The connection between celebrities and alcoholic spirits

A decade ago, the emergence of social media platforms created a remarkable new marketing environment, especially for new, small or developing brands. Businesses and influencers could easily create viral trending posts and find organic growth in this environment, categorized by a high number of users and a relatively small number of brands. Nowadays, building a robust online presence has become a key strategy for any business; The playing field is not so level anymore, and like other forms of traditional media and marketing avenues, established brands with the resources to advertise are favored.

However, small brands that lack the power or capital to compete in an open media market are often forced to generate social media hype and rely on celebrity co-signatures, regardless of the quality of their products.

However, there is one exception to social media marketing, it remains a tried-and-true method for entrepreneurs and businesses to generate excitement about their products, the old-fashioned way. That means simply by offering a superior, attainable product.

From actors like Dwayne Johnson and George Clooney to Drake and Conor McGregor, celebrities have recently ventured into the liquor business with varying degrees of success.

Since endorsements and entrepreneurship are two solid vehicles for public figures to diversify their revenue streams, spirits becomes a no-brainer in terms of an additional endeavor outside of their craft. Some of the most successful brands don’t even particularly rely on taste and quality, relying more on endorsements and powerful influential marketing. So having a strong brand name makes a big difference.

Most of the public doesn’t know the difference between quality spirits. Knowing it’s owned by Michael Jordan or LeBron James or Sarah Jessica Parker then makes a difference since their fan bases are so large that there’s certainly a tangible crossover between them and their spirit drinkers.

After George Clooney’s tequila company was sold for $1 billion in 2017, it was logical that there would be a move by others looking to break into the industry.

In an article for Men’s Journal, Conor McGregor explained why his Proper No. Twelve Whiskey and their success in the industry.

“We spent a lot of time educating ourselves about the liquor business and partnered with the best of the best to bring the plan to fruition. This is not an easy task but we lean in very strongly as I enjoy it immensely and am involved in this business every day when I am not training or with my family. I’m not used to being the “David” against the “Goliaths”. This is a challenge I enjoy and while there are very large companies out there that try to crush me every day, they have and will learn that they cannot overcome a passion and desire that runs so deep to to win and win big. I like being the underdog in this business.”

From 2018 the brand was on the road to success, dominating the whiskey market in early sales: “We sold out in Ireland and America within days and as a result were out of stock for almost two months. We couldn’t let the consumer down, so in December we air-freighted nearly 30,000 cases to America and then sold out again. It was a great feeling to see the support from people around the world. It’s been magic for me and my team and it’s just the beginning.”

Speaking to Rick Sicari, the co-founder and CEO of ALB Vodka, you get the feeling that while endorsements are great in the spirits industry, quality is what will get you ahead.

Distillation started in 2011 and started out as a two man operation. The makers behind the vodka, John Curtin and Rick Sicari, both knew that the only way to compete in a crowded market was to ignore concept and the pursuit of hype and focus solely on quality and craftsmanship.

With their extensive spirits knowledge and experience, they tried countless iterations and methods until they found a winning formula. After months of experimentation and trial and error, they settled on a gluten-free corn base and developed an obsessive, exhaustive charcoal filtration program.

“Me and my partner, John Curtin, both started out in the service industry; We knew how important it is to have reliable, well-made products that customers love. After several years of producing award-winning whiskeys and rums, we decided it was time to look into vodka. It’s a deceptively simple spirit, and we wanted to make sure we got it right,” he said.

Sicari notes that they used all the knowledge and expertise they had accumulated over hours at the distillery and worked on the vodka until it was perfect for them.

He continued, “For ALB Vodka, we specifically focused on quality and craftsmanship rather than hype and marketing, so we’ve found a home in many of NYC’s most celebrated restaurants and bars. I think we’re going to end up being a lot more durable than a celebrity-backed brand. People will always choose the quality. When they ask their waiter or bartender who tried the options, they are recommending quality over hype.”

While Sicari understood the hype surrounding a celebrity ad, he noted that it could often be a mediocre product that puts all its eggs in the marketing basket.

“We believe in quality ingredients, an artisanal approach, organic growth and reasonable prices,” he said. “As a small brand, we are constantly challenged by companies with more power and deeper pockets. We can’t launch massive advertising campaigns or overwhelm point-of-sale stores. We had to sell to customers ourselves and focus on high production standards.”

Without much noise or fanfare, ALB Vodka has quickly captured a large chunk of NYC’s restaurant vodka market share while maintaining a 99% repeat order rate. Amid the hustle and bustle in NYC, inquiries have also reportedly begun from restaurants, hotels and nightclubs around the world.

He concluded: “The problem currently facing the vodka industry is market saturation by start-up companies with ubiquitous social media presence and prominent campaigns endorsing mediocre products. Big companies are watching local distilleries gain market share and they don’t like it. They launch artificial grass brands to be competitive so we have to be very vocal and transparent about who we are and what we do so we don’t get lost in the noise.”

Some celebrities have gotten further into the alcohol business than others, with the aforementioned mixed martial artist Conor McGregor and his owned pub The Black Forge Inn in Dublin.

Dwayne Johnson knew that being a celebrity put added pressure on him to succeed in the alcohol space, including through his Teremana Añejo brand.

In a Rolling Stone interview, he said, “While this was my first foray into the spirits industry, I was aware that it was an incredibly competitive market with many tequila brands out there that people love and enjoy. Tequila has always been a big part of my family, so there were brands out there that I liked and still like, although not as much as Teremana. Also, it was very important to me to go into the spirits industry hat in hand and approach the whole process with respect and reverence. To come with an attitude and energy, to know it was my first day on the job, to realize I had so much to learn.”

Referring to the brand’s success, he said, “I think people react because of the taste. People also react because of price and price was extremely important when we were looking at this and when we were looking at the market, I would say 4-5 years ago when we were building this Teremana tequila project. We looked at the white board and saw a white space;’ I wanted to create the ‘People’s Tequila’.

Some others use the company as a vehicle to generate more revenue for themselves. Often the distinction seems clear. Regardless, it seems that celebrity endorsements can make you dance, but the quality will make you prom queen.

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