Long before the emergence of today’s popular spirits, such as vodka and rum, Canadian whisky held a prominent place in the distilled spirits industry. The category claims a share of a bit more than a third of all whisky sales in the U.S. and 61.5 percent of imported whisky sales here. Most Canadians are blended, multi-grain whiskies with great mixability. Therefore, they are quite relevant to today’s cocktail culture. But despite its unique flavor profile, Canadian whisky sales overall have remained virtually flat since 2000. And in 2006, the category inched up by just 0.3 percent.
Unlike other “hotter” spirits today, a major factor in Canadian whisky’s flat growth has been a sharp decline in advertising outlays over the last few years. But Canadian Club Whisky, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, is changing that. The brand, which is supplied by Beam Global Spirits & Wine, has launched its first multi-layered national ad campaign in nearly 20 years. Aimed at males younger than the traditional over-40 Canadian whisky consumer group, the “Damn Right Your Dad Drank It” campaign features masculine imagery from the 1960s and ’70s.
Mike Ginal explains his responsibilities as Canada Club’s brand manager, provides his perspective on how Canadian whisky can increase sales, and fills us in on the strategy behind Canadian Club’s provocative “Damn Right” campaign.
The Beverage Information Group (BIG): The marking of Canadian Club's 150th anniversary this year shows the great longevity of Canadian whisky and the Canadian Club brand in particular. Begun in 1858 by Hiram Walker in Ontario, the brand has survived milestones, including Prohibition, when one of its best customers was Al Capone. What is it about this brand that has enabled it to thrive for 150 years? How has this product changed over the years, and in what ways has it stayed the same as today?
Mike Ginal: First and foremost, Canadian Club's success and longevity can be attributed to the quality of the product inside the bottle. CC, unlike most competitors, is blended before aging, which allows the distillates to marry during the aging process--ultimately creating a smoother and more sophisticated flavor. It's this uniquely smooth taste profile which has allowed Canadian Club to endure through all of the different trends and fads over the years because consumers have always appreciated--and continue to appreciate--the taste of a classic cocktail. This was true for those Prohibition rumrunners, but also for today's consumers who are looking for a classic, great tasting drink. Fortunately, the CC recipe and production process have not changed during the brand's 150 year history.
In addition to the product itself, Canadian Club has run some of the most successful consumer campaigns and trade programs in the history of the spirits industry, from the Hide-A-Case consumer campaign of the 1960s and '70s to our famed sales program, Canadian Club Society, which enters its 45th consecutive year in 2008 and continues to be one of the most prestigious sales programs in the spirits industry.
BIG: What are you responsible for as brand manager of Canadian Club Whisky?
Ginal: Beam Global’s vision is “building brands people want to talk about.” As Brand Manager of Canadian Club, my job is to make legal purchase age consumers want to talk about CC. Specifically, this means that I am responsible for developing and implementing marketing strategies and activities for Canadian Club in the U.S. And 2007 has been an incredible year for the brand. We announced the launch of “Damn Right Your Dad Drank It,” the first national multi-layered advertising campaign for the brand in nearly 20 years. The national consumer print advertising, which began in November, lays the foundation for the brand idea. But it’s the other activities that we’re doing on-premise and through other non-traditional means which are truly going to bring the brand to life--and get people talking about Canadian Club.
BIG: Canadian whisky does not have the wide consumer recognition of other spirits, such as vodka, yet whisky has a longer history and tradition. Why is this so?
Ginal: The vodka category has experienced tremendous growth over the last decade. The introduction of flavored vodkas and super-premium brands led to the vodka cocktail trend. One of the things that people like about vodka is that it is easy to mix when making cocktails.
We’re seeing a clear resurgence in whisky-based, classic cocktails, however. We believe that Canadian Club is the perfect whisky for making classic, masculine cocktails because of its uniquely smooth and sophisticated flavor. The challenge with Canadian Club and other Canadian whiskies is that there hasn’t been much spending in the category recently. With CC’s significantly increased spending levels and multi-layered “Damn Right Your Dad Drank It” campaign coming to life in 2008, we expect to increase consumers’ awareness and affinity levels for both the brand and classic whisky cocktails.
BIG: How much of a resurgence has brown spirits has lately in cocktails?
Ginal: While no category has been able to maintain pace with the growth of the largest spirits category over the past decade, vodka, we definitely are seeing a resurgence in the brown spirits category. Mixologists and consumers alike are rediscovering the beauty of a classic, masculine cocktail--and that’s where whisky, especially Canadian Club Whisky, comes in. Drinks like the Manhattan, Whisky Sour and CC & Ginger are returning to the forefront. We expect to see this restoration of classic style and masculinity, in terms of drink choice, continuing.
BIG: Canadian Club’s campaign, “Damn Right Your Dad Drank It,” is getting a lot of buzz. It targets men, 30-40 years old, features candid imagery from the 1960s and ’70s, and has ad copy such as “Your Mom Wasn’t Your Dad’s First” and “Your Dad Was Not a Metrosexual.” How do you respond to those who may find those ads a bit old-fashioned or even slightly offensive?
Ginal: Beam Global is committed to complying with the highest standards of marketing and advertising practices. We believe that “Damn Right Your Dad Drank It” embodies Beam Global’s vision of building brands people want to talk about. The print ads’ imagery is breakthrough and engaging, and the headlines are provocative. They induce a visceral response, and that’s what we love about them. It’s clear--through the numerous blogs and articles that have been written about the campaign--that Canadian Club has sparked a broader conversation about the notion of timeless masculinity.
BIG: How did the “Damn Right” campaign come about; who created the concept?
Ginal: In May, 2007, we hired Energy BBDO to help us reposition Canadian Club in an effort to increase relevance and trial with our target audience. Going into the planning process, we knew that in order for Canadian Club to stand out, we needed to be bold and breakthrough--and this was paramount during the concept phase. Energy BBDO helped us to come up with a creative, inspiring solution which capitalizes on Canadian Club’s long and rich history by celebrating generations of CC consumers. “Damn Right Your Dad Drank It” signifies a vital shift for Canadian Club, and we are excited about the prospects for profitable growth.
BIG: Can you pair Canadian whisky with food, or is it best enjoyed solo?
Ginal: Canadian Club is a sophisticated yet unpretentious drink. It makes a wonderful classic cocktail that can be enjoyed on its own or paired with a meal. Canadian whisky cocktails like a CC and Ginger or Manhattan are timeless and showcase the smooth and sophisticated taste of Canadian Club. My favorite is pairing a CC Manhattan with a great salmon dish. But, there are many other ways to pair Canadian whiskies with food.