Wednesday, April 3, 2013
On 9:33 AM by The Bloggers @ 67 Wine in 67Wine, Bethenny Frankel, Ciroc, Ciroc Vodka, Jets Uncorked, Skinny Girl No comments
Does it help when a celebrity endorses a wine or spirit? Does it even matter? The answer to both questions is undoubtedly “yes,” though it’s not always clear cut. From a marketer’s point of view, a celebrity backer can swiftly and dramatically affect the sales numbers of a certain item — witness the growth of Ciroc Vodka from an annual sales volume of 40,000 cases in 2007 to over two million cases in 2012. What made the difference? Rapper Sean Combs (whose stage name is... uh... I can't quite remember. Pooh Dilly? Pet Donkey? Something like that, anyway) signed on as the brand spokesperson in December 2007. The ensuing explosive growth of Ciroc is perhaps the most prominent example of celebrity-driven success, but it isn’t the only one.
From a consumer standpoint, celebrity endorsements can be a double-edged sword. Take the SkinnyGirl brand, the brainchild of television personality Bethenny Frankel. The brand has developed a loyal following, and even after Frankel sold to Beam Global in 2011, her association with SkinnyGirl has not necessarily faded in most people's mind. What effect does this have on the brand? Some consumers — Frankel's fans — might be drawn to the products; others may be compelled not to buy them, as the SkinnyGirl line project Frankel’s image and persona (her credits include a stint on “Real Housewives”), which doesn’t appeal to everyone.
Another example is the New York Jets’ own-branded wine, a Napa Valley Cabernet called Jets Uncorked. The wine is made by veteran winemaker Marco DiGiulio, and at about $25 to 30 retail, it is, relatively speaking, a value. Most people who come into a wine shop “looking for a nice Cab in the $20 to 30 range” would find it to be a standout in that category. And yet, the branding of the wine by the New York Jets automatically repels some consumers — they either don’t like the Jets, don’t like football or are just wary of gimmicks (which, admittedly, Uncorked appears to be). There are plenty of skeptics who remain indifferent to the wine’s impressive level of quality, and insist on judging the book by its cover.
The problem here is almost four-fold. You can have a brand ambassador that will either attract or repel consumers, and since few celebrities are wholly uncontroversial, both camps exist. At the same time, the question of quality looms large (as well it should). In the case of the Jets, the team’s administration decided to promote an interesting, high-quality product for their fans — hence, the high quality of Jets Uncorked. On the other hand, SkinnyGirl uses the popularity of its creator to capitalize on a market far more obsessed with labels than quality. Anyone who’s tasted the SkinnyGirl red wine has ample proof of this.
How do we navigate the expanding sea of celebrity-endorsed and celebrity-branded products? To me, it’s always a matter of quality. When wine is made by a committed individual whose aim is to produce the most authentic, honest product possible, it resonates with the purpose of wine (and, to an extent, spirits). In most cases, a celebrity connection will add value for a product’s marketers, brand managers and vendors... but it won’t change what’s in the bottle.