Most histories of Maker’s Mark Bourbon mention an early on ad marketing campaign, typified by the one above. “It tastes expensive…and is,” was always the headline. Bragging about how exactly expensive your product is can be a risky tactic, but Maker’s managed to get work. To comprehend how, it can help to understand the framework.
The first barrel of Maker’s was laid down in 1954. The first bottle was sold in 1959. These were a true impartial then, possessed and controlled by the Samuels family. These were tiny, beginning with scratch. They gradually grew gradually but, almost completely in Kentucky. Bill Samuels Junior, whose father started the business, has said it is an excellent thing these were family-owned and independent then since it didn’t make much sense as a business and any real business could have shut them down.
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It took, in the end, 25 years. 7 or more for a container of good whiskey, it was scotch these were buying, not bourbon. Bourbon was the working man’s drink. Nobody could envision a bourbon competing straight with scotch or Cognac. Maker’s was obviously swimming against the current. Because they were so small, they didn’t have much of an advertising budget.
But they do have a tale, a good one, one that they thought in. That they had a good advertising company also, Louisville’s Doe-Anderson. Ads like the one above weren’t full-page or color. These were one-quarter page or less, in black and white. The message needed to be essential and clear. “It tastes expensive…and is,” launched in 1966, was successful since it under-promised and over-delivered, within an almost back-handed way.
The ads said Maker’s was expensive, but it wasn’t. It was just a little pricier than other bourbons but significantly less than most good scotch or other things people might be consuming. The very first time you looked at it in a store you were made by the advertising for this to become more expensive than it was.
With price level of resistance thus conquer, they could get to sampling, and Maker’s sampled well since it had a different taste. It truly was not a typical bourbon. It had a milder, sweeter flavor, compared to scotch even. It made an excellent first impression, whatever the taster’s previous drinking experience. After 1969, whiskey sales collapsed and the rest of the industry is at a race to the bottom. Maker’s stood apart even more.
No one in the business believed you could sell bourbon with an excellent claim. That was true when bourbon sales were became and growing carved in rock when sales nose-dived. No one took Maker’s Mark seriously. It had been a tiny still, Kentucky-owned brand. The WSJ article informed how Maker’s was making all the right movements, so it’s likely they would have succeeded anyway, however the article sure helped. It can also be said to indicate the start of today’s bourbon revival. Once it was okay to think about bourbon as an excellent product, anything was possible.