Tequila Sunrise, Ascent, or Hype?

Wine and Spirits Daily had a story last week entitled, IS TEQUILA THE NEW VODKA?

Good question.

The article quoted a writer at the Washington Post who said… “A new trend emerges: the proliferation of ‘ultra-premium’ tequilas targeted at a club crowd that slowly has begun to trade in Grey Goose for Patron.” The article goes on to point out that “various social indicators, such as Al Roker claiming on the Today Show that Tequila is the new Vodka.” (I must have missed the announcement about Al Roker as social forecaster. I thought he did the weather.)

A few observations:

Drinking Patron at clubs at the expense of Vodka brands like Grey Goose is not a new concept. They are often interchangeable depending on the mood and occasion. Both brands are at the top of the heap in terms of being icons.

Further, it’s not Tequila, it’s Patron. Generally speaking, among most consumers, the Tequila category has three brands…Patron, Cuervo and all others. Remember the old adage? Consumers drink brands not categories.

Tequila will grow as it continues to be the focus of new product introductions and in that regard, it will be the new Vodka. I don’t have the actual data but I’d bet there have been more new Tequilas introduced in the last few years than Vodka. The shifts in Vodka preferences from the high end to mid-priced and value brands make new Tequila entries more enticing.

So, among most consumers, Vodka will continue to rule. Whether Al Roker thinks so or not.

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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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Seagram and Vodka

Until the “acquisition” of Absolut, Seagram was not just a vodka-less company; it was an Ostrich hiding its head in whiskey pretending not to see the world of booze change.

Sam Bronfman’s aversion/reluctance to sell vodka is widely known. Perhaps for him, liquor needed to be aged or brown or have the word whiskey on the bottle. Whatever his reasons, the company was never a vodka player. In fact, when I was in market research, one of the older executives told me the story of how Mr. Sam reacted to a research project about changing consumer alcohol tastes. It may be apocryphal but it sure has the ring of truth.

One of the most notable researchers of the 50s and 60s, Alfred Politz, was an early leader in the techniques of polling and opinion analysis. He was commissioned to do a study of changing consumer alcohol tastes and attitudes. The presentation of the findings took place at an executive retreat and, in an unusual display of bonhomie, Mr. Sam suggested they review the results while sitting around the pool.

Page after page of the report pointed to the potential rise of vodka at the expense of whiskies. Politz was said to have been very clear that the evidence overwhelmingly leaned in this direction. It was also clear that Mr. Sam was getting angrier and angrier. Finally, he got up from his chaise, grabbed the report out of the researcher’s hands, threw it in the pool, muttered some obscenity and stormed off. Politz was said to have been relieved not to join his report.

So while competitors were developing Smirnoff, Popov, Stolichnaya and other brands, Seagram was struggling with entries like Wolfschmidt, Nikolai and Crown Russe.

Finally, someone decided to create a new vodka brand but, unlike most of those on the market at the time, it was to be imported vodka. In fact it was called Seagram Imported Vodka or SIV, as it was lovingly referred to. Imported all the way from Canada.

Management at the time knew that the “white goods” race was passing Seagram by and the pressure to succeed was very strong. So much so that when a presentation to a major California chain was set up to expand distribution, the “brass” decided to attend.

Picture this, a president, an owner, the head of marketing, the head of sales, brand managers…all fly off in the company plane to attend this meeting on SIV. They get to LA early with time to kill before the meeting. Since a few of them had never seen the inside of a chain store liquor department, they decide to visit a few stores.

Next thing you know there are 4 or 5 suits walking the aisles checking the shelves and watching consumers make decisions and purchases. They’re paying particular attention to the vodka section and spot a man looking at the brands and seemingly trying to make a decision.  A member of the entourage goes up to him, takes a bottle of SIV off the shelf, hands it to the man and says, “check this one…it’s imported.”

The man studies the bottle for a moment or two looks at the exec and, as he puts it back on the shelf says, “that’s not imported, it’s Seagram.

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