How Bushmills bottled a successful partnership with ‘Peaky Blinders’

There was not yet a partnership between Bushmills and Netflix’s ‘Peaky Blinders’ series when a vintage bottle of whiskey appeared on the show about post-war Britain. In the fifth season of the series, the two marketers realized that teaming up would be a natural fit and therefore could hold promise.

“It’s not a logo slap. It’s not just about trying to use a show’s intellectual property and put it on our bottle and we think that’s marketing. You really have 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 Succeed: 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, director of client services at Ben, who moderated. The trio discussed the unique nature of the “Peaky Blinders” and Bushmills relationship, which they attributed to the whiskey brand’s small size and inability to pay to fit into the show, as the BBC – the show’s producer – has policies in place that do not allow for paid product placements. However, the nature of the rapprochement was too promising to pass up.

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Entering into the partnership, Bushmills already had something to lend: his story. Based in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, Bushmills is the oldest whiskey distillery in the world. The distillery was first licensed over 400 years ago in 1608 and has withstood wars, civil unrest, economic collapses and a chain of ownership changes. “Peaky Blinders” follows Tom Shelby, a crime boss in post-World War I England, and the street gang that bears the name of the series.

Bushmills was prohibited from paying to integrate into the show. The basis of the partnership became the creation of the Bushmills Prohibition Recipe, a themed spirits offering with a bottle featuring the actor’s likeness Cillian Murphy, who plays Shelby on the show, and a message on the topic: By Order of the Shelby Company LTD. Creating the offering meant taking a step back and looking at what might be genuine value for fans of the show, Webb said.

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

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

To maintain momentum during a period of growth for Irish whiskeys, Bushmills sought other activations beyond the bottle. For instance, Bushmills for St. Patrick’s Day offered to foot the bill for bar patrons and “Peaky Blinders” fans. The multi-channel strategy only grew, as whiskey became a major plot element of the show as the timeline entered the Prohibition era.

“This is by far the criterion for measuring future partnerships”, Endemol Shine’s Petteway noticed.

Such a partnership is a testament to how brands are increasingly exploring their place in connected TV (TVC), and anchoring a relationship with a loyal fanbase could help brands like Bushmillscurrently the third most popular irish whiskey in America, move up the ranks.

“Drinking whiskey, vodka or tequila is a passion for some people, it’s entertainment for a lot of people,” Webb said. “So we try to think of our products as entertainment products, and if that’s the case, to be able to act as such as well.”

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