By Emily Valentine (@ebvalentine)
Brands and celebrities have long led a symbiotic existence. Whether through paid endorsements or acts of serendipity, stars throughout the years have proven their trendsetting power by driving product sales and putting unknown brands on the map. Consequently, for as long as the concept of brand (or corporate image) has existed, marketers have actively recruited movie stars, athletes, musicians and other pop culture icons to serve as brand ambassadors.
The alcohol industry has never been one to ignore opportunities – from Hemingway and Havana Club rum to P. Diddy and Ciroc, we see countless instances of celebrities and booze brands profiting from one another. Here are a few of the celebrity branding patterns I’ve observed as a marketer, and a few noteworthy examples from the beverage industry:
Paid Endorsements and Co-Branding
How it works: Beverage company wants to revive its image, reach a new demographic or simply grow brand awareness. Company approaches celebrity with a proposal, formal contract and fee schedule … negotiations follow. Eventually, arrangements are made for a series of endorsements via advertising, film, events, media interviews, social media channels and so on.
What it looks like: These types of partnerships are brokered by beverage brands all the time, from Bette Davis and Jim Beam to Kate Beckinsale and Absolut Vodka. One recent example worth exploring is that of French spirit brand Cointreau and burlesque star Dita Von Teese. This strategic alliance has matched two complementary personalities to create alluring co-branded programs that increase exposure for both parties. Thus far, the collaboration has encompassed a “Be Cointreauversial” burlesque tour, which evoked “the Cointreau world” with performances by Dita in cities across the globe; co-branded cocktails including the Cointreau Teese and Cointreau MargaDita; a Travel Essentials promotion with Morgans Hotel Group; and, a pop-up speakeasy in London. And, as a wise colleague recently observed, Dita’s strategic exposure has been instrumental in putting Cointreau back on the map.
Burlesque Star Dita Von Teese As a Cointreau Brand Ambassador
How it works: Celebrity is so fond of beverage brand, he/she mentions it unprompted in an interview or song lyrics or the like. Brand benefits from organic exposure and increased name recognition, awareness and appeal. Sometimes, brand then approaches celeb to discuss further paid endorsements.
What it looks like: Hennessy Cognac and hip-hop culture offer a perfect example of this phenomenon. Bizarre as the connection may be, the French spirit brand’s popularity among younger generations has grown in the last 15 years, and it has rap stars to thank.
Mac Dre was evidently the first to reveal his love of Hennessy through song lyrics and, since then, such artists as 2Pac, Nas, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Eminem have referenced it in all sorts of *lovely* ways (*note the sarcasm).
Freekey Zekey says, when in doubt, “Blame it on the Henny”
Hennessy’s response to this cultural preference has included sponsoring hip-hop events and establishing Hennessy Artistry, an annual concert series curated and headlined by hip-hop artists and entrepreneurs. In 2010, Hennessy introduced its first new blend since 1961 – Hennessy Black. Designed to be mixed rather than savored, and associated with “high energy” drinking occasions like dance parties in urban nightclubs, Hennessy Black is well-positioned to reach its new target customers.
Hennessy Before Hennessy After
See the UGG story for another example of organic product endorsement leading to brand success.
How it works: Celeb rises to fame in the film, music or sports industry and later begins to explore new projects using his/her acquired resources. Upon discovering an area of opportunity (or realizing a new passion), said celeb applies his/her personal brand to create and market a new product.
What it looks like: Just as successful corporations leverage brand equity to extend their business into new realms, celebrities often apply the strength of their personal brands to explore new endeavors. In the spirits space, we see examples of this with Danny Devito’s limoncello, Dan Aykroyd’s vodka and Justin Timberlake’s tequila; in the beer world, there’s Kid Rock’s Badass American Lager and the Hanson brothers’ forthcoming MmmmHop IPA. There are also dozens of celebs who own wineries (Boz Scaggs, Mario Andretti, Sam Neill and more) and/or take pride in making their own wine blends (Joe Montana, Lil John, Carlos Santana, etc.).
One of the few celebrity-made wines I’ve actually tasted is that of musician Dave Mathews, who, in my opinion, sets an admirable example for celebs seeking to blend business with passion and goodwill. In 2000, Mathews partnered with his brother, Peter, and longtime friend Brad McCarthy to establish Blenheim, a small winery in Charlottesville, Va. Dave provided the resources and creative vision while Peter tended the vines and Brad made the wines. Since then, Blenheim has come to produce quality wines well-respected by wine critics as well as local wine drinkers and restaurateurs. The winery’s green architecture and sustainable farm practices show its owner’s respect for the environment and surrounding communities, and its low-profile marketing philosophy is just what you’d expect from Mathews, who tends to shun the limelight.
Dave Mathews’ Sketch of Blenheim Winery
With a fruitful Virginia wine venture under his belt, Mathews recently launched Dreaming Tree Wines, a California-based collaboration that, so far, exhibits many of the same branding principles that have defined Blenheim’s success. I expect the remaining chapters of the Dave Mathews wine story will be anything but boring, so keep an eye on these two brands in the coming years.
Dave’s Brand Extends to Dreaming Tree Wines
If celebrity product endorsements are the oldest trick in the book, then celebrity brand extensions are the newest. Either strategy can flop if ill-conceived or poorly executed, but, as the above examples show, a well thought-out campaign that aligns your brand with the image, culture or worldview of an influential public figure can also yield great advantages in terms of awareness, appeal and relevance.
What celebrity beverage branding trends have you observed lately? Share them in the comments section below.
Photo credits: Cointreau, Rap Godfathers, Hennessy, Blenheim, Dreaming Tree.