Last week Wild Turkey stunned the world’s bourbon drinking population by announcing that they had hired Matthew McConaughey as the brand’s new Creative Director. (Yep, you read that right – Creative Director, not a celebrity spokesperson.) As Creative Director, McConaughey will be acting as a storyteller for Wild Turkey behind the camera as well as in front of it. To kick off their new relationship, and provide background on McConaughey’s role moving forward, they released a short film documenting McConaughey’s journey with the Russell family.
I admit that when I first heard the news, I was not only surprised but also concerned. While celebrity spokespersons are nothing new in the marketing world, they’re not something you see every day in the bourbon industry. And even they do make an appearance, they often fail to live up to the traditions and legacy of the brand that legions of loyal drinkers have bought into for decades. More than anything, it’s the industry’s recent track record with celebrities (I’m looking at you Mila) that had me worried about Wild Turkey’s announcement. I feared they were making a terrible mistake and loyal fans would be the ones to pay the price. Selfish? Perhaps. But I know for a fact that I was not the only one with these concerns.
Then I watched the short film. Within minutes I started to feel better. While I remained skeptical of McConaughey’s motives, at least the way in which he delivered his narrative was aligned with what you would expect from Wild Turkey. In other words, it came across as honest, humble and friendly – just like Jimmy and Eddie Russell do in person. By the end of the film, I was ready to give Matthew McConaughey a chance to calm my fears. But, as a marketer by day, I also knew I needed to dig deeper into the brand’s decision to partner with him and report back to all of you with my findings.
So a few days after Wild Turkey’s announcement I found myself on the phone with Jason Daniel, Global Senior Marketing Director of Whiskey at Gruppo Campari, to learn more about how Wild Turkey wound up choosing Matthew McConaughey for their new campaign efforts and what bourbon drinkers should expect as a result of the new partnership.
Below you’ll find a recap of our conversation, in my words, along with the questions that fueled our banter.)
Why Matthew McConaughey? Was he known as a Wild Turkey loyalist?
Matthew McConaughey was the only person that Wild Turkey considered for the job. The brand was looking for someone that was known for being honest and authentic. It was these qualities that led them to Matthew.
In other words, Matthew “came for the bourbon and stayed for the storytelling.”
Matthew is a long time bourbon drinker and would drink Wild Turkey on occasion but does not appear to have been an existing diehard fan. It was his visit to Wild Turkey back in 2014 that sold him on the brand. In other words, Matthew “came for the bourbon and stayed for the storytelling.”
A few outlets reported that a Matthew McConaughey bourbon was part of his deal with Wild Turkey. Any truth to that and how would you reconcile that with some of Matthew’s statements in the campaign’s opening video?
He’s drawn to Wild Turkey because of the Russell’s and how they are true masters of their craft. He wants to tell that story and therefore will be focusing his efforts on creative, directing and overseeing every part of the campaign and related communications. He’s leaving the distilling up to the Russell’s. (So don’t expect a Matthew McConaughey branded bourbon anytime soon. Whew!)
What’s the brand’s overarching objective for bringing Matthew on board for the campaign? And what does that mean for longtime Wild Turkey drinkers?
Over the past several years Gruppo Campari has invested heavily in the Wild Turkey brand by building a state-of-the-art distillery, opening a beautiful new visitor center and revamping the brand’s packaging. All of these investments were made to put Wild Turkey in a position to take advantage of the industry’s current growth. However, despite a strong reputation among bourbon drinkers in the US and Australia, the brand is relatively unknown to younger generations in both countries as well as the general public in every other country around the world.
So our goal is for Matthew to tell the story about this legendary American distilling family to new audiences around the globe while staying faithful to the Wild Turkey brand. (Focus will be US and Australia first but then the campaign will focus on getting into new markets.) It may be an unconventional celebrity arrangement since it’s more about Matthew telling the brand’s story than serving as the face of the brand, but in the end, we think it’s an approach that will appeal to audiences regardless of their age or where they live.
You can’t tell the story of Wild Turkey without acknowledging its history or the fans that have remained loyal for decades.
As for longtime fans of Wild Turkey, we’re not ignoring them with this campaign. You can’t tell the story of Wild Turkey without acknowledging its history or the fans that have remained loyal for decades. You can expect to see the Russell’s very involved with all marketing efforts moving forward while our Behind the Barrel program focused on bartenders will continue as well. And of course, the brand will continue to release new product innovations like Master’s Keep Decades scheduled for release in 2017.
So there you have it, folks. A little more background on Wild Turkey’s decision to partner with Matthew McConaughey as their new Creative Director. While I always carry a healthy dose of cynicism in my back pocket, along with a full flask of bourbon, I have to admit that I’m pretty excited to see what’s comes next in the campaign. If Matthew’s interest in the brand is sincere and goes beyond just another paycheck, I think we’ll see some compelling storytelling coming out starting in September. And while I wish Wild Turkey all the luck in the world on their new campaign, I do hope they don’t forget us diehard fans and make sure to put away some extra bourbon for us, so we don’t have to fight to find it on local shelves in a few years.
Do you think their new celebrity marketing will be more than skin deep?
Let us know in the comments and we’ll make sure to provide some updates from the brand as things continue to develop.