- The rum brand Sailor Jerry sold a million cases for the first time this year, second only to longtime category leader Captain Morgan.
- The company credits its revamped marketing strategy, centered on Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins — the renowned American tattoo artist that it is named after.
- Sailor Jerry has also ditched TV and multiplied its fans through strategic partnerships with influencers like celebrity tattoo artists Jonathan Valena, musicians like Alabama Shakes and brands like Harley-Davidson.
Unlike vodka and tequila, which have both seen a resurgence in recent years, rum doesn’t lend itself to craft cocktails in quite the same way. Yet, that hasn’t stopped a relatively small rum brand from steadily climbing up the popularity charts.
Until two years ago, sales for Sailor Jerry’s spiced rum were flat. But the brand, owned by liquor marketer William Grant & Sons, passed a million cases in sales for the first time this year, and is now the second best-selling spiced rum in the world after Diageo’s Captain Morgan — a feat it credits to a revamped marketing strategy.
“Captain Morgan sells six million cases and we’re only at a million,” said Josh Hayes, senior brand manager at Sailor Jerry’s. “To be able to compete with that we have to make every dollar count.”
Sailor Jerry’s has been doing that by ditching traditional TV ads and by embracing the heritage of Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins — the renowned American tattoo artist and Navy man from the mid-1900s that it is named after.
The brand used to spend a bulk of its marketing budget on TV campaigns such as 2014’s “Life Outside the Lines,” which interspersed shots of skateboarders and motorcycle riders with cult film imagery and tattoo designs created by Collins.
But in more recent years, it has adopted a more integrated approach, focused on digital and social media and strategic and co-branded partnerships.
Its social media channels including Facebook and Instagram are littered with images of tattoos, motorcycles and its own bottles. On June 12, for example, it shared a GIF that brought together all three, honouring the life of Collins. It got over 8,700 views on Instagram.
Sailor Jerry has also sought to appeal to a broader audience, by forging strategic partnerships with events such as Fleet Week, influencers like celebrity tattoo artists Jonathan Valena and Oliver Peck as well as musicians like Alabama Shakes and brands like Harley-Davidson.
The Harley-Davidson partnership, for instance, had the two brands collaborate to create a line of custom motorcycles. It featured artists from around the country working on the motorcycles. The brand has also done a similar partnership with Counting Cars, a show on History.
“Instead of spending a ton of money on just paid ads, we have found that these programs and partnerships do much more for our brand,” said Hayes.
The approach seems to be working. The brand has amassed 145,000 followers on Instagram and over 407,000 followers on Facebook. What’s more, images containing tattoos or tattoo motifs tend to have the most engagement too, particularly on Instagram, according to social analytics company Socialbakers.
“The folks at Sailor Jerry understand that counterculture is still counterculture — Norman Collins understood this when he started tattooing folks 70 years ago and the brand marketers understand that today,” said Stephen Boidock, director of marketing and business development at at agency Drumroll. “If you look at the approach they have taken, it’s all about creating a lifestyle and story around the product that you know your consumers aspire to have.”
It also helps that they instead of approaching alcohol the way many others do — by focusing on the craftsmanship that goes into creating the product.
“Instead, they’re interviewing artists and influencers and using content to appeal to people who are tired of ‘more of the same,'” said Boidock.
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