It’s not just George Clooney. Celebs are lining up to buy and sell self-branded liquor. Of course, Clooney is the best known. He cashed in for eight figures with his Tequila brand. But according to BI, that foray is just the tip of the iceberg.
Consider Bob Dylan. Dylan is one of the most iconic and under-employed celebs around. Based on his music, you might have thought that his “brand”, was anti-commercial. Not so. Dylan is flogging his own brand of whiskey with the title lifted from one of his hit songs “Heaven’s Door”.
Two questions pop u for me. The first is why does this work? The second is whether it adds any value for the rest of us?
The answer to the first question relates to two powerful, current trends. One is the need for the general buying public to connect to authentic stories. Buying commodities doesn’t do it. In fact, you might say that buying and using commodities instead of “authentic brands” conflicts with that need. The other is the power of media to create the stories that sell. Neither of these trends is new. The new part is how they are being applied in this type of venture.
Let’s start with the second trend – media power.
Clooney’s tequila adventure is a great example of how media can make stories go viral. Picture George on a motorcycle with is pal, trolling around Mexico to find the perfect tequila — and deciding that to get that they would have to make their own!
BTW, do you really think that the photographer was there by accident?
Great story! Bravo George! But we only found out about that story because it went viral in media channels. Media experts saw its value and pushed it. Without media, Geroge’s tequila would have been something he gave out as Christmas presents to his friends. Back to my question about the photographer — he or she was there because George’s Mexican adventure was planned as a media event. It did not “just happen”.
Bottom line — the media loves celeb based stories that they can sell. They always have. And they know how to sell them.
BTW, not every celeb story sells. The best ones cash in on the first big trend — connecting to authentic story lines. The above linked BI article tells about a few clunkers. You might add the “Trump Vodka” fiasco — it didn’t sell because it was obviously phony.
So what is an “authentic” story line, as opposed to a phony one?
That takes us to the first meta-trend – the need of the public to connect to authentic stories.
Bob Cialdini brought out many years ago that modern advertising is based on the the idea that people need to connect to stories.Mihalyi Csikszentimihalyi elaborated on this as a cultural flaw. But the fact that we are awash in advertising and branding supports the notion that this works — the public needs to connect to stories that branding produces. And the stories work better if they appear to be “authentic”.
What makes stories about products authentic? The answer relates to our peculiar situation in the early 21st century. It was not too long ago when people assumed that machine built products were better than hand made ones. For example, machine built guns worked a lot better than hand made ones. Everyone knew that.
But a funny thing happened when everything became machine made. We started to crave the “human touch”. We started to miss the idea of knowing who made the stuff we use. Why? Because humans only understand things in terms of stories — and stories about other humans that we can connect with are the most powerful. As we grew more prosperous and the products and services we rely on to sustain us became more important, we started to re-think why they are valuable. Thus started the anti-commodity trend that is growing in importance still.
So what is an authentic story as opposed to a phony product? It has little to nothing to do with reality. That was proved long, long ago. Need examples? Think about Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Circus. It depicted what viewers expected to see of the wild west, not what it was really like. It seemed authentic because we wanted to see the wild west that way, and good old Bill provided us a way to confirm what we wanted to believe.
More recently, this was brought out in advertising for Mexican beer. The ad was based on the notion that the “most interesting man in the wold” loved that beer. Here he is
Of course, the most interesting man in the world would have babes hanging all over him, right?
Here is the weird thing. Everyone knew that this dude was just an actor. He is not really interesting at all. But we want to believe that this type of dude exists. That is enough to make the story “authentic” for marketing purposes.
Ditto for George. We want to believe that George is more than just a pretty face. He is a very cool guy. So we want to believe that he really did troll around Mexico looking for the perfect tequila. So we believe his branded tequila is the authentic product of that search. And we do.
Did folks want to believe that Donald Trump was interesting or cool, let alone interested in making craft vodka? When Trump admitted that he didn’t like his own vodka, the bubble burst. BTW, this tells you something about Trump, the businessman. Apparently, he did not understand how to sell his own product. It was all for show, nothing for the bottom line.
This ties us into the “craft” industry in general. Craft booze tastes better than industrial booze because … it is craft. It is made by people who are “authentically interested” in making something unique. This is nothing new. The “craft beer” industry, for example, got its start back in the 1980’s.
Once again — The biggest trend here is our revolt against commoditization.
And it doesn’t even matter if the craft part is made up (for example, check out the above link. Bob Dylan’s whiskey is anything but crafted). For that matter, ti doesn’t really matter if the celeb aspect is made up (Did George really go cavorting around Mexico drinking tequila all day? One wonders). It matters that those involved create enough of a pretense that the illusion that people want to believe can keep its hold on our imaginations.
This quote sums things up pretty well.
Asked why he’s not acting so much these days, Clooney put it quite simply to The Sunday Times: “Acting used to be how I paid the rent, but I sold a tequila company for a billion f—ing dollars. I don’t need money.”
There you have it. Nice work if you can get it!
So the second question – are we any better off for all of this hype?
You might conclude that the above is just more of the same and therefore no new value is being created We loved celeb stories like those of Buffalo Bill long ago and we still do today. We just apply that love to new sorts of things. Same old, same old.
But recognizing what is going on leads us to the potential underlying value of the above trends. When we understand our need to connect to authentic stories through what we buy and sell, we start to become connoisseurs of the stories that sell them. We start to demand better and better ones. And perhaps we even to start producing them ourselves. We realize the power of perception over reality, and start demanding more value from “perception plays” on our pocketbooks.
This could lead to better thinking about what we want to believe and better stories about those desires. That would be a truly democratizing trend that I would welcome. What do you think, Donald?