You could call it the “George Clooney effect.”
Ever since the actor launched Casamigos Tequila with Mike Meldman and Rande Gerber in 2013, more celebs than ever have rolled out their own branded bottles.
Arguably, 2019 represented a peak. It saw the arrival of labels from singer Rita Ora (Próspero Tequila) and Third Eye Blind’s Stephan Jenkins (SummerGods), as well as star collaborations like Nick Jonas and designer John Varvatos (Villa One Tequila), Sammy Hagar with Guy Fieri (Santo Fino Blanco Tequila) and Michael Jordan with four other NBA owners (Cincoro Tequila). Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson also announced plans for a brand (Teremana), though it wasn’t released before year’s end.
Why Tequila? Why Now?
“Like pretty much everything in the marketplace, drinks have fashions,” says Ellis Cashmore, author of the 2019 book Kardashian Kulture. As long as Tequila is in vogue, expect to see the cycle continue, he says.
The spirit’s success story started in 2018, when sales surged 10.2% to $3 billion, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. There was particularly strong growth among the premium and super-premium luxury segments, often the same bottlings that bear celebrity names.
There are a few reasons for Tequila’s rise in popularity. For one, it’s generally viewed as cooler and more complex. Its broad reach doesn’t hurt either. Blanco Tequila appeals to those who favor white spirits, while barrel-aged reposados and añejos draw whiskey and brandy traditionalists. Its familiarity factor also helps. Margaritas, made with Tequila, are one of the world’s top-selling cocktails.
Building a Reputation
As for the celebrity connection, some champion Tequila because of a bond with Mexico. Others, like Jenkins, believe it has wellness benefits, while several, like Ora, enjoy Tequila’s association with celebrations.
And don’t discount the top reason stars endorse any product: “Five letters beginning with ‘m’,” says Cashmore. “It was once considered vulgar and undignified to give approval to a product in exchange for money, whereas today it’s almost sine qua non of being a celebrity.”
Marketers have long sought to attach famous names to goods, with some pointing to royal warrants as the earliest form of endorsement. Celebrity testimonials in print started around 1890, reaching a fever pitch after World War I.
Athletes and Hollywood stars largely avoided alcohol endorsements during Prohibition years. But that began to change in the 1940s and ’50s, as names like Lucille Ball appeared in ads for Schaefer Beer and other brands.
Cashmore credits Elizabeth Taylor as a key pioneer in the transition to ownership. The film legend championed a fragrance line, and especially the White Diamonds perfume, as distinctly hers.
The move now serves as a template for those who want to be more than just a face for brands. “She insisted she was involved in the perfume’s development,” he says. “She ended up making more money from White Diamonds than her movies.”
Every trend eventually turns, however. Clooney exited the booze biz when Casamigos was sold to Diageo for a cool $1 billion in 2017.
The debut of Tres Comas Añejo Tequila certainly signals the laughable level of superstar saturation. Launched in 2019 as a collaboration with the HBO comedy Silicon Valley, it’s named for the “three commas” used to set off numerals in a billion dollars.
Its press release quotes Russ Hanneman, a fictional character on the show who’s portrayed by actor Chris Diamantopoulos, proclaiming the bottling is “the only Tequila acceptable for billionaires.”
For now, though, the category shows no signs of slowing. As of press time, country-music trio Midland’s Insolito bottling is hitting shelves, while pop-music group Backstreet Boys continues talks to break into the business.