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I hate Jack Daniels. Not the man. The whisky. Sour mash whisky is just not my thing.

Lest you get the wrong idea about me, I am not anti-whisky. My favorite way to spend an evening is to share a fine tobacco and even finer single malt scotch with good friends. I’m pretty damn picky about my whisky, my tobacco and my friends.

I’m pretty damn picky about good writing as well.

And that brings me to the subject of the Jack Daniels commercial called “Our Town.”

It’s one of the best TV ads of the past year. I’ll wait for you to watch it.

This is an award-winning ad. But Jack Daniels is in business to sell more whisky, not win advertising awards.

Do you think this ad serves that goal?

I don’t have access to their sales figures, so I have no proof. However, I know great writing and great advertising. This is outstanding writing and top-shelf advertising.

I am confident that “Our Town” has been very good for Jack Daniels‘ sales.

What we can learn from this ad? And – most importantly – how can we apply it?

Hemingway, Not Faulkner

“Our town” is almost Hemingway-esque in its minimalism. Very few words in this 60-second commercial, yet each one is paired perfectly with its images.

It’s a fine line we walk when trying to persuade people. You want to use exactly as many words as it takes, but not one more. And it is far easier to err on the side of “too many” than on the side of “too few.”

This ad conveys so much emotion and atmosphere with so few words. It is almost an art piece by itself.

Keep it short.

Keep it direct.

Small, precise hammer blows will shatter the largest boulder.

Imply and Infer

The ad has no obvious sales pitch. No discussion at all about product features or product benefits. A less adept advertiser would do something trite. The pitch would go something like this:

Let’s show a party with hordes of wealthy attractive 20-somethings laughing together. And Jack Daniels whisky is the centerpiece of the party.

You know exactly what I’m talking about.

“Our Town” is the polar opposite of that sort of advertising.

In fact, the words “Jack Daniels” are spoken just twice in this commercial. And one of those times is in reference to the people who are direct descendents of the man Jack Daniels.

The only image of the product itself appears on screen for a mere 3 seconds.

In short, if you were a beginning marketing student, you might think this ad did a lousy job of selling whisky.

And you could not be more wrong.

So why does it work?

Identity Trumps Everything

This ad is one of the rare ones that operates at the deepest level of persuasion – the level of Identity.

To review, persuasion can happen at three levels:

  1. Facts
  2. Analogy
  3. Identity

The only Facts in the “Our Town” ad are facts about people. Nothing about the product.

The ad is completely lacking in Analogy.

But the ad hammers Identity.

It evokes almost every pleasant emotions that human beings enjoy:

  • Community
  • Individuality
  • Duty
  • Loyalty
  • Tradition
  • A little rebellion thrown in for good measure
  • Humility in their success
  • Pride in their skill
  • Home

The message is clear, even though it is never stated in words:

Good people enjoy making Jack Daniels. Good people enjoy drinking Jack Daniels. You’re a good person.

Watch and learn, Grasshopper. Watch and learn.

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