Category - Marketing

1
Blogger Spots Ill-Thought Out Liquor Product in Local Store
2
This Year’s Best