Bulleit’s anti-advertising approach involves leveraging local cultural invents like Tribeca Film Festival, where it can engage with the ‘creative class’
When marketing to the creative class is a primary campaign objective, building experiential activations at film festivals is a worthy path to engagement. And for bourbon brand Bulleit in particular, which concentrates on penetrating local culture and communities through word-of-mouth marketing as opposed to advertising, a Tribeca Film Festival sponsorship was just the ticket. The brand created a space open for 10 days during the festival’s run, April 24 to May 5, that included a 40-foot by 15-foot-tall 3D-printed bar comprised of 7,000 components that took more than 2,000 hours to assemble; a 3D-printed cocktail contraption, a dj booth for official film afterparties, and video projections. We spoke with Ed Bello, U.S. and global brand director for Bulleit, about the brand’s experiential strategy behind the festival sponsorship—and beyond.
Event Marketer: Why was it important for Bulleit to be at Tribeca?
Ed Bello: We’ve been one of the key sponsors of it for two years now. But the most important reason is that it’s an iconic cultural moment in New York City, and we want to be a part of it. Over the last few years, our brand has been doing key collaborations in iconic cities like L.A., New York and Oakland during cultural moments. So, the Tribeca Festival was a natural outcome.
It’s a key cultural moment with filmmakers, entertainers, folks who are pushing boundaries, pushing innovation and cultural frontiers. The heart of Bulleit and our marketing platform, called Frontier Works, is rooted in collaborating with innovators, creators and makers doing interesting things that are pushing boundaries. At Tribeca, we brought together filmmakers, craft mixologists and leaders in 3D technology.
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EM: How is the activation different this year?
EB: We’ve had several different Frontier Works activations. Three years ago, one of the initial ones was a partnership with over 30 tattoo artists who came together to collaborate and create the world’s largest tattoo out-of-home billboard. We did that in Silverlake in L.A. Then last year, we collaborated with the Queen of Neon from L.A., the artist Lisa Schulte, and illustrator Brendan Donnelly, to create a more than 30-foot-wide neon outdoor billboard, which is still sitting almost two years later in Grand Central Market in downtown L.A. This year, we decided to take it even further and bring together what is at the heart of the brand—craft cocktails and mixology—and 3D-printing technology. We did a pop-up in Oakland, in Austin and then Tribeca. The plans are to go to L.A. and Chicago, and then a few other stops.
EM: Generally, what is your target demographic? Does it change depending on your location or objective?
EB: We don’t actually have a demographic. We have what we call a target consumer, and these are folks who are interested in culture, experiences and design. We call them the creative class. Our consumer is someone who lives their life with a frontier spirit, and that can span all ages, all ethnicities and all geographical locations. That’s what makes this brand so exciting, because we can be inclusive.
EM: How did the Frontier Works platform develop?
Tom Bulleit, our founder, now in his mid 70s and still very active working with us, founded this brand in 1987 when he was a very successful lawyer in Lexington, KY. He decided to get into the bourbon business when you couldn’t give it away; it was all about vodka in 1987. But he believed deeply in doing things differently. He took inspiration from his great-great-grandfather, who had a high rye bourbon recipe, and he collaborated with craft mixologists to bring that brand to market. At the time, the only bourbons in the market were very sweet and made from high wheat content. His high rye bourbon was something that mixologists could then take and make great cocktails with because it had a bolder, spicier flavor profile, which shows up much better in the craft cocktail. And that’s why these bartenders, then, were delighted to help build the brand, which is what we’ve been doing since day one. Now we can take that ethos and spirit forward and continue to collaborate.
EM: What were the specific business goals of the Tribeca activation?
EB: The first was to show up locally in a big way. One of the key success factors for us is giving back to that community by involving them in what we’re doing. An example of that is the bartender who we worked with, Melissa Market, who’s a very successful and influential bartender here in the community. She in turn brought along a lot of her friends and bartenders to help work with us throughout the 10 days that we were activating. They created the cocktails that were served at the events. Objective No. 2 is we wanted to share our ethos with our consumers through the 3D-printed activation. We also had Benjamin, the robotics engineer pioneer who created the 3D- printed cocktail technology, present as one of our collaborators. More than 2,200 consumers came through over the 10 days. The third part was to be a phenomenal partner with Tribeca and the film festival and give them a place to come and celebrate the films they were premiering. We hosted the premiere of the “In Living Color” 25th anniversary, for instance, an iconic show that pushed the boundaries of culture at the time. We also wanted our consumers to hear about it globally and generate p.r. on a local, national and global level.
EM: Broadly, how important is experiential to Bulleit within the overall marketing mix?
EB: It sits at the heart of it. Consumers these days are all about experiences. And Bulleit was already doing experiences before this whole experience craze happened. From the beginning, how we’ve grown has been about creating experiences locally and being a part of cultural events. Experiential marketing is important to our consumers, it’s important to the brand, and to Tom Bulleit himself. And our experiential platform allows us to do that, to do what we believe and be who we are. Since day one, this brand was built on word-of-mouth because we’ve never really advertised it. Experiential is our brand and, ultimately, it is our marketing.