Five times films and TV shows inspired alcohol trends

Lost in Translation and Suntory whisky


It’s not the most glamorous product placement: Bill Murray’s dead-behind-the-eyes actor selling out for a schmaltzy ad for Suntory whisky in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003). Suntory have been producing quality whisky in Japan since 1920, so you’d imagine they’d see the film as a bit of an insult. However, the much-loved movie may have had a hand in the Japanese whisky revolution which followed in the years after its release.

In the same year as Coppola’s movie, Suntory’s Yamazaki 12 Years whisky was the first Japanese whisky to win a gold medal at the International Spirits Challenge. Despite this, Japan was still looked down upon as a whisky-producing nation by many drinkers.

The seeds of the growing popularity of Japanese whisky were already sown, but Bill Murray’s classic line: “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time” may have made the drink cool in the Western market. Suntory’s brand ambassador told Men’s Journal in 2015 about his experiences of asking for the Yamazaki at LA bars. He said: “You just have to say ‘Suntory time’ and they’ll pull [the whisky] from behind the counter.”

The inclusion of the whisky in the film was a subtle dig at Coppola’s father, iconic director Francis Ford Coppola, who featured in a Suntory commercial in 1980. Suntory wasn’t informed about the inclusion of their whisky in the film until the last minute, but thankfully the film proved a stroke of luck for them. Coppola and Murray probably played a small part in making Japanese whisky cool in the West.

4 Responses to “Five times films and TV shows inspired alcohol trends”

  1. Tim Clark says:

    Interesting, and fun to look back with hindsight. It’s true that references in popular culture can shape our tastes. I first tried a whisky sour (still my favourite cocktail) for one simple reason: because I read Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled masterpiece “Farewell My Lovely” as a teenager. I simply didn’t think that you could get cooler than this:

    We went over to the bar. The barman swabbed the bar hurriedly. The customers, by ones and twos and threes, drifted out, silent across the bare floor, silent down the dim uncarpeted stairs. Their departing feet scarcely rustled.
    “Whisky sour,” the big man said.
    We had whisky sours.

  2. This article literally hit home with me; I’m a principal at HERO Entertainment Marketing. We placed Grey Goose with Will Smith in Hitch, placed the Jaegermeister bottle on Joey and Chandler’s kitchen counter on Friends, and most recently, we placed a bottle of Chateau Gaby Cuvee in Axe’s hand on Showtime’s Billions. To the article’s point, Axe’s implied endorsement led to a very well known TV personality ordering a case the day after its airing and, once they tasted it, ordering more. We also learned that another of our industry contacts was watching Billions, researched the unfamiliar brand and made a purchase as a direct result of that exposure.

    It’s rare to get anecdotal reports of the power of this kind of influence, so I appreciate the author sharing those great examples, including his own experiences. In today’s marketing world exposures can be amplified by social media so that consumers can learn that, say, Don Draper drinks Canadian Club, even if they don’t watch the show.

  3. Jamie Wheat says:

    There is a different blend of drinks now on the market, and I don’t even know if they can be classed as cocktails? Craft spirits are continuing to grow and grow across all sectors, as with things like the non-alcoholic gin alternative Seedlip, blending of typically alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic is something we can expect to see more and more. As well as this, there are some fascinating gins our there, and I can imagine the growing popularity of rum will start going down the same route. I have started off several new drinks distilleries (not all successful), but I have a good working relationship with a company called Distill Ventures who invest on behalf of Diego in products they believe to have huge potential. Worth checking out the company as they are great at identifying new alcohol trends and helping start-up distilleries realise their potential. It always helps when a film or tv show heavily uses a drink as well as it becomes more part of pop culture and gets a heavy promotion.

  4. imagista says:

    the mad men series made me rethink about several old school cocktail that I totally forgot, now I sometimes order an old fashioned, Gibson, or a nice cold Julep like don drapper 😀

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