Pendleton Whisky

The Challenge:  Innovation is a potential revenue stream that can easily be overlooked.  Fortunately, our client Hood River Distillers realized that new product innovation was an important growth strategy when they asked us to create a new Canadian whisky brand for them.

Insight:   As we examined the category, we saw a huge opportunity — Crown Royal sat uncontested as the only premium Canadian whisky.  What’s more, Crown Royal was an exceptionally diffuse brand, appealing to communities ranging from cowboys, to NASCAR to hip-hop. Of these communities, we found Crown’s association with cowboys to be the most curious. Crown’s imagery of purple velvet and ostentatious gold crowns seemed categorically opposed to the stark and humble lifestyle embraced by cowboys.

Big Idea:  This insight refined our opportunity.  We knew that there was space to attack Crown at the top, and then we saw where Crown was most vulnerable. We had to create a premium whisky for cowboys.

The Work:  To keep our brand as authentic as possible, the famous Pendleton Round-Up in Pendleton, Oregon, became our inspiration. This choice gave our brand a sense of place, and eventually became its name. Everything about Pendleton Canadian Whisky, from packaging to its taste profile, was born from the tried and true Cowboy lifestyle found in Pendleton.

We were also responsible for the marketing around Pendleton Whisky’s launch and growth. For this, we used a community marketing approach that has more in common with Harley Davidson’s marketing than traditional spirits marketing. Rather than trying to appeal to everyone, our work was polarizing. It was only meant to resonate with a specific group. Just like with Harley, outsiders need not apply.

Our goal was to immerse ourselves in the cowboy community. We used real cowboys and cowgirls from Pendleton as models and shot ads and POS in the rodeo arena to achieve just that. And we were very successful. Cowboys from all over the West became our disciples, putting Pendleton Whisky patches on their hats and stickers on their trucks. As they traveled the circuit from Cheyenne to Oklahoma City, these cowboys worked as our brand ambassadors, proudly sharing Pendleton Whisky with their peers.

Results:  Since its launch, Pendleton Whisky has been one of the fastest-growing whiskies in the US, enjoying a compound annual growth rate of 82% during its first five years. Last year, Pendleton Whisky was asked to sponsor the National Rodeo Finals in Las Vegas, which helped elevate its status to that of other iconic cowboy brands like Wrangler and Montana Silversmiths.

But more than just being a successful one-off brand, Pendleton Whisky allowed Hood River Distillers to develop an entirely new revenue stream with a portfolio of premium spirits. We developed two new brands for them, Yazi Ginger Vodka and Ullr Schnapps, both of which are growing quickly. And with the distribution leverage created by Pendleton, Hood River Distillers has also been able to become the US distributor of award-winning brands like Broker’s Gin and Cockspur Rum.