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Matthew McConaughey’s Role as Wild Turkey’s ‘Chief Storyteller’ Can Teach You a Lot About Marketing

When Wild Turkey asked McConaughey to be a celebrity spokesperson, the Oscar-winning actor had a better idea.

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BY Carmine Gallo - 03 Aug 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Actor Matthew McConaughey is on a press tour for "The Dark Tower", a new movie based on Stephen King's bestselling series. In an interview with Stephen Colbert, McConaughey also put on his other hat as the "Chief Storyteller" of Wild Turkey Bourbon.

McConaughey is an award-winning storyteller, often gaining or losing weight to get into character. In interviews, he tells stories of the people--the characters--he's met in his career while imitating their mannerisms and speaking style.

When brand representatives from the spirit Wild Turkey approached him three years ago to be a 'celebrity spokesperson,' McConaughey visited the distillery in Kentucky, learned the process and met the real-life characters behind the brand. McConaughey spotted an opportunity to do more than pitch a product--he would reintroduce bourbon to America through story.

"I want to have my hands in the clay of how we tell the story," McConaughey said in the first short film he directed and starred in for the brand. "I found a story here in Kentucky. I found a story in the Russells that deserves to be told. I find it entertaining. I find it inspiring."

McConaughey is a gifted storyteller who can teach all entrepreneurs how to create compelling product messages. Here are three lessons:

1. Find the backstory

McConaughey saw the backstory of Kentucky bourbon, a uniquely American spirit with a 200-year history. He knows that a backstory is critical to getting moviegoers (or consumers) to care about the product. The first 30 minutes of nearly every successful Hollywood movie begins by introducing the characters of the film and the struggles or challenges they must overcome.

Your product or brand may not have a long history, but every product has a backstory. Perhaps you had to deal with a common problem faced by others in your field, and your product is a unique solution to solve it. That's a backstory.

Every product has one. Look for it and share it.

2. Introduce likable or inspiring characters

During his visit to Kentucky, McConaughey met the real-life character of Jimmy Russell, the "Buddha of Bourbon" who has been coming to work as Wild Turkey's master distiller for more than 60 years. Today, three generations of Russells run the brand. They are down to earth, plain-spoken, and hard working--qualities that apparently inspired McConaughey to tell their story.

Who are the characters in your product narrative? It doesn't have to be you. McConaughey is the narrator, not the hero in the ads he creates.

Your character might be an inventor who designed a crucial component in your product (Steve Jobs often introduced a video with chief Apple designer Jony Ive). It might be a living or historical figure that played a role in the field and who inspires you today.

Find a character and tell their story.

3. Educate the audience

McConaughey says he's fascinated by the process of making bourbon. Corn, rye and barley malt are cooked with limestone filtered water from the Kentucky river. Sour mash is added to start the fermenting process. The spirit is aged in American white oak barrels to add its distinctive smell and color.

With almost any product, the more education people have and the more they know about how the product is made, the more they'll appreciate it. People love to learn something new. Educate them.

Truth be told, taking on the Wild Turkey campaign wasn't a big risk for McConaughey, who says Jimmy Russell reassured him that if the campaign didn't work, "We're going to be stuck with a whole lotta bourbon. There are worse things to be stuck with."

True. But you might not want to be stuck with excess inventory of your product. Tell a compelling story to excite your customers.