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Yankee Doodle comes to town


A BUNCH of boys get together to play cricket on the street, with a wooden plank for the wicket and a safe tennis ball to bowl. They grunt, yell, grimace, spit, and rub the tennis ball on their groin... everything their favourite Indian cricketers do.

Before your heart swells with pride, take a closer look. A Chicago Bull jersey, a Nike cap turned around on the head, Reebok shoes with spikes and cropped jeans that threaten to fall to the ground if even a toe is lifted. And the endearingly Bangalorean greeting: "What, da?" morphs into the Yankee "Wassup?" complete with upward head bob. So when Amrit Kiran Singh, Area Director & Vice President, Brown-Forman Spirits, says that Indian youngsters now live the American dream, I quietly nod.

Brown-Forman has brought to the city Jack Daniels premium whisky, which celebrates the American way of life. There have been jeans of America, colas, and sunglasses of America, even chicken of America. But whisky? What happened to its British connection, you wonder. "Ah, that's a common misconception," explains Singh, "Scotch whisky is where the British association comes from. The largest selling market for whisky is U.S.A and India is a close second. And since people here love anything that is American, we are positioning our whisky as an American icon." And thus its tie-up with IndiJoe restaurant, Airport Road, for a month-long whisky and hot dog American festival that kicked off, appropriately enough, on July 4.

The third largest selling imported spirit in India, Jack Daniels is surprisingly a lot younger than its competitors. While Chivas Regal and Johnny Walker have been around for more than five decades, Jack Daniels has been in India only three years. Jack Daniels is targeted at youngsters who pursue the ultimate American dream for a desi — the Green Card. "I should say that we cannot take credit for the fantastic market in India," Singh says. "Satellite TV has done it for us. We just went with the wave and the craze to emulate U.S.A. One can argue about that, but the aping of the West cannot be stopped. We're just using it to approach the market at the right time."

Singh says that the uniqueness of Jack Daniels whisky is that nothing — its label, or bottle or content — has changed for 150 years. While competitors repackage their product every year, Jack Daniels' unpretentious bottle sells at the same price as its jazzed up competitors'. Also, the whisky is charcoal mellowed and bottled by the drop. A heady old-world taste of oak and the whiff of charcoal contribute to its well-rounded taste.

The combos at IndiJoe this month are very American. You buy a hot dog for Rs. 90, add another Rs. 60 to that, and get a chota peg of honey-golden Jack Daniels (actually worth Rs. 250).

Sanjay Goel, Director of BJN Group that runs IndiJoe, says that a lot of techies and corporate types in and around Airport Road frequent the place. "If a person cannot afford to eat here regularly, but thinks the barbecued meat is fantastic, s/he still manages to visit once a month."

But isn't a hot dog typically an off-the-street, 10-minute affair, with mustard on top? "When we serve it with something as classy as Jack Daniels, we have to increase the proportions, add some relishes and serve it in style," Sanjay reasons.

Jack Daniels consciously tries to stand out from the rest of the whisky line-up and thus amplifies its American image. With the ban on alcohol advertising, Jack Daniels has opted for under-the-skin promotions with faces of Al Pacino, Tom Cruise and Frank Sinatra endorsing the brand.

Fourth of July and Halloween parties and an ambassadorial alumni club of 1,200 students from American universities seem to work well enough for the company.

"We won't break the law or advertise apple juice. Our purpose is to get people to try the drink, so that they will purchase it when they can afford it," says Singh.

It is quite unsettling that a brand can actually ride on the offshore aspirations of an entire country. Maybe we can tell ourselves that once Big Brother's shot is downed and the meat relished, the burp at least will be truly desi.

IndiJoe can be contacted on 51113636.

ROHINI MOHAN

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