A Jameson Case Study – How Jameson Diluted Its Potentially Strong Brand Asset

A couple of years back, Jameson launched a TV commercial titled; “Character”. 

Here is the ad: Jameson TVC: “Character”.

This was, and still is a brilliant ad. It had longevity. It was one of those ads that you could flight for 10 years straight. The way I saw it, If the ad changed, it’s iteration would continue to build equity around “Character”. It did a couple of things from a strategic point of view:

  1. It had a strong positioning which was clearly articulated 
  2. The messaging pulled it apart from the competition, and its consumer value proposition strong

An example of a competitor ad: Hennessy “Never Stop. Never Settle”

Screen grab from the TVC, YouTube “The Award”
“The Business”
“The girl and the car”

The Jameson Ad Simply Explained 

Contrary to what others have done, the Jameson ad emphasises the simple idea that, what makes you you, is not the things that you acquire, it is not the material things that one buys, and that you should not be defined by what is outside, but rather what’s inside; and what’s inside, what captured and articulated as “Character”. 

The ad is brilliant because it not only draws attention to itself, but it references the category and the players in it. Within the whiskey (sub-)category, almost every single ad and the positioning of the brands was centered around success (it was aspirational). The category communicated the same way; The lead actor (who is always a guy) was getting the award, had the perfect girl, and ran a successful business. These were the things that the competitor brands had associated with the category. Success and luxury items were things that defined the category.

In the Jameson ad, we see the lead actor (our guy) losing everything; the car, the girl, and the business or business awards. The ad demonstrates that when you lose everything, what you then get left with is the true you, the inner you, what’s inside, which is “character”. This was a clever positioning, “Character”, which is what’s inside, also means the liquid. 

When every whiskey and some beer brands were talking about success as something that existed outside of you, something that you had to be in pursuit of to acquire, Jameson spoke about what success and positioned it as something that you already have, “Character”. When the category was zigging, Jameson zagged. 

Longevity and legs to build brand

When I saw this ad, I was emotionally moved, not because of the beautifully executed ad, but in that ad, I saw the strategic thinking. I saw “legs”. I saw longevity. I could see how the campaign could live forever, with each execution building and adding layers to the “Character” equity. 

I could see how Jameson could stretch this concept of “character” into social conversation. Everyday we hear stories of people going from days to riches. Imagine Jameson creating a piece of content or engagements around how one can keep their “character” in the midst of success. Talk about how important it is to be true to yourself.

Another way to talk to the concept or idea of “character”: on the flipside, we always hear of people and celebrities going from riches to rags, and when this happens, people feel that they’ve lost themselves. Jameson could have conversations around why when you lose all the material things you’ve acquired; you haven’t lost anything really, because you still have “Character”.

Character is both functional and emotional

“Character” had a dual meaning, at least from where I was standing. It meant 1. The human trait (you can lose everything from cars to money, but if you have character, you haven’t lost anything) and 2. The actual liquid (forget the fancy labels, it’s about what’s inside the bottle, which is Jameson, which has character. Character comes from its taste and how it is made). So from a communication point of view, “Character” could be extrapolated from either an emotional (consumer) or fuctional (product) view. The “Character” ad spoke from both point of views, but skewed towards the emotional side. The next leg of the brand building campaign could have tapped into explaining what “Character” means from a liquid or intrinsic point of view. They could have tapped into conversational spaces I mentioned above.

The next campaigns that followed “Character”

The next ad or campaigns, may not be in chronological order, but they are:
1. Sine metu 
2. Triple distilled, twice as smooth 

Sine metu did a brand job where the campaign tried to give meaning to the brand’s motto. 

The triple distilled twice as smooth focused on the liquid, and spoke to the quality of the liquid and its process. 

There are various reasons why brands communicate certain messages. Sometimes it’s an internal decision, meaning that a brand has a plan on what and how they see the journey of the brand. Sometimes, s brand’s reason for change in messaging is external, meaning there’s pressure from either the competition or the market that forces a brand to react. Or there might be a trend that a brand wants to be part of.

Then and Now

Whatever the reasons or the case may have been, the brand decided to move away from “Character” to Sine Metu, to Triple distilled/twice as smooth, to now, “Taste. That’s Why”.

