Celebrity Brands Deliver Sizzle And Sales

By: Melanie Young of The Connected Table

Celebrities and beverage alcohol brand partnerships have become smart business and an organic opportunity for celebrities to share their lifestyles with fans.  Numerous A-list personalities in film, music, sports and more have bought into alcohol brands for a big return on investment. One high-profile success was MHW client Casamigos Tequila, cofounded by George Clooney, Rande Gerber and Mike Meldman; acquired by Diageo for one billion dollars in 2017, Casamigos has inspired many to follow.

Perhaps it’s the “Clooney” effect that has more celebrities reaching for the bottle. However, it’s important for brands to know that Clooney built long-term success by incorporating Casamigos into his overall lifestyle and every appearance that he made. He didn’t simply put his name on the bottle.

The experts at MHW Ltd., a leading beverage alcohol services provider, have served as an import and distribution platform for many of the top celebrity brands over the years. MHW’s superstar client list includes boldface names like Kendall Jenner, 818 Tequila; Brian Cranston and Aaron Paul, Dos Hombres Mezcal; and Kenny Chesney, Blue Chair Bay® Rum. What all these brands have in common is their true dedication and commitment to the liquid.

“Lending one’s name is not enough. Gone are the days where a celebrity would be hired by a spirits company to only appear in one TV commercial. We’ve noticed that the most successful brands partner with celebrities who are completely behind the brand, making it a part of his/her lifestyle and promotion, from social media to sales team appearances,” said MaryAnn Pisani, Chief Revenue Officer for MHW.

Many celebrities are shrewd businesspeople who approach beverage alcohol companies to develop their vision for a brand that fits their identity. Others taste a product and decide they want to invest in it or endorse it. Either way, a celebrity’s commitment to brand-building is a key to success.

Pisani noted: “We see the most success when a celebrity lives, eats and sleeps their brand to help promote and sell it. We’ve also witnessed success through an endorsement deal, but it’s essential that the celebrity or influencer is excited about the liquid, understands why it’s special, and shares a longer-term commitment to promoting the product.” 

“Celebrities who get behind their brands will post on social media and share their product with high-profile friends. Building this kind of buzz is essential,” observes Brigid McCabe, Director of Growth Marketing for MHW. “We have been privileged to be a service provider to Mast Jagermeister and their brand Terramana Tequila. Dwayne Johnson physically brings Terramana to his talk show interviews and events. He also connects with industry folks on the ground, going on national tours of key retailers and accounts. You can tell it’s more than a project and is really a business that he loves.”

“Another example is Kenny Chesney’s Blue Chair Bay Rum® which identifies with his laid-back island lifestyle image. He incorporates the product into his concerts with beach-themed branding. The local sales team is invited to watch the concert and enjoy feature cocktails from a VIP lounge. Honoring the people behind the brand is truly important to him,” Pisani shares. “The brand marketing team has also shared that Blue Chair Bay Rum’s consumer base has grown significantly beyond Kenny’s fans. This is a perfect example of how successful celebrities invest in the quality of their product’s development prior to its launch so that the taste can truly shine on its own, too.”What if a product has already been in the market for some time but looking to align with a celebrity? There are multiple considerations, says MHW Director of Growth Marketing Brigid McCabe. While McCabe now focuses on B2B marketing, she has previously worked on several consumer-facing spokesperson deals over the years, including an integrated campaign series featuring comedian and actor Joel McHale when she served as Brand Manager at MHW client Purity Vodka. At different points in her career, she has negotiated on behalf of the brand and on behalf of the talent.

“Partnering with a celebrity means trusting your brand’s image in their hands, as their personal actions reflect back on the brand. They can be outspoken, bold, and even controversial if that aligns with your positioning, but both they and their fanbase must have strong moral compasses. I’ve always been lucky to work with celebrities who uphold our brand’s values, but I know of brands who have had to cut ties with their ambassadors for ethical or legal reasons,” says McCabe.

“It’s also a major financial investment, which makes the upfront groundwork even more critical. It takes time and deliberation to identify a true partner who is a passionate and responsible caretaker for the brand. The initial discussions are where you can really suss out what kind of closeness and interaction you can expect from each other. It’s a great sign when the celebrity personally joins their agent in the meeting and has already taken the time to experience the liquid prior to the first discussion. The best relationships start with mutual admiration and respect. When they proactively suggest ways to incorporate the product into their existing commitments, you’ve found yourself an engaged brand steward.”

Advertising and promotion need to be strategic and sizeable to make the investment worth it. “You want to have them involved long-term. The best performing campaigns I’ve produced have been those where we’ve allocated at least four times the amount of the actual celebrity investment towards marketing execution. Marketing teams need appropriate funding beyond the deal to produce collateral, promote the partnership, and activate in-market,” McCabe offers. “Determine your budget in advance. Often there is pre-vetting with the agent to broadly identify if financial expectations are mutual before going further. Don’t take this personally; think about how normal it is to discuss fees and salaries with your service providers, employees, agencies, and all other trusted business advisors.”

“After you both agree upon terms, your brand ambassador is likely to become a cherished partner, colleague, and friend. It becomes a part of their lifestyle, and they take your brand’s success seriously. When you’re a small brand, keep communication lines open between the celebrity, agent, and the full brand team so that everyone is engaged. Expect to regularly pivot on campaigns, messaging, and paid media placement, based on consumer response and performance. Celebrity sponsorships are special for a reason. People cherish their favorite celebrities because they feel connected to them. They also love new and exciting experiences. It’s a winning combination. Overall, the most important factor, which our clients do right, is to make your consumers and retailers feel like they’re a part of the magic.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge for a celebrity brand is a universal one: new brands need a path to distribution to drive new account placement. MHW’s proven importation and distribution solutions are particularly effective with brands that want to invest most directly in brand reach while leaving the complexity of beverage infrastructure to the experts. It’s a winning combination: celebrity brands can focus on brand-building with their followers and count on the MHW team to help them navigate the three-tier system.