You may have noticed that movie marketing campaigns of late have a powerful thirst. Specifically, they’ve tapped into the growing taste and demand for whiskey, part of an overall move away from beer as the drink of choice.
First, Johnnie Walker is seizing the moment afforded by its inclusion in Blade Runner 2049 and releasing Black Label The Director’s Cut, a limited-run whiskey. The drink was apparently created in collaboration with Denis Villeneuve, director of the movie, and is packaged in an appropriately futuristic-looking bottle. Even before the announcement of this new drink, Johnnie Walker was present at the Blade Runner VR experience that Warner Bros. set up at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, taking visitors inside the world of the movie.
That follows Old Forester’s Statesman, a bourbon inspired by the American secret agents in Kingsman: The Golden Circle. That brand was apparently the result of a special batch of the distiller’s usual premium bourbon selection. The Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau launched a campaign centered on travel to the whiskey-centric region, and the bourbon was on hand when star Jeff Bridges attended the Kentucky Derby in May as part of the movie’s marketing efforts.
Both campaigns make contextual sense for each movie. Johnnie Walker was a drink of choice in the first Blade Runner, and is shown in some of the marketing for the upcoming sequel. And Kentucky whiskey is a nice shorthand for something uniquely and strongly American, a contrast for the U.S. spies in relation to their British Kingsman counterparts.
It’s also a nod to the rising prominence of whiskey in American drinking habits. The Distilled Spirits Council reported sales of bourbon and other whiskey rose by 6.8 percent in 2016, hitting $3.1 billion, as 21.8 million cases of American whiskey were purchased. That’s just part of an overall shift in the consumer market away from beer and toward spirits. In the 1990s, beer accounted for almost 60 percent of the total alcohol market but now has slipped to just 47 percent.
Alcohol brands aren’t new to movie marketing efforts, but neither are they all that common. The restrictions and guidelines around the advertising of beer and spirits dictate no more than 28.4 percent of the audience exposed to such advertising be under 21 years of age, which limits the options. Still, there have been a few times where studios have embraced boozy promotional partnerships.
Sex and the City and Skyy Vodka
The vodka brand was a perfect choice for the big-screen adventures of Carrie, Miranda and the rest of the girls. On its role as “official spirits sponsor” of the 2008 movie, Skyy launched a campaign that included outdoor, print and online co-branded ads. Restaurant chain Houlihan’s also featured special movie-themed cocktails that included Skyy in the recipes. It was apparently enough of a success that Skyy returned for the 2010 sequel, with a limited-edition bottle in stores, new recipes that were shared and more.
James Bond and Heineken
The beer brand has worked with the producers of the Bond franchise on promotions for the last seven movies, from 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies to 2015’s Spectre. That long-term partnership has involved plenty of product placement and co-branded advertising, including TV spots starring Eva Green for Casino Royale and a long-form spot starring Daniel Craig himself for Spectre.
Considering the long-running spy is so known for his martinis, it’s notable that his vodka brand of choice has changed often over recent years. For Spectre it was Belvedere, despite a long association with Smirnoff.
Anchorman 2 and Riviera Imports
“I love scotch … here it goes … down into my belly …” It was a great line in the 2004 original, and when it came time for the 2013 sequel, the filmmakers figured they’d cash in on it. Riviera Imports jumped up with a specially branded “Great Odin’s Raven Special Reserve,” with the booze promoted via in-store signage of Ron Burgundy.
Atomic Blonde and Stoli
When Paramount was looking to introduce a new female spy to filmgoers, the studio wanted to position Agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) as a sophisticated operator. So it enlisted Stoli, which got involved on a number of fronts. Outdoor, print and online co-branded advertising was done, including sponsorship of a Pandora streaming channel of 1980s tunes like those heard in the movie. It also created four movie-themed cocktails that were available in branded cups at select theaters that serve alcohol.
It can’t escape notice that there are some common elements in play here. Not only are these all R-rated movies, which are subject to their own restrictions in terms of audience reach, but there’s also an overindexing on spy movies. If not spies, spirits brands certainly seem to gravitate toward stories of high-end, glamorous lifestyles, exactly the kind of image they’re trying to portray in their own advertising.