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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saint Frank Sinatra: "The Man In Jack"?




I must preface this entry with some facts about myself. I like beer and an occasional shot of higher octane spirits. I definitely have drunk to excess in my life, and as a young man, I took many stupid, dangerous chances while under the influence. In fact, drinking alcohol has contributed to some very regretful actions. I confess.

As I age, I would rather savor an occasional drink or two instead of relying on alcohol as a social lubricant or as a necessity for having fun. I never drive after imbibing any amount of alcohol. And, I realize I am very lucky that I didn't hurt others when I used to drive after "having a few" and felt as if I was in total control of my faculties. Now, older and wiser, I bum rides, have a designated driver, or call a cab if I drink away from my own home.

In short, I understand drinking alcohol is a vice. No doubt drinking may make a person feel good, but there is always a price to pay for overindulging -- hangovers, fights, wrecks, arguments, the list goes on and on. I am neither proud that I drink a little now, nor comfortable enough to tout the vice to anyone. Those who don't drink are strong-willed, intelligent folks who realize they don't need alcohol to escape or to have fun. Young people, please, don't begin drinking alcohol -- you will save yourself money, friendships, and heartache.

That said, I am startled at an ad campaign and a couple of recent commercials. Jack Daniel’s has resurrected Frank Sinatra to sell a high end, 90-proof whiskey for $150 a bottle. Now, I like Sinatra's singing, and I know he did it "his way" as he "flew us to moon"; however, I question the manner in which Jack Daniel Distillery, owned by the Brown-Forman Corporation, is promoting their product.


Here text from three commercials featuring a Jack Daniel's tribute to the famous crooner:

1. "Frank Sinatra was a man. No, he was the man. And, he loved Jack... On stage, every night: three rocks, two fingers, and a splash of water. He's even buried with a bottle of it, so Frank, this one's for you. (Recorded voice of Sinatra ends the commercial -- 'That's the nectar of the gods, baby.')"

Click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5rAOpN6kXw

2. "Onstage, beneath the spotlight, it was with him... It would become a staple of late Las Vegas nights and a mandatory at country club afternoons. When he traveled, his jet carried it to foreign lands. And, in the end, the man in the black-and-white tuxedo was laid to rest with a bottle of it. That's why his name is on this label."

Click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjssX66bFBo

3. "He sat in on countless legendary recordings. He was Sinatra's 'right-hand man...' His name is 'Jack.'"

Click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxbtprqos_Y

Don't misread my message, please. Tying celebrities to alcoholic brands isn't a new concept, by any means. The practice has been used for decades. Director Woody Allen appeared in Smirnoff vodka ads in the 1960s, and more recently, rapper P Diddy has been linked to Ciroc vodka while reality TV star Bethenny Frankel founded the Skinnygirl brand.

It seems the Sinatra history with Jack is undeniable. At one time, Jack Daniel's wasn't the best-selling whiskey in the world. Sinatra, the story goes, was introduced to it by Jackie Gleason at Toots Shor's legendary saloon in Manhattan. Jack Daniel's was the craft spirit of its day, and drinking it was a mark of distinction rather than conformity.

Jack Daniel's was a relatively obscure "sour mash" whiskey (it can't legally be called a bourbon because, among other reasons, it's charcoal filtered), made in small quantities and sold until the mid-1950s by word of mouth rather than advertising.

According to John Hayes, senior vice president managing director for Jack Daniel's, one of the brand's first salesmen, Angelo Lucchesi, developed a friendship with Sinatra and ensured the singer had a steady supply of the whiskey. At a time when it was hard for other consumers to purchase Jack Daniel's, Lucchesi would have cases delivered to Sinatra's home and even airports while he was traveling.

The marriage of Frank and Jack is linked to the product's great success. Jack Daniel's in 1955 sold roughly 150,000 cases, a figure that doubled the following year, after Sinatra began to refer to the whiskey as "the nectar of the gods" while on stage for various performances. Of course, since then Jack Daniel's popularity has exploded, with the black and green label products selling 10.9 million cases globally last year.

Now, people with enough cash will be able to imbibe on the company’s new Sinatra Select whiskey for $150 a bottle, the company’s most expensive whiskey ever. The company promises a higher-than-normal 45 percent alcohol at bottling and special Sinatra-barrels that offer the whiskey distinctive taste. By the way, the high cost is never mentioned in the commercials promoting the product. Instead, the implication is that Frank's favorite was the familiar, present-day product.

Here is some hype from a whiskey-lovers site:

"Sinatra Select is aged in specially selected 'Sinatra barrels,' which have grooves cut into the interior after the wood is charred, putting the whiskey in contact with wood that has been toasted but not charred as deeply. It's also aged somewhat longer (I've heard it's about a year) than standard Old No. 7, in a prime spot in the Daniel's warehouse. It's then bottled at a healthy 90 proof. The final product is closer to Jack Daniel's as it was when Frankie started drinking it, which should please Sinatra fans, whiskey connoisseurs and retrophiles alike."

