Jack Daniel's is a whiskey for music fans, a fact its senior brand manager, Michael Boaler, is not afraid to shy away from. Since starting his role at parent company Brown-Forman in 2014, he has overseen the company's Jack Rocks campaign - a colossal project that has hosted approximately 200 music events since its launch last June. The series has seen more than 150,000 gig-goers pass through the doors of Jack Daniel's partner venues, and put more than 12,000 of the brand's drinks into guests' hands.
The experiential campaign has translated easily to the digital world too: gigs from Jack Rocks' established and developing artistes have amassed in excess of five million video views on various online channels.
"Jack Rocks is a demonstration of the brand's support and passion for real, crafted music made by real musicians," explains Boaler. "Jack Daniel's has been present in those moments for more than 100 years. We want to encourage consumers to go out and enjoy crafted live music, because that's when it's at its best."
Boaler adds that despite targeting a young, rock 'n' roll-loving crowd, Jack Rocks strives to be as accessible as possible in order to reach a new audience. "The events are a beacon of real music," he says. "If you're there, great. If not, watch a video of our gigs with our partners NME and Spotify or through our own channels, then go to the next one. We have nationwide venue and festival partnerships that are ongoing, so they're not hard to come by."
Taste of things to come
In the past year, the initiative has grown from a series of smaller events in pubs and clubs - including flagship space Jack Rocks The Macbeth in London's Hoxton - into a campaign capable of staging music-led stunts and expanding into cinema. It has spawned an avant-garde music film featuring grime artiste Ghetts that premiered at Brighton's Great Escape music festival in May, while March saw the brand host LA-based rock band Rival Sons in the West Yorkshire town of Holmfirth.
The group landed its helicopter on the cricket pitch and sampled British fare at a tearoom and pub before performing to a lucky local crowd. Boaler considers the event - dubbed Jack Rocks Your Town - one of the highlights of the overall campaign.
"Jack Rocks Your Town was incredibly successful, with more than a million plays of the final gig on YouTube and a lot of press coverage," he says. "Also, the band and town loved it. It was very rewarding. It's very possible that we'll do more with the format and innovate to keep it fresh."
Boaler's enthusiasm for the brand comes from his personal love of its musical heritage. "I'm quite a social person and have been in bands myself for years, so it came naturally I guess, like a moth to a flame," he says.
"It was one of the first spirits I drank, so I have always had a huge affinity to it. I was always drawn to the brand because of its unique, long-standing relationship with music. Jack Daniel's is a genuine, timeless pop culture icon - it's so much more than a whiskey. I'm immensely proud to be a current custodian of it."
The ethos distilled
The dedication of Jack Daniel's to the music industry is unwavering. Boaler explains: "We are a brand built on consistency. The label hasn't changed and the place where it's made hasn't changed. We don't get desperate for ideas - we stick to what we know."
This loyalty to its past, as well as its music-loving fan base, is perhaps best demonstrated in its support of the Music Venue Trust. The brand was the first key partner to join the association's Grassroots Investor project, which aims to protect, secure and develop UK music venues. Alongside offering a high-profile name to the cause, Jack Daniel's is providing the trust with financial support, research, data and advice on how to get punters into venues more often, and for longer periods of time.
"We feel it's important to have a cause and genuinely support the music scene. We work with our partners to create something we can own together, rather than just write cheques," says Boaler.
Next up for the brand is an activation series hosted at a number of summer festivals, including Kendal Calling in the Lake District and Cornwall's Boardmasters. The latter will see Jack Daniel's host the festival's pre-party, The Beach Sessions. And, looking further to the future, the Jack Rocks campaign shows no signs of slowing down.
"Jack Rocks will run for at least another 12 months," says Boaler. "We're constantly reviewing our strategy - looking at what is working, what we need to tweak and what we need to keep doing.
"Experiential is a crucial part of our overall plan; we know younger consumers value shared experiences more than 'stuff'," he continues. "Our goal is to facilitate and support real, crafted music that generates amazing experiences that can be shared with friends, and which stay in the memory forever. We want to create real, 'I was there' moments."
Five Fast facts - Michael Boaler, senior brand manager, Jack Daniel's at Brown-Forman
- Boaler has worked at Brown-Forman for seven years.
- He has 15 years' experience in the alcohol sector, including previous roles at Diageo, Coors and Finlandia.
- He is primarily responsible for music marketing, in addition to advertising and on-trade.
- Works within a team of 11 in consumer and customer marketing.
- Looks after the Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 brand, as well as new expressions such as Jack & Cola premix, Gentleman Jack and Tennessee Honey.
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