The caller was annoyed and had a threatening tone in his voice. He got right to the point and informed me that he was a business manager for Jimmy Buffett. He quickly added that we had infringed on trademark and other intellectual property rights – I can’t recall the full extent of our alleged/supposed violations but I was intrigued.
When I politely asked, “What the hell are you talking about?” he explained that Parrot Bay Rum by Captain Morgan, which had recently been introduced, infringed on their established use of the term Parrott Head, the commonly used nickname for fans of Jimmy Buffett. (I remember thinking, “Is he nuts?” How do you trademark the term parrot?)
I knew who Buffett was and associated him with the song Margaritaville, but I was far from a fan, much less an aficionado. I knew he had a strong and loyal following but that was about it.
Instinct told me this gentleman had more on his mind than a lawsuit so I pushed back.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I countered. “Two floors below there are offices chocked full of lawyers who spend their time dealing with real and frivolous issues, so I suggest you take your best shot and do what you need to do.” There was silence but I could hear him blink. “Now, do you want to tell me why you’re really calling?”
He went on to explain that they’d like to have private label tequila for their restaurants and, since we didn’t have a viable brand (that hurt), would we be interested in producing one for them.
“Listen… private label tequila is not a good idea … you’ll make a nickel and we’ll make a dime. It won’t be anything more than a well brand… Tell you what … let’s talk about licensing Jimmy Buffett’s name for a tequila.”
The glee in his voice told me that I had just been played but, no matter, we needed a tequila brand and this might just be the ticket.
He informed me that they would prefer to use the name Margaritaville but the look and feel would be totally Buffett.
It didn’t take long to consider, particularly since a friend and wholesaler, one of the best and smartest in the business, recommended him to us. The deal was done, so far as I was concerned. Getting approval from management (not the owners this time) was another matter. It took a while.
Buffett’s man lived up to his end of the deal – wouldn’t you if you got a hefty royalty off the top? As for me, I became whatever the word is that goes beyond an admirer of Buffett, his music (made my kids so crazy by playing it constantly that they refused to ride in the car with me), his business and, of course, going to his concerts.
The biggest issue in the development was to capture the essence of the Jimmy Buffett brand. The next thing I know, the man himself appears at the office and lets us know that he is there to help with the back label copy. In twenty minutes, he produced the most incredible story that was totally Buffett. He is an amazing guy, top of the game performer, highly recognized and accomplished author and a decent, down to earth person.
In the few years that Seagram had it before the lights went out, the brand went from 5,000 to 50,000 cases. Afterward, it continued to grow but was bounced from company to company without, in my opinion, any significant focus or direction.
There is a happy ending however. Margaritaville is now part of the Sazarac Company and in good hands. In addition to the original tequila brands, they have rum and prepared cocktails including a skinny margarita mix.
Reminds me of his song, Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude – nothing remains quite the same.