Daily Insights

Top 10 U.S. Spirits Brands in Digital

By: Elisabeth Rosen | Jul 20, 2015

Advertising has been the trademark of the digital innovation in the Spirits category. The digitally savvy brands at the top of L2’s Spirits Index are experimenting with new technology to create fresh content formats, like Jameson’s hyper-localized 3D video Facebook ads. Others are launching ambitious celebrity partnerships, like Bacardí’s with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and Captain Morgan’s with supermodel Chrissy Teigen. The emphasis on content production can be linked to the tradition of Spirits brands advertising on television, where 77% of the category’s ad budget is still spent. Surprisingly, while the top brands invest in content, a limited portion of brands’ overall ad budget is allocated to digital.

Top spirits brands

Only two spirits producers, Absolut and Maker’s Mark, distinguished themselves as Genius brands in this year’s Digital IQ Index®. Two-thirds of brands fell into the Gifted or Average category, reflecting a tendency for spirits companies to follow the herd and imitate competitors’ digital investments.

Top 10 spirits brands

1. Absolut (Pernod Ricard)
Digital IQ: 153

Absolut kept up its reputation for creative advertising with the Absolut Nights campaign, featuring exclusive music by Zedd and Empire of the Sun, which generated 9.8 million views on YouTube. #LoveisLove, another video supporting marriage equality, garnered nearly 600,000 views in less than one month.

Absolut Nights campaign

Absolut also made strategic commercial choices by launching partnerships with alcohol delivery apps like Saucey and Minibar, through which the company offered special edition cocktail-making packages. A new flavor, Absolut Oak, was pre-released online via Minibar and ReserveBar before it became available in stores. Absolut Oak was the most commercially minded investment by any brand in the Index, with a heavily commerce-oriented microsite prioritizing the ability to buy the product.

2. Maker’s Mark (Beam Suntory)
Digital IQ: 142

Maker’s Mark made its mark with a re-launched website incorporating more video and product merchandising. MakersMarkShop.com sells cocktail-making kits and custom glassware and housewares, giving the brand a chance to establish direct relationships with consumers.

Maker’s Mark also established these relationships through email. The most active emailer in the Index, it sent 1.4 messages per week promoting branded merchandise and the ambassador program – a substantial change from the all-text newsletter it published in 2014.

Maker's Mark sends frequent emails

Additionally, Maker’s Mark was one of the first spirit brands to experiment with sponsored posts on Instagram. These efforts paid off, yielding 26 times the interaction of organic posts.

3. Bacardí
Digital IQ: 139

Bacardí’s innovative collaboration with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver illustrates the power of brand ambassadors. The Drinks Tube YouTube page (found on Jamie Oliver’s existing Food Tube channel) displays content created by Oliver that features Bacardí products. Oliver also features the spirits in his culinary magazine and on dozens of restaurant menus. By mentioning the campaign consistently on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, he amplified Bacardí’s reach eight times greater than its own community.

Jamie Oliver promoted Bacardi across channels
Driven by its “Untamable” advertising campaign, Bacardi is the top rum for organic search visibility and leads Captain Morgan by more than 54% of rum ad impressions. The brand also gained enhanced visibility on cocktail search terms through Jamie Oliver’s properties. Searches for “Mojito” and “Cosmopolitan Cocktail” yield Drinks Tube and JamieOliver.com results on the first page.

4. Jim Beam (Beam Suntory)
Digital IQ: 139

Jim Beam leads all whiskey brands in organic search visibility and display advertising. The brand site appears on the first page of Google results for 2% of category terms (e.g. “Canadian whiskey”), in contrast to the whiskey industry average of .7%.

Percentage of category terms where brand sites appeared on first page of results

The face of Jim Beam, actress Mila Kunis, has also boosted the brand’s reach. Videos featuring Kunis account for roughly 98% of the brand’s YouTube views. However, her lack of an official social media presence hinders these engagement efforts.

5. Jack Daniel’s (Brown Forman)
Digital IQ: 137

Jack Daniel’s led the Index in Facebook interaction, with six of the top 10 most-engaged posts for Index brands. Through Facebook auto-play posts, the brand’s holiday video got over 5.6 million views.

The brand also took advantage of Instagram for its “Summer Swarm” digital campaign, which promoted Tennessee Honey. Users who submitted photos could win brand merchandise or even a trip to Lollapalooza in Chicago. Jack Daniels also used paid Instagram advertising to promote a new line of cinnamon whiskey.

Jack Daniels has enormous scale on Facebook

6. Hennessy (Moet Hennessy)
Digital IQ: 135

The Instagram leader, Hennessy surged ahead of competitor Ciroc in both cumulative interaction and post frequency. The brand also incorporated an event locator on its website listing upcoming events in each region – a key strategic move that most competitors failed to include. While as much as 25% of alcohol marketing expenditures goes towards items for use in on-premise promotions, few brands use digital to drive attendance to these events: only 9% of brands list offline events on their websites.

Hennessy was the Instagram leader

7. Smirnoff (Diageo)
Digital IQ: 134

As other spirits brands touted their distinguished credentials, Smirnoff’s “Exclusive for Everybody” ad campaign highlighted the brand’s positioning as vodka for the masses. Featuring Alison Brie and Adam Scott, the campaign got more than 7 million YouTube views.

Smirnoff was also the top vodka for first page search visibility, appearing on the first page of Google results for 7.4% of category terms in contrast to the vodka average of 2.1%.

8. Jameson (Pernod Ricard)
Digital IQ: 133

Jameson set a major digital precedent by creating the first 3D video ad for Facebook and Instagram. Timed to coincide with Saint Patrick’s Day, the ad depicts a bartender sliding the viewer a shot of whiskey. In another digital first, the brand hyper-targeted Facebook users near specific New York bars.

Jameson continued its innovative advertising with the Uma Thurman “First Shot” videos, in which the actress played the lead role in short films directed by up-and-coming filmmakers. Drawing more than a million views on YouTube, the campaign continued the success of the annual “First Shot” series, which began in 2012.

First Shot on YouTube

9. Malibu (Pernod Ricard)
Digital IQ: 130

Malibu’s syndicated how-to videos across its site, YouTube and Facebook set an example for the industry. The brand’s “DJ Music Mixer” app is consistently updated to stay relevant and has gotten more than 1,000 reviews, a rarity in the spirits industry. Although about half of Index brands offer apps in the iTunes App Store, 72% have not been updated in the past year and few have distinguished themselves in terms of visibility. Only Malibu’s app, along with “Drinkspiration” by Absolut, has gotten more than 1,000 reviews.

10. Captain Morgan (Diageo)
Digital IQ: 125

Captain Morgan joined the increasing number of spirits brands using celebrity promotions, introducing a new line of tropical rum by tapping supermodel Chrissy Teigen to be peg-legged pirate spokeswoman Paquita Pantalones. In addition to being featured on the brand website, Teigen promoted Captain Morgan on her own Instagram account, which has more than 2.5 million followers—growing its Instagram community from zero to over 11,000 in a matter of weeks.

Captain Morgan's spokeswoman

Teigen’s four brand mentions gained 237,388 likes, an exponential sum compared to the 7,869 likes on all of the photos in Captain Morgan’s entire Instagram account. The campaign was also successful on Facebook and YouTube, where videos featuring the supermodel drew more than 10 million views.

For more, download a copy of L2’s Digital IQ Index: Spirits. [reportdownloadlinks report_post_id=”120595″]