Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey to be the face of Wild Turkey bourbon

Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey has signed a multi-year deal to appear in and create a new global ad campaign for Wild Turkey, the iconic Kentucky bourbon made in Lawrenceburg.
Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey has signed a multi-year deal to appear in and create a new global ad campaign for Wild Turkey, the iconic Kentucky bourbon made in Lawrenceburg. Campari

The new voice and face of Wild Turkey is actor Matthew McConaughey.

Campari announced Monday that the Oscar-winning star of “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Interstellar,” “Free State of Jones,” “True Detective” and “Dazed and Confused” will be creative director and chief storyteller for the iconic Kentucky bourbon made in Lawrenceburg.

The multi-year deal will feature McConaughey both behind and in front of the camera in a series of global TV and digital ad campaigns that will launch in September.

“I want to help share their unique story, starting with a new ad campaign I feel really captures the special essence of this brand while introducing itself like never before,” McConaughey said in the news release. “When making a movie, you have two hours to tell a story. Here I have 30 seconds to reintroduce the world to this authentic American brand that has helped shape an entire U.S. industry, bourbon. It will be a very interesting and fun challenge.”

Previously, Wild Turkey has been a relatively low-key marketer, relying on the popularity of longtime master distillers Jimmy Russell and his son, Eddie, who often appear at whiskey tastings.

Melanie Batchelor, vice president for global spirits for Campari, said Monday that McConaughey also might appear with the Russells but that his enthusiasm is for the creative work.

“He’s very passionate, which is great, and has been extremely involved in the whole process,” she said. “He’s a very authentic guy, and he’s got his own vision about how it should be. He’s been a really a great partner for us to work with.”

The first ad was shot last month. Campari released a “first look” at the partnership filmed last spring, when McConaughey was spotted in Lexington’s 21c Museum Hotel.

According to the news release, McConaughey first visited the Wild Turkey distillery a few years ago. His parents met at the University of Kentucky, where his father, Jim, played football.

“He saw a story about an American family that he wanted to tell everybody in America,” Batchelor said. “About the authenticity of the brand. ... He wants to shine new light on brand that is not really well known by some, and present it in a more modern and confident way than it has been in the past.”

Wild Turkey has had TV ads before but nothing of note. This ambition coincides with Campari’s desire to elevate Wild Turkey internationally.

Campari CEO Bob Kunze-Concewitz said the McConaughey campaign will be a new era for the brand.

“We’ve made a significant investment into the brand over the last several years, as we’ve always strongly believed in the quality of the product and the special story behind the people who make it. With Matthew McConaughey now on board, we believe we are ready to share that story with the entire world.”

Campari has invested more than $100 million in Wild Turkey since buying the brand and distillery in 2009 for $575 million, building a new distillery, a bottling plant and warehouses, and a $4 million visitors center overlooking the Kentucky River.

In March, Campari reported that for 2015, Wild Turkey sales were up almost 9 percent globally. Growth has continued this year, with the core bourbon up more than 10 percent in the key U.S. market. Sales also are strong in Australia and in Japan.

The ads will debut in the United States and Australia, but Campari hopes to extend the footprint into the United Kingdom and Germany, where bourbon is big but Wild Turkey has little market share.

“Campari, being an Italian company, has strong a foothold in Europe,” Batchelor said. That could give Wild Turkey an edge in Italy, Austria, Brazil and Argentina.

Master distiller Jimmy Russell, well known for his stamina as a traveler, might soon be doing more globe-trotting.

In the news release, Russell said that after spending time with McConaughey at the distillery, “I was impressed by how much he knew about Wild Turkey and how interested he was in telling the world more about us. It’s incredible to think that an Oscar winner would want to help tell Wild Turkey’s story, but like an extra scoop of ice cream on pecan pie, I will certainly take it.”

From the beginning, McConaughey said, he was interested in the idea of representing Wild Turkey but wanted to do more than star in ads. He has been involved in the writing, directing, editing and more, Batchelor said.

For instance, the tagline for the campaign is “It’ll find you,” and she said McConaughey with coming up it.

“He did, ... when we were out in Kentucky with the Russells,” Batchelor said. “Wild Turkey is a brand that is all about those who are really true to themselves, a bold, individual choice.”

McConaughey keyed into something else as well.

“He’s been personally involved with the music choice for the campaign, working with the band to create original music,” she said.

Does he play in the commercial?

Batchelor hesitated: “I don’t want to give any more secrets away,” she said.

“We’ve been really positively surprised, from the outset, the very first conversation. He did say he was interested in being very much more involved,” Batchelor said. “We’ve been impressed with his level of commitment and engagement in the process.”