Suntory Highball: Social Media Helps Boost Japan’s Whisky Industry

Suntory highball

Suntory highball (C)ITmedia

Do you know a highball? It’s a cocktail mixing whisky with seltzer in a glass with a lemon slice and ice. Though whisky was not my preferred drink, it has been my favorite since a highball campaign by a Japanese whisky company.

In 2008, Suntory, a leading Japanese beverage company, launched a highball campaign that included social media. This is regarded as one of the most successful cross-media campaigns in Japan, boosting my country’s flagging whisky industry.

As Charlene Li and Josh Bernhoff say in the book, Groundswell, there are four key elements to raise public awareness and change their behavior–viral videos, social networks, blogs and communities. Using these elements, Suntory has created a highball boom and saved Japan’s whisky industry.

YouTube Videos

As Li and Bernhoff state in Groundswell, “Viral videos are best for punching through the noise.” Suntory has uploaded a series of highball commercials on TV featuring popular Japanese models and actresses on YouTube since 2008 (here is an example). In the meantime, the company has launched its official YouTube site showing how to make a delicious highball (Japanese language only). This cross-media strategy has successfully expanded viewership,  raising public awareness.

Highball Map

Suntory has launched its own website–Highball map (Japanese only)–to enable highball fans to introduce their favorite izakayas, Japanese-style restaurants and pubs, where people can enjoy the whisky-soda mix, and to share their experiences. On the webpage, users can respond to questionnaires from Suntory, helping the company monitor customers’ voices.

Social media

In addition to Facebook and Twitter (Japanese only), the whisky company created a blog (Japanese only) to connect and directly talk with customers. Blog posts featuring such topics as manufacturing processes and distiller tours allow whisky fans not only to understand the complicated processes but also to see inside distillers without actually being there. The website helps foster brand loyalty among the audience, using the groundswell to spread positive messages.

The cross-media campaign has brought great success as follows:

・Within one year after the launch of the campaign, the number of izakayas serving
Suntory highball increased tenfold (from 6,200 to 58,000).
・In the meantime, sales of Suntory whisky increased by 24%.
・Similarly, the entire whiskey market in Japan expanded by 9%. The campaign
triggered a significant rebound in the industry that had been shrinking for 25 years.

(The data is from IT media (Japanese only).)

The combination of online (viral videos, Highball map and social media) and offline (customers’ experiences in izakayas) interaction has successfully created the image that the highball is cool. As Brian Solis says, “Brands are no longer created, they’re co-created.” Two-way communication, based on cross-media strategies using customers’ experiences, shows positive impact on impressions and decisions among the public.

So, how about enjoying a cool highball tonight? (I surely will!)

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