Jim Beam, maker of bourbon, has been doing a lot of wishful thinking in public. In an ad that Jim Beam has been blasting on ESPN sports talk radio for several months now, the deep-throated announcer describes how great it feels when “men get together for a cocktail, to talk sports…..”
Doesn’t it seem a little weird to the eye to read about men getting “together for a cocktail?” It sounds even weirder to the ear, and for a reason. The narrator in the commercial is speaking a language sometimes called conversational English, and in conversational English men do not get together “for cocktails.” Even when they’re having mixed drinks, virtually everyone will say they are getting together “for a drink” or more often, “for a beer.” The exception would be to get together for a “cocktail party,” which is understood as an event for couples, not men interested in talking about sports, as is the situation described in the ad.
By using the term “getting together for cocktails” Jim Beam endeavors to recreate reality, or perhaps better, to create a new reality. On the surface it seems to be corporate wishful thinking at its worse: an attempt to use words to paint the picture of reality that you want to see: in this case, men hanging around the TV room throwing some BS around and downing some cocktails.
Corporations and governments often substitute or create new language in an attempt to change reality or our perception of reality. Typically, though, the method is to create a new word to describe a product, service, event or experience, for example, “pre-owned cars” or “police actions” (which is how the Korean War was described for years).
In Jim Beam’s case, the ad is using language to recreate the situation in which the product is used. “Let’s have a cocktail” replaces “Let’s get a beer” in the mythical interchange between real men ready to kick back and relax with some alcohol.
Once I decided to write a blog entry about this ad, I went to the Jim Beam website. The website seems to be designed to appeal to young men, specifically to young men who drink beer. The home page features Kid Rock, a musician one associates more with a football game or the meeting of a motorcycle club than with sipping a Manhattan on the Upper East Side. One of the menu links takes you to its sports tie-in with ESPN called “The Next Round.” The theme of the TV ads you see on the website is “Guys Never Change. Neither Do We.”
Jim Beam’s strategy is clearly to change the behavior of the youthful pack male who swills beer by encouraging them to have a bourbon-based drink instead. Jim-B has selected the audience that marketers have been chasing with a vengeance on sports programming for decades. I won’t question the decision of Jim Beam’s ad mavens and mavenesses to pursue this strategy. I haven’t seen the consumer research (although I do remember seeing a survey several years ago that showed that in good times drinkers trade up to more expensive stuff and in bad times they trade down.)
But in general, I think ads like the Jim Beam radio spot that attempt to deform reality are less successful than those that try to reform it, e.g., an ad in which a group of guys decide to get together for a cocktail instead of a beer for a change of pace, and then decide they like it.