interview w/ Jack Daniel’s VP

The Interview: Jack Daniel’s VP Eric Doninger

CMO EXCLUSIVES | August 20, 2013
by Giselle Abramovich 
Senior & Strategic Editor

The alcohol and spirits industry faces a tremendous amount of pressure when it comes to marketing. The industry is heavily regulated, and brands must follow numerous guidelines both internally and externally.


  • Jack Daniel’s must reach and engage an audience that has more media choices than ever before, especially within digital media.
  • The regulation in the spirits industry has an impact on Jack Daniel’s speed to market.
  • Jack Daniel’s new challenge is ensuring that storytelling is a two-way conversation.

That has an impact on how fast spirits brands can go to market with advertising and marketing, according to Eric K. Doninger, VP and global marketing creative director for the Jack Daniel’s family of brands.

Doninger was recently appointed to his position, having spent 15 years atBrown-Forman, Jack Daniel’s parent company. He said he is excited to step into this role right now because Jack Daniel’s is uniquely built for the current digital/social media environment. But there are challenges, including the struggle to ensure Jack Daniel’s storytelling evolves to a two-way conversation. spoke to Doninger to get a better sense of his role, what he hopes to achieve, and what keeps him up at night. What are some of your responsibilities and favorite part of leading marketing Jack Daniel’s?
Doninger: I’ve held [this new position] for about eight weeks. Previously, I was the global director of design, responsible for the brand identity and package design for Brown-Forman’s entire portfolio of wine and spirit brands. In my new role, I’m responsible for the advertising and creative strategy development, global brand equity stewardship, digital marketing, and packaging development for the Jack Daniel’s portfolio. I’m most excited about the opportunity to work with some of the most creative and talented minds in the industry within our Brown-Forman family, as well as our agency partners around the world. I’m also very keen to develop a deep understanding of the consumers in our key markets, along with working with our local and regional teams to develop new products, messaging, and programs that connect with all of our “Friends of Jack.”  What are some of the challenges that Jack Daniel’s faces in digital marketing?
Doninger: Our challenges are not completely unique to Jack Daniel’s. We face the challenge of reaching and engaging an audience that has more media choices than ever before, especially within digital media. As the digital landscape is always evolving, we must continue to be open to the changing medium. We are not just competing against other spirit brands but any content providers to capture our audience’s attention. We’re also very interested in staying relevant to all of our friends, new and old, while staying true to who we are. As our family of brands has grown expanded into over 140 countries around the world, we are interested in staying relevant with all of our varied friends–new and old–while remaining true to who we are. You’re in a regulated industry. That means a lot of approvals. How does that affect your real-time marketing strategy? 
Doninger: Yes, our industry is highly regulated, and we must follow numerous guidelines, both internal and external, before we can place an ad or launch a new product. That doesn’t impact our marketing strategies, but it does have an impact on speed to market. Jack Daniel’s produces a lot of content–that’s nothing new. You guys began incorporating the brand’s stories into your advertising since the mid-’50s. Can you talk about how that has been both a challenge and an opportunity? 
Doninger: Jack Daniel’s is uniquely built for the current digital/social media environment in that our heritage is about stories and storytelling. That authenticity, inherent to the brand, has given us the ability to connect with our audience across multiple platforms in a very natural way, lending itself to best practices within social media. The challenge that is new for Jack Daniel’s is ensuring that storytelling is a two-way conversation. Evolving our stories into an engaging dialogue presents the challenge and a wonderful opportunity for us to connect more deeply with our friends around the world, wherever, whenever. Can you talk a bit about your content strategy?
: Video is a strong component of our digital efforts, but we focus on balance–ensuring that we tell the right story in the right environment. Video is great when our friends want the rich immersion; other times we leverage editorial and emotive As the CMO of the No. 1 selling whiskey in the United States (9th in the world), what keeps you up at night?
Doninger: Right now, I feel like I’m drinking from the proverbial fire hose as I get up to speed in this new position. Although I’ve been with Brown-Forman for nearly 15 years and closely involved with the Jack Daniel’s trademark, I’m quickly trying to understand the needs of each market, the tools that we currently have to support each market, and those needs that are currently going How has the role of the CMO changed over the past couple of years? How is it more demanding now than ever before?
Doninger: The role has evolved over the past few years and does face different challenges today. Most significantly, we’ve created a new position, the global marketing portfolio director, held by my colleague, Sean Jackson, who responsible for portfolio architecture development and commercialization of our new Jack Daniel’s line extensions. This shared responsibility for the Jack Daniel’s portfolio will help us be agile and innovative as we look for opportunities for our family of brands around the world. We’ve launched more new products in the past few years than ever before–Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, Sinatra Select, regional products such as Winter Jack, and numerous commemorative expressions, to name just a few. The portfolio growth has required us to create the tools and toolkits to launch and grow these new products in an ever-increasingly competitive market place. Everyone says the CMOs and CIOs are working more closely together nowadays. Is it true? Is the CIO your new work BFF? 
Doninger: True, our Brown-Forman CIO is a friend of mine, but I’m more interested, frankly, to spend much more time with our director of digital marketing, Jeff Cole, and his team. In my short tenure, I know that I’m going to need to stay very close to Jeff, as the role of digital and social media is driving how we communicate with the friends of our brands. What’s your advice to CMOs? What’s the key to success in this ever-changing digital marketing industry?
Doninger: Surround yourself with talented and creative minds that have diversity of thought and experience. What’s the most important question I did not ask?
Doninger: Question: What is your favorite Jack Daniel’s cocktail?  Answer: Gentleman Jack Manhattan. Stirred, not shaken.


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