Culture Hack

Celebrity-driven Spirit Brands are Engaging New Customers, but is it at the Expense of Culture and Craft?

Jason Derulo. Nick Jonas. Rita Ora. Just a few of the celebrities who have ventured into the world of celebrity spirits. Far from a new trend, but certainly one that continues to grow in popularity. And nowhere more so than tequila, where celebrity tequila brands have surged in popularity, accounting for US$1.9bn in global revenues during 2021 alone.

Kick-started in part by the pandemic, celebrity tequila brands have helped establish premium tequila as an approachable yet elevated drinking experience for a new generation of curious drinkers. Where celebrities have built authentic connections to their audiences online, a collaboration can garner a brand ‘instant’ authenticity, breaking through the clutter of traditional advertising with an inbuilt fandom ready to give it a try.  

But for many of these emerging brands, celebrity is increasingly predominating at the expense of culture and craft. Doing little to engender brand loyalty, with brand equity remaining heavily dependent on the person instead of the product.

With the launch of Kendall’s 818 brand, we’ve already seen the start of a backlash on social from consumers questioning the connection of celebrity to the culture of tequila.  Upon launch of the brand, Kendall faced widespread backlash from the Mexican community and beyond for alleged “Mexican face” in her ad, dawning long braids and riding horseback through agave fields. In this moment, the appropriation often just implied in celebrity tequila, a liquor that can only be produced in a specific region in Mexico, became explicit. Not only does this have a direct impact on representation of the Latino community, but also important are the conversations that are opening up around the harm these brands have on local Mexican producers. Here, the surge in demand has resulted in agave shortages across the region and pressure to reduce quality to keep up with market demand.

From Ciroc to Casamigos, celebrity-driven spirits can work best when the brand and celebrity are natural extensions of each other, but the culture surrounding the drinks and the craft behind their production remain front and center. Ultimately, building brands that become synonymous with their values and personality, beyond the actual person.

And with that I’m off to pour myself a glass of the (very good) Kylie Minogue rosé…

-Ed Hunt