How Bushmills bottled a successful ‘Peaky Blinders’ partnership

How Bushmills bottled a successful ‘Peaky Blinders’ partnership

There wasn’t yet a partnership between Bushmills and Netflix series “Peaky Blinders” when a vintage bottle of the whiskey appeared in the show about post-WWI Britain. By the series’ fifth season, the two marketers realized that pairing up would be a natural fit and could prove promising as a result.

“This isn’t a logo-slap. It isn’t just trying to use the IP of one show and putting it on our bottle and we think that is marketing. You really have got to create something new for the consumer,” said Jennifer Webb, group communications director at Proximo Spirits during an Advertising Week panel highlighting the tie-up.

During the panel, titled “Making Entertainment Partnerships Successful: A Bushmills/Peaky Blinders Story,” Webb was joined by Tamaya Petteway, senior vice president of brand licensing and digital partnerships for Endemol Shine North America and Katy Wolf, client services director at Ben, who moderated. The trio discussed the unique nature of the “Peaky Blinders” and Bushmills relationship, which they credited to the whiskey brand’s small size and inability to pay to integrate into the show because BBC — the show’s producer — has policies in place that don’t allow for paid product placements. However, the nature of the tie-up was too promising to pass up.

Finding the fit

Going into the partnership, Bushmills already had something to lend: its history. Headquartered in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, Bushmills is the oldest whiskey distillery in the world. The distillery was first granted its license over 400 years ago in 1608 and has weathered wars, civil unrest, economic collapses and a string of ownership changes. “Peaky Blinders” follows Tom Shelby, a crime boss in post-World War I England, and the street gang that goes by the name of the show.

Bushmills was prohibited from paying to integrate into the show. The staple of the partnership became the creation of the Bushmills Prohibition Recipe, a themed spirit offering with a bottle featuring the likeness of actor Cillian Murphy, who plays Shelby in the series, and an on-theme message: By Order of the Shelby Company LTD. Creating the offering meant stepping back and looking at what could be an authentic value grab for fans of the show, Webb said.

“What would Tommy Shelby be drinking? How can we create a whiskey that allows fans to get closer to Tommy Shelby and have a drink with him,” Webb said.

The themed bottle has proven to be a success, Webb said, and she expects the popularity of the bottle to stretch beyond the lifecycle of the show. “Peaky Blinders” has seen success over the years, gaining traction after the release of season three, and has even inspired a resurgence in era-inspired haircuts and clothing. Now, the show is headed into its sixth and final season. 

To keep the momentum alive during a period of growth for Irish whiskeys, Bushmills has looked for other activations beyond the bottle. For example, Bushmills for St. Patrick’s Day offered to pick up the tab for bar patrons and “Peaky Blinders” fans. The multi-channel strategy only grew in payoff as whiskey became a major plot point for the show as the timeline entered the prohibition era.

“This by far is the yardstick to measure future partnerships,” Endemol Shine’s Petteway remarked.

Such a partnership speaks to the ways in which brands are increasingly exploring their place in connected TV (CTV), and anchoring a relationship with a loyal fan base could help brands like Bushmills, currently the third most popular Irish whiskey in America, make its way up the ladder. 

“Drinking whiskey, or vodka, or tequila is a passion point of some people, it’s entertainment to a lot of folks out there,” said Webb. “So, we try to look at our products as entertainment products, and if that’s the case, to be able to act like one as well.”

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