Keg on legs Boon goes in to bat for whiskey
It's the rarest of brands that can unite under one marquee dapper Don Draper, the cool postwar Manhattan advertising executive from cult TV show Mad Men, and former Australian cricketer David Boon, known as the "keg on legs" and famed for sinking 52 cans of beer on a flight to London.
If Draper, clean shaven and sublimely outfitted in his classic American suit, were to bump into Boon at a bar they would likely struggle to strike up a conversation. That is, until they spied what the other was drinking - Canadian Club. Draper, of course, would be sipping his Canadian Club whiskey from a stylish tumbler, having just mixed up an Old Fashioned, while Boon would have his lips clamped to the end of a long-neck bottle of Canadian Club Dry.
The appearance throughout Mad Men of the Canadian Club label is a gift of history, representing the popularity of the whiskey at the time. Boon's association is more to do with his decision - to the shock of beer lovers and Boonie fans everywhere - to front an advertising campaign in 2011 for the Canadian Club pre-mixed drink, as part of the label's pitch to win beer drinkers.
Both have worked a treat. Canadian Club has become the first new brand in a decade to break into the Australian top 10 ready-to-drink list. It is generating the volumes beers would kill for, 35 per cent compound growth over the past four years, and is one of the fastest-growing beverage brands in the country. More Canadian Club is sold in Australia than in its native Canada.
The straight whiskey is doing nicely too, with 15 per cent volume growth.
"Australians have got the taste for it," said Trent Chapman, brand director at Beam Global, the US drinks giant that owns Canadian Club as well as spirits powerhouse Jim Beam, the nation's biggest selling ready-to-drink.
"We are a beer alternative. We are packaged like a beer, in a bottle with a long neck, we use a mixer such as dry ginger ale, which gives it a refreshing taste like a beer, and then we have a big-brand message like 'over beer'."
If the image of Boon drinking Canadian Club wasn't enough to deflate a beer patriot's heart then they should prepare for a further shock as the beverage takes on another household name.
"Our internal forecast numbers show that by 2016 we will be bigger than the Bundaberg Rum which is part of the DNA of Australian life," Mr Chapman said.
Canadian Club, mixed with ginger ale or cola also comes in a can, but the bottle format has become the local hero for the label.
"Beer and premium beer is where we are at," Mr Chapman said. "We mirror the same consumer profile as Corona, and it's no coincidence that two of the top three fastest-growing brands are Corona, the other being Canadian Club."
But the strategy is not about usurping the beer category entirely, it is about putting the idea in drinkers' minds that the pre-mixed beverage, a dark spirit, can sometimes be the perfect beverage to serve.
"Some occasions, such as a barbecue, you have it in pre-mix because it's convenient ... Other times you might be at a bar and you can get the full spirit mix with dry ginger ale on tap."
Its recent launch of Canadian Club and ginger ale on tap at pubs has propelled growth rates of 30 per cent-plus for the brand over the past year with more than 400 premises now able to pour the drink into a glass at the bar.
The next assault will be on the summer market with the Canadian Club Summer Crisp bottle, which copies the popular Corona profile right down to the lemon slice perched in the neck.