Coyote Tequila

At lunch the other day with an old friend, who worked on Seagram new products and packaging design, I was reminded of the Coyote Tequila story and the supremacy of product over imagery. It is also a story of how logic and formulae don’t work in new product development.

When I was running new products, the single-minded goal was to fill holes in the overall portfolio. There was no larger hole than the absence of tequila.

Oh sure, there were 2 wannabe brands in the company’s history. One was Olmeca and the other was Mariachi, both now owned by Pernod Ricard. Not sure how well or poorly they are doing now, but at the time they were in the “brand hospice” division of the company. So the mission was to create a tequila brand that could compete with the dominant Jose Cuervo in a category that at the time showed the promise that has since come to fruition. (This was pre-Patron.)

The project was launched with gusto, intensity and with the best team and intentions. No effort was spared; no resource (in or out of the company) was held back; it was full steam ahead.

First step on the journey was to develop a concept. One that could make the new brand stand out from the others on the market and perhaps do for tequila what Captain Morgan did for rum. After all, it was argued, Bacardi dominates rum much the same way as Cuervo does in tequila and the extra-added attraction of a flavored product could separate the new tequila from the rest. Hmmm, sounded logical to me.

But what’s the name and imagery? Coyote, of course… as in southwest, as in rough and tough, as in sneaks up on you and steals your cattle, as in – you get the picture.

To further borrow a page from the Captain Morgan playbook, a howling pedestal was conceived and produced for bars. Each time a bottle was taken off the pedestal a button was released and activated the sound of a howling Coyote. The trade loved it. It reminded all of us of the highly successful Captain mirrors that bars clamored for. It cost a bloody fortune but who cared, this was Seagram and we’re taking on tequila. We’ll make it up on volume, as the saying goes. (See Nov. 30, 2010 posting Great Tchotchkes (Swag) I Have Known.)

Now for the formulation. What we learned was that most people at the time thought the taste of tequila was awful and that’s why the Margarita was invented. For the rest, the awful taste was a badge of courage that would be forgotten after a few rounds of shots by the machismo.

As a result, someone in R&D came up with the notion that Coyote needed to be harsh, even harsher that Cuervo – a taste that replicated the southwest concept and was truly macho, as in fiery. So this ‘tequila with natural flavors’ was “spiced” with hot peppers. Might have been a billion on the Scoville chili peppers heat scale for all I know. Whatever, it was doomed from the outset. I can’t blame R&D as much as the marketing team and myself for jumping to the wrong conclusion and letting this happen.

On the one hand we had consumers and the trade loving the idea and the brand. That is, until they tasted it. No matter how hard we tried to get the heat down, it still tasted like crap and over time the damage was done.

Lessons learned: What works in one instance doesn’t necessarily work in another. There are no formulas to success in spirits marketing or in any category. Further, no matter how good the packaging, name and proposition is, if it tastes awful – remember the expression “lipstick on a pig.” Unless, of course, an awful taste is the concept.

By the way, Seagram never really got tequila right. In addition to Olmeca, Mariachi and Coyote, there were ill-fated efforts with Herradura and Patron. Margaritaville, the last attempt, ended when the lights went out.

But that’s another story.

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