route and opted instead for NPR, The Onion, Tokion, Vice, Death&Taxes… stuff that’s still considered by many to be on the cusp 8+ years later.
Next, infiltrate the fledgling CMJ Music Festival in New York City as the first-ever spirit sponsor, with a wheeled “subgenre t-shirt maker” press, 25,000 well-placed guitar picks and a few hundred 9v mini-stack guitar amplifiers - festooned with "No, we will not make the logo bigger" amounts of logo placement. And the funniest, most unabashedly hipster-insulting insert in the history of the printed word tipped into that month’s Village Voice. (A tip for selling to Gen XYZ-ial Hipster Types: Make fun of them to their face. They always assume you’re talking about someone they don’t like and love you for it).
Last stop, creating a holiday to celebrate Dewar's role in the storied repeal of alcohol prohibition back in 1933. We hit our key markets with both barrels blazing, including not only period-appropriate event marketing, print and broadcast advertising - but guerilla tactics like 1933-era newsboys running through the streets of Manhattan the morning of December 5th, giving out Dewar's-branded reprints of the December 5, 1933 New York Times, proclaiming FDR's ratification of the 21st amendment.
For all of its smarts, its tactical placements and its going undetected as a wolf-in-sheep's-clothing, it wouldn't mean one iota without the brand affinity and sales to match. To that end, Dewar's enjoyed (and in many ways, continues to enjoy) a place at the top of the brown spirits food chain. Though craft distillers have come and claimed an increasing amount of the younger spirits drinkers' "must try" list, Dewar's got in early enough to remain a venerable standby for when they can't or don't want to bother finding an 18-year Pappy Van Winkle.
With the fickle and forever-shifting tastes of the "cool today, uncool later today" demographic, that's as good a win as you get.