Knob Creek bourbon ad embraces failure

Knob Creek bourbon ad embraces failure

August 12, 2009—Sunday’s New York Times features a full-page ad for Knob Creek bourbon, in which the company apologizes to its customers for running out of whiskey at its Kentucky distillery. “Thanks for nothing,” it begins, before advising that loyal customers “may experience something of a shortage … very soon.”

One can’t fault the company for running dry, as Knob Creek began aging its current supply back in 2000, when the American economy was thriving and people weren’t as likely to be drowning their sorrows with a bottle of whiskey. (Now that we’re in the midst of a long-term recession, Knob Creek is experiencing “double-digit growth”.)

It’s safe to say that most businesses would view Knob Creek’s predicament as a crisis. But instead of cutting corners and bottling a new batch of bourbon before it has a chance to age the prescribed nine years, Knob Creek decided to let the supply run out and take the opportunity to make light of its situation.

This counterintuitive approach has a number of advantages.

First, it allows Knob Creek to demonstrate that the company doesn’t cut corners. “Rather than compromise quality for quantity, we’re letting [stocks] run out. Until the next batch is finished aging for its full nine years,” trumpets the ad copy.

Second, the campaign is sure to generate more than its share of free publicity. We hear that Knob Creek has been mailing empty bottles to journalists, and distributing T-shirts lamenting “the drought of 2009.” By the time liquor stores are resupplied in November the brand will no doubt have greater name recognition and a better reputation than ever before.

In the meantime, just think of the brand as “Dry Creek.”