Voice Activation

Now Entering The Connected Device Arena: Jim Beam

Beam me up, Jimmy. Whiskey maker Jim Beam has entered the connected device arena with a smart decanter for its popular Kentucky-style bourbon whiskey.

And it’s not just smart in the sense that it can talk — it’s smart enough to sass you, too. Ask “Jim” the weather and he’ll say (in the voice of Jim Beam’s seventh generation master distiller Fred Noe) that he has no idea, but he does know it’s the perfect weather to drink some bourbon.

Then he’ll happily pour you a shot.

The Jim Beam decanter is obviously more of a novelty item — a gag gift, a parody of the proliferating smart home devices, such as Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home speaker — and is priced accordingly at $34.90. It seems likely that Jim will find his way under a few Christmas trees at Yankee Swap parties this year, much to the amusement (and possibly embarrassment) of whoever takes him home.

The statement Jim Beam makes with the intelligent decanter is an interesting one, though. Many will see the product as silly and superfluous; completely unnecessary. Yet smart home devices in general are a bit superfluous, aren’t they? Most of the things that customers ask Alexa to do for them are things they could easily do themselves: turning on and off the lights, checking the weather, setting a timer.

As the kids are saying these days, it’s kind of extra, which makes it easy to mock. And this is not Jim Beam’s first time at bat: In September 2016, it borrowed some thunder from the new Apple Watch with its own Jim Beam Apple Watch, created to promote its Jim Beam Apple line of apple-flavored whiskey.

The watch doesn’t count footsteps or calories. It doesn’t tell the weather or deliver notifications. It doesn’t even tell time. The Jim Beam Apple Watch’s sole function is to telescope out into a shot glass, then collapse back into a “sleek,” stainless steel wearable engraved with the company’s logo after use.

The Jim Beam gag gift’s advertisement boasts that the wrist strap is adjustable to “12 distinct sizes” and available exclusively in green, “because some apples are green.” The watch also comes with a small dial on the side, which “serves no purpose” but is also green.

At $17.99, this item probably also made appearances at a few Yankee Swap parties last December.

So, what does a brand like Jim Beam gain by making fun of voice-activated consumer electronics and the Internet of Things?

The strategy likely helps the brand stand out among millennials, since the ads are humorous and highly shareable via social media, attracting a demographic that loves to buy things “ironically” — and the more absurd the better, as evidenced by the popularity of clothing stylized with such imagery as cats in outer space.

That would align with Jim Beam’s recent collaboration with “Black Swan” star Mila Kunis, during which Fred Noe took the actress on a tour of the distillery to learn how real Kentucky bourbon is made. Adding a celebrity to the family is always a good way to catch the millennial demographic’s eye.

As a retail brand, Jim Beam has been around for over 200 years and seven generations. That gives it name brand recognition, but also demands that the company reinvent its image from time to time in order to perpetuate that brand recognition among new consumers, lest it become simply “that whiskey our grandparents drank.”

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