THE BOOZE BIN
By Emily Valentine (@ebvalentine)
This weekend, horse-lovers, sports fans and socialites around the world will gather to watch the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby. Which horse will win is anybody’s bet, but one thing is for certain – a massive number of mint juleps will be consumed.
The mint julep has been a Derby Day icon for as long as anyone can remember, and while this connection may seem natural, a quick look at the drink’s history shows how it has been folded into the Kentucky Derby brand through a series of strategic marketing moves.
Take a Hint From Your Customers
Legend holds that, in the late 1930s, Churchill Downs track managers caught some of the race’s most fashionable attendees stealing mint julep glasses from behind the bar. What happened next isn’t documented, but apparently someone was smart enough to recognize the marketing opportunity staring him in the face, and (cha-ching!) the rest is history.
In 1939, Churchill Downs began selling mint juleps in branded glasses that attendees could take home with them. And, to this day, tens of thousands of people leave the Derby each year with julep glasses as race-day souvenirs.
Mint Julep Marketing Lesson #1: Pay attention to your customers – observing their (sometimes strange) behavior will help you understand their desires and create solutions to meet their needs.
Two Brands Are Better Than One
Fifty years later, mint julep madness was still going strong … and Churchill Downs made a move to take it to the next level. In 1987, the racetrack announced Early Times as the exclusive whisky sponsor of the Derby, and designated the brand’s pre-mixed mint julep cocktail as the official drink of the weekend.
This win-win partnership has given both well-known Kentucky companies a chance to benefit from increased exposure, and to create co-promotions that build brand equity.
At the 2009 Derby, for example, Churchill Downs and Brown Forman (parent company to Early Times) unveiled the World’s Largest Mint Julep Glass, a piece that stood 7.5 feet tall (measured at the mint spring, of course), held 206 gallons and used an elaborate pumping system to distribute thousands of Early Times mint juleps.
Both brands also benefit from the commemorative bottles that feature artwork depicting the Derby and are released in limited numbers each year during Derby season. This year, Early Times gave consumers a chance to become the 2012 Mint Julep Bottle Artist by submitting their artwork on the Early Times website.
Mint Julep Marketing Lesson #2: Every brand can use a good ally. Seek out strategic partners that can help you achieve your marketing goals, increase your exposure and build your credibility.
Support a Pertinent Cause
In 2006, with a growing number of businesses and consumers focused on social responsibility, Churchill Downs and Brown-Forman expanded their partnership to include a cause-marketing program that speaks to the equestrian community. This will be the seventh year Derby-goers have had the opportunity to purchase extra-premium mint juleps as a way to help horses lead happier lives. The high-dollar cocktails are made with Woodford Reserve (Early Times’ sophisticated big sis) and the finest mint and sugar, served in gold-plated cups with silver straws, and sold for $1,000-$2,000 a pop to raise funds that aid retired race horses.
This annual fundraising drive is strategic for Churchill Downs and Woodford Reserve in several ways. It allows them to:
- Generate good will among a key customer group (horse-lovers);
- Mitigate potential attacks from horseracing critics and animal rights activists;
- Create positive news coverage leading up to the Derby; and
- Position their brands as being deeply committed to the wellbeing of racehorses
Mint Julep Marketing Lesson #3: Everyone loves a brand that gives back. Programs that give consumers a glimpse of a company’s charitable side (and align with its strategic objectives) can help build brand equity and offset potential threats.
Surprised to discover all the marketing strategy that went into making you crave that minty bourbon drink this weekend? Or did you already know there was brilliance backing the tradition? Do tell ….
Photo credits: SouthernFood.com AmericanHeritage1.com, Shopping Blog, Early Times, Woodford Reserve.