Borrowed Credentials or… Mention my name and it will sell

Borrowed credentials is a term I like to use when a brand “borrows” something or someone to identify with, such as a brand name or a person as the endorser.

The intent is the “approval” or “license” to give a brand some prominence. But, more often than not, it doesn’t seem to work.

Three categories will help you to see where I’m going:

  1. A brand that has licensed the name from another business or category. Godiva, for example.
  2. A brand closely identified with a star or celebrity. Such as, Ciroc.
  3. (My favorite) A brand named after a star or celebrity.

So here we go…

Licensed Brand Name

The two that come most readily to mind are Godiva and Starbuck’s, both in the liqueur category. I gotta tell you that I thought Godiva would be a crack-of-the-bat homerun. And, I wanted to license Starbuck’s so badly, I could taste it. Alas, neither has set the world on fire.

Association with a star or celebrity

This is a mixed bag best characterized by the nursery rhyme… “There once was a girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very, very good but when she was bad she was horrid.”

So in the “good” category we have (not necessarily in order of goodness):

  • Ciroc and P Diddy (forgive me if I have the wrong name; who can keep up?). Probably the gold standard in celebrity links.
  • Crystal Head Vodka and Dan Aykroyd — talk about chutzpah.
  • Cabo and Sammy Hagar — (notice I didn’t say Cabo Wabo) good for you Skyy, it’s about the product not the star.
  • Red Stag and Kid Rock — the brand is a homerun with or without him. But he sure does help.
  • Margaritaville and Jimmy Buffett — remind me to tell how this came about. But even without Seagram and me, it’s doing well. But, Land Shark beer is doing even better.

The “not so good” entries I’ve come up with so far (let me know about any I’ve missed) include some that faded faster than a cold beer on a hot day:

  • 901 Tequila and Justin Timberlake — run that by me again? I got it but I don’t get it.
  • Sobieski Vodka and Bruce Willis — it’s the price point, dummy. It ain’t about you. Even if you’re still involved.
  • Godfather Vodka — You got to be joking.
  • Conjure Cognac — by Ludacris. I totally agree but ludicrous is spelled wrong.
  • Armadale Vodka — by Jay Z.  Why don’t you ask P Diddy how it’s done?
  • 3 Vodka — by Jermaine Dupri. Enough said.
  • Mansinthe — by Marilyn Manson. I didn’t make this up, folks.

Named after a star or celebrity

My favorites by far. Do I hear a drum roll?

So far I covered the good and the bad. Here comes the ugly:

  • Trump Vodka. He doesn’t even drink for heaven’s sake. Could be a pilot for Celebrity Booze.
  • Willie Nelson’s Old Whiskey River Bourbon. Enough said.
  • Danny Devito’s Limoncello. Close but no cigars.
  • Jefferson and Sam Houston Bourbon. Not kidding; Google it.
  • Frida Kahlo Tequila. I love her and her work but… who dun it?

And the winner is…

  • McMahon Vodka. Would have worked with a name like, “Here’s… Johnny.”

Lessons learned:

None of the top selling brands have borrowed credentials…unless you count Captain Morgan.

I would like to meet the people behind some of these efforts, there’s a bridge they might be interested in buying.

Where would the spirits industry be without brands to pour off?

What’s next…the Lindsey Lohan Liqueur?

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Advertising – The Client

Two of my favorite quotes about advertising:

“Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the complex symbol, which is the brand image.” David Ogilvy (O&M)

“I have always believed that writing advertisements is the second most profitable form of writing. The first, of course, is ransom notes…” Phil Dusenberry (BBDO)

Years ago when I was in marketing research, the CEO of a midsized company and a good friend asked me to conduct some focus groups on a new campaign his ad agency had developed. After doing the work, I came back with the recommendation that he proceed – the message was in line with the strategy and consumers liked the creative effort.

He kept challenging me on each and every positive insight I shared with him. Finally, in exasperation I asked my friend/client what is the problem. He looked at me and said, “Arthur, there is nothing you can tell me that will change how I feel. I hate the campaign.” “So why did you bother to hire me to test it,” I asked. “I was hoping consumers would hate it as well. Now I’ll just kill it on my own.”

Our debate continued. “What don’t you like about it?” “I just don’t like it,” was the reply. “Well why not give your agency some guidelines for what you’re looking for?”

“Listen” he said, “I’ll know good advertising when I see it.”

Oh, it’s good to be the CEO.

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Find a hole and fill it

This blog has given me the opportunity to re-connect with friends and to make new ones like David van de Velde whose business motto is the headline for this posting.

In addition to being a very smart and affable fellow, David is an interesting entrepreneur and created Ketel One and Van Gogh Vodkas. In that regard, he changed the spirits industry.

I hope one day to write his full story but here are a few things that make him so interesting.

Let’s start with the motto. In an age of me-tooism, finding a hole and filling it speaks volumes about brand development strategies.

Not long after Seagram got Absolut Vodka, I kept hearing about this new brand, Ketel One, which was unique in its packaging, name, underlying concept and one other “outrageous” factor… a price at a significant premium to the category.

In addition, they concentrated on bartenders and servers and used videos and events to tell the story and even special olives for a martini. Everywhere I went at the time, all I heard was how we needed to learn from the Ketel One folks.

Many people think that the ultra premium vodka market was created by Grey Goose when, in fact, by the time Grey Goose came along, Ketel was already doing 200,000 cases.

David’s understanding of consumers is very impressive. He describes the target customer for high-end vodkas at that time as someone who wears Armani suits without pockets. Someone who walks into a bar and is holding the following – car keys with a Mercedes or BMW logo, an expensive cell phone and a wallet chocked full of goodies. No pockets. The question he asked himself is – would this person drink anything but a top shelf brand?

After Ketel One, he created Van Gogh vodka and brought the flavored category to new levels.

A little birdie told me he will be celebrating a milestone birthday this week so congratulations and keep finding and filling those holes.

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