Sinatra's biographers, Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, authors of Sinatra: My Life, reportedly discovered old friends of Sinatra reported he was "ruled" by Jack Daniels. Swan says...

"Sinatra's use and abuse of alcohol was much more important than anyone understood. We tracked that and we gathered information that, from the mid-40s on, he was really seriously abusing the booze, and, even in his later life, drinking a bottle of Jack Daniels a day... When we submitted that evidence to a couple of experts on alcoholism, they said, pretty conclusively, that this is a functioning alcoholic and I think that helped us to explain and I think will help the reader understand the explosive temper, the up-and-down relationship with women and his children, the depressions and the insomnia."

("Experts Reveal Sinatra Was A Functioning Alcoholic." www.contactmusic.com. July, 2006)

Oxford University-educated Summers adds, "One of the strange anomalies is that a man, who not only drank so much but smoked so much - those untipped Camel cigarettes - for years and years and years, was still able to put out such a wonderful voice over such a long period. "We learned that he went off the booze and off the cigarettes for a period before he made an album."



My Take on "My Way"

So, what is my problem with the advertising? The irony of Frank Sinatra's casket containing a bottle of Jack Daniels haunts me. The symbol seems more to represent an indication of horrible fault in the life of a dependent man than it does of an item fittingly emblematic to lie in the final resting place of the man. Any reference to the "nectar of the gods" is lost in the actuality of the harm Sinatra's "staple" -- high proof alcohol -- likely caused him "beneath the spotlight."

In fact, the corporate celebration of the myth of the marriage of Sinatra and Jack eludes me. In a nation where excessive alcohol use accounts for approximately 88,000 deaths each year, making that inundation the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death, irresponsible drinking should not be cause for coronation and celebration.

And, how about the temerity of the veiled claim that Jack Daniels contributed to the "legendary" and storied career of Frank Sinatra? Who is said to be Sinatra's trusted sidekick, his "right-hand man"? None other than good old Jack. "His name is Jack" seems more appropriately synonymous with references to "Jumping Jack Flash" than with references to an American popular singer.

Any mystique conjured in these commercials is concocted through smoke and mirrors -- the corporation has worked diligently to create an attractive illusion that attempts to conceal the ugly truth. And, the truth is that alcohol advertising causes higher consumption rather than merely reflecting greater public demand. An alcohol campaign's effectiveness is judged solely by its ability to increase a producer's market share and to increase brand loyalty.

The self-regulatory bodies that create standards for the ethical advertising of alcohol in the United States do have certain concerns. These concerns include the following:

* Alcohol advertisements can only be placed in media where 70% of the audience is over the legal drinking age.

* Alcohol advertising's creative messages should not be designed to appeal to people under the age of 21, for example, using cartoon characters as spokespeople is discouraged.

* Advertising cannot promote brands based on alcohol content or its effects.

* Advertising must not encourage irresponsible drinking.

Jack Daniel's has managed to mount a Frank Sinatra ad campaign that conforms to most of these standards. Certainly, the demographics of using an icon of long ago to promote their alcoholic product seems honest. Maybe, that, in itself, is commendable since estimates report that 45% of the commercials that young people view each year are advertisements for alcohol. Also, no mention of the alcoholic content is offered in the commercials. (Neither is the price of acquiring the "good stuff" they are bottling under the 'Sinatra' name.)

The questionable breach of standard is the rule that advertising must not encourage irresponsible drinking. To me, not only does Jack Daniel's encourage irresponsible drinking with the Sinatra campaign, but the company also distorts an allegory to mythical proportion by proposing that its product helped create a folkloric American character who sang like an angel while drinking like the devil himself.

In closing, I believe Frank Sinatra, himself, might chuckle about this supposititious fantasy. It is classic misrepresentation. After all, isn't he the man who quipped, "Alcohol may be man's worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy" and "I feel sorry for people who do not drink. When they wake up in the morning it is as good as they are going to feel all day"? I think, he was able to laugh about the subject, and he knew the score about the deadly effects of his boozing. I doubt if he would wish to be raised to alcoholic sainthood.

Sinatra worked in show business and was paid to entertain people. His drinking was his personal business. But, the prop of a glass of Jack Daniel's became as indicative of his schtick as George Burns' cigar or Johnny Cash's black garb. In the final accounting, he should be remembered for artistry, not for drinking.

"That's the nectar of the gods, baby"? Any fool who spends $150 for a bottle of Sinatra Select to be the man is both foolish and easily swayed by slick slight of hand and twist of tongue. I'll continue to get my Sinatra "on" through listening to recordings, not by drinking his "trademark" alcoholic beverage. Even if I do buy a bottle of Jack sometime, I won't do it for the man.

Are you being responsible, Jack Daniel Distillery? I guess it all depends on corporate profits. "How high the moon? Ring-a-Ding-Ding, Baby."


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