Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey is now creative director of bourbon maker Wild Turkey.
Photo courtesy of Wild Turkey
By John Kell
August 1, 2016

Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey has got a new starring role. He’s a new pitchman for bourbon brand Wild Turkey.

Wild Turkey on Monday announced McConaughey will serve as “creative director” for the brand, a role that will see him direct and star in a series of television and digital ad campaigns to help propel Wild Turkey to new heights. The multiyear deal, The New York Times points out, goes beyond a traditional sales pitch. In this case, the famous actor is more closely uniting his own personal brand with that of Wild Turkey’s, including recording music for the upcoming September campaign.

“Wild Turkey has the history and qualities of a brand that depicts the dedication of someone to do something their own way – even if that way isn’t always the most popular,” McConaughey said in a prepared statement. “I want to help share their unique story.”

In a preview of what’s to come, Wild Turkey and McConaughey released a six-minute short film about the beginnings of the project. In the film, McConaughey says the family behind the Wild Turkey brand—the Russells—approached him “a few years ago” to be the celebrity spokesman for the brand. McConaughey said he liked the idea, but he didn’t just want to be face of the campaign, but have more control over the project.

 

The ties with McConaughey are an interesting move for the Russell family, which has controlled the brand’s direction for 62 years. Three generations Russells are currently steering the brand, led by master distiller Jimmy Russell. He and his family been the brand’s visionaries even after Wild Turkey was sold by Pernod Ricard in 2009 for $575 million to Italian liquor giant Gruppo Campari. Since then, Campari has invested heavily in the brand, including building a $50 million distillery to greatly boost production.

Melanie Batchelor, vice president of global marketing at Campari, said there were a few parallels between McConaughey and the Russell family. She lauded the natural chemistry, which began back in 2014 when the actor first met the bourbon-making family.

“Jimmy has strong convictions. He is someone who has never changed a recipe that is the same since he joined 62 years ago. He’s seen a lot of trends come and go but has stuck to his individual choices,” Batchelor said. “That’s where we saw the parallel. Matthew has made a lot of individual choices in his career as well.”

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The admiration seems to go both ways. “I found a story here in Kentucky. I found a story here in the Russells. And found a story here in Wild Turkey that I think deserves to be told,” McConaughey said in the preview film.

The ad campaign with McConaughey comes at a time when demand for bourbon has increased in the U.S. and in many markets abroad. Wild Turkey grew by 8.8% for the latest full-year results released by Campari, boosted by demand for the traditional Wild Turkey and greater interest in the honey variation.

Like many liquor companies, Campari leans on celebrities to boost recognition for its brands. The parent company issues a yearly Campari calendar that each year generates a lot of interest among lifestyle publications and the alcohol press. Past participants have included actresses Kate Hudson, Eva Green and Uma Thurman. But those relationships are often the traditional role of a celebrity spokesperson. Wild Turkey is clearly hoping to get more out of their ties with McConaughey.

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