Message Sameness

Screen grab from the video on Facebook

“Taste. That’s why” is Jamesons current campaign. The TVC starts at a crime scene, what seems like a break in, where nothing was stolen except for Jameson. The reason for this, as the copy in the image shows, is because of its taste. 

Billboard on the M1 towards Roodepoort, Newtown

Also what you see on the other image above, is a KWV billboard advert. The copy reads; “You can’t fake GREAT TASTE”. Yes, both brands are expecting you as a consumer to understand that the best thing about their brands/product is Taste. 

“Taste” is a functional or intrinsic feature, here, communicated as a benefit. Granted, brandy and whiskey are not the same thing, I’m not a connoisseur, so perhaps there’s good reason to talk to the attribute of taste. 

The point I’m making is, even though one could argue that brandy and whiskey are different, is that you have two brands in the same category pushing one benefit or consumer value proposition, meaning that their expected takeout from a consumer perspective is the same. 

From differentiation to sameness

Of course, I don’t have access to the brand tracker research results for the “Character” TVC or any of their ads, but from an observational point of view, where Jameson was, to where it is now in terms of communication/messaging, and considering what competitors are saying in the category, it seems as though Jameson went from a communication gap that only they occupied to a space where they now sound like other brands.

With messaging centered around “Taste”, this being a point of parity, functional attribute, a not so strong differentiator, Jameson can’t really claim this as their own. From a language point of view, any brand can talk about “Taste”. If you look at all other whiskey brands in particular, they are always winning some award for “best taste”. Perhaps this the reason the Jamesom chose to go with taste, in which case, they are being truthful. But, is this truth strong and differentiated enough to lead with?

What about “Character”? Character had a unique character to it. It was a stand alone proposition. Even in its articulation, no other brand, especially in the category could have ever used the words “Character” as part of their consumer facing messaging. Even if “character” is a category adjective used to describe the liquid, but because Jameson had define what “character” is or means, they had owned it. Similarly to how Castle Lite owns “Extra Cold” through how they communicated it. 

Consistency and Continuity 

The biggest brands in the world, like Nike and Apple, they remain consistent in what they stand for and how they are positioned. These are brands that have timeless positioning efforts. There are various reasons why brands reposition, but perhaps positioning should be looked at as a long-term exercise, and not a short-term efforts that’s done to address short-term trends or issues. 

Another example of a brand that has been consistent is Castle Lite. They are known for nothing else except “Extra Cold”. They have build equity around it, they have innovated around it, for example, the iconic cold indicator. I’ve written about why I think Castle Lite is a brilliant case study for building brand (link).

Memory structures and equity

Jameson has done a lot of different activities, and some these efforts seem to be driven by global strategies. They have done so many things and obviously those things were driven by objectives and goals, for example, to find relevance by tapping into pop culture. Some of the things the brand has done:

When you are consistent like Castle Lite, you are able to build unique assets for your brand and have the opportunity to do things that only you can execute. For example, doing concerts in winter, when it’s “Extra Cold”. Castle Lite has found their niche and they have invested in over the years consistently. Here an article I wrote about how they’ve managed to do that.

With Jameson having had so many messages, I wonder what is it that people think of it. Adjectives they’d use to describe it. Whether they feel it is different from the category when compared to its competitors. It would interesting to see the brand tracker results from the “Character” days to now where they are talking about taste. 

I wonder what sort of equity the brand would have had they remained consistent with “Character”. “Character”, is a strategist’s dream brand building canvas. The brand being uniquely positioned, it would have been excited to have built ontop of it.

With that said, what is my best piece of work from Jameson? The “Character” TVC. At the same time, it remains the most under played and diluted brand asset that could have been given legs and allowed to run for longer with multiple iterations bringing “Character” to life, from both an intrinsic and extrinsic perspective. Sometimes I believe that as brands, we are too quick to try something new, as opposed to building onto what we already have. Perhaps there is some thought or insight into why Nike has had the same ad agency since forever.

PS: Interestingly, the TVC for the Select Reserve ad, they do refer to character. Instead of saying; “Triple distilled, twice as smooth”, as they have previously done over the years when they speak about the product, this time, they say, “Triple distilled. Twice the character”. So the idea of ‘character still exists within the brand’s ecosystem, but they’ve chosen to lead with Taste.

Screen grab from the ad as per the title on YouTube

Hope that you have enjoyed this piece. Let me know what you think. Thank you.

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