Celebrity Spirits – A Guarantee of Quality or Just a Ruse?

Many drink brands have turned to celebrities to boost their marketing, but as consumers, how much do we allow famous people to influence our purchasing? Do people really assume it must be good just because you they saw Idris Elba drink it? It can be debatable whether celebs are used to improve sales of mediocre spirits or are the spirits actually worth the hype…

Idris Elba and gin

Last month, Ryan Reynolds, the world’s fifteenth highest-paid actor in 2017, bought a significant stake in Aviation American Gin. He has a seat on the company’s board and is the creative director for the brand. Apparently, he only tried the gin last year but loved it so much (!) he wanted to get involved. Now he is aiming to spread the word about the wonders of Aviation Gin. (UPDATE: Aviation was sold to Diageo for $610 million in August 2020!)

Aviation is a part of the craft spirits importer Davos Brands. According to the Beverage Marketer Corporation’s database, Aviation Gin sold an estimated 15,000 cases in 2016, which is a fairly low number in an ever-growing gin market. It is clear that the company is expecting big results from Reynolds’ involvement. It is a good time to market Aviation Gin as it’s more of a “new age” gin with juniper taking the back seat. A photo of Reynolds posing with Aviation Gin spread quickly over social media since the sale. So, even though the sale only just took place, many people have learned about the gin already! The power of a celebrity face…

celebrity gin brand

Last year, George Clooney and two of his pals sold their tequila brand to Diageo for $1billion ($700 million plus another possible $300 million over the next ten years, depending on the brand’s performance)! The Casamigos brand was launched in 2013 and all three men invested $600,000 each to get things moving. It is questionable why Diageo wanted to pay such a steep price, considering that in 2016, Casamigos sold 120,000 cases. When retail mark-up and wholesale prices are taken into account, the sales of Casamigos were around $36 million. The price paid by Diageo looks extraordinary, and a multiple you’d rarely see in any other business sector.

Does George Clooney’s handsome face in the adverts or his signature on a bottle actually improve sales that much? Tequila is my favourite spirit, and when there is so much discussion around a brand, you do want to know if it’s worth the hype, regardless of George Clooney’s involvement. (But then again, the hype wouldn’t be as noticeable without him.)

I tested Casamigos Reposado. The buttery caramel taste makes it a tad too sweet for my liking.  The aftertaste was slightly spicy with cinnamon and black pepper notes. Overall, it wasn’t bad, but I don’t think it is worth the money either. Casamigos is fairly expensive, with Blanco going at £52 and Reposado at £58 and Añejo £64. Since the sale they have also launched a Mezcal. Clooney may not own the brand any more, but he is certainly involved in marketing it. I would guess he will get paid extra for borrowing his face, too.

casamigos-motorcycle-1casamigos celebrity tequila

It’s encouraging that unlike most ‘celebrity’ spirits, Clooney and his team were involved in the process from the get-go and influenced the flavour profile of Casamigos. They wanted to create a spirit they’d love to share with friends, something they themselves also like to drink. However, there have been mixed reviews of the spirit and – amazingly given the price paid – rumours about a recipe change since the launch (and not necessarily for the good!). Are we to conclude that Diageo bought Casamigos trusting that George Clooney’s involvement alone would be enough to boost sales, with the quality of the spirit being secondary? Maybe the rumoured new recipe is cheaper to make… I called Diageo to find out more, but they didn’t want to give any information over the phone. I have now emailed them instead, and I’m waiting for a reply…

Before Clooney and Reynolds, there were other famous people promoting spirit brands. In 1992, Sean Connery, the one true James Bond, caused outrage in his native Scotland by promoting Suntory Japanese Whisky. Suntory whisky did have previous links to James Bond however: there were several mentions in the novel You Only Live Twice (1964) and in the movie of the same title in 1967, Connery is shown enjoying that very drink. He also promoted Jim Beam Bourbon in the late 60s.

sean connery celebrity advertisingciroc vodka with celebs

Sean “P Diddy” Combs has a 50:50 partnership with Diageo to increase the sales of Ciroc Vodka and DeLeón Tequila.

Matthew McConaughey is the creative director and campaign director for Wild Turkey Bourbon. Basically, he is not just the face of the spirit but has also taken a big part in creating some of their TV ad campaigns.

David Beckham helped to create the single-grain scotch Haig ClubHaig Club, you know that blue aftershave-looking bottle, which is produced by none other than Diageo. Obviously, Beckham himself is in all the ad campaigns, but I doubt that he has had anything to do with the actual spirit. Haig Club Clubman is described as a whisky for those who don’t like whisky… The perfect serve is with cola (!!!!).

matthew and bourbonDavid-Beckham-The-Haig-Club

Crystal Head Vodka was created by Dan Aykroyd (the guy from The Blues Brothers and Ghostbusters). If you have tried it, you’ll know the vodka is pretty poor, even if the water is filtered through 500-million-year-old crystals… He is also the importer of Patron in Canada.

Finally, even boxer Conor McGregor is in on the act and has announced the launch of his Irish Whiskey called Notorious. The whiskey is yet to hit the shelves as plans have been delayed over a trademark row.


Bottom line

Several celebrities are linked to spirits, wine and beer brands. There’s a lot of competition in the drinks industry, so it is understandable they want to use the power of celebrities to enhance their sales. It doesn’t, however, guarantee a premium brand. I’m sure Diageo, the world’s largest spirits producer, can afford to pay extra to get George Clooney to market their tequila. The question is how much it affects the chances of you buying the bottle even with a higher price tag?

(BTW, where are all the ladies promoting spirits??)

Do you care about marketing when it comes to spirits? How likely are you to buy a bottle if someone famous (and good-looking) is selling it?

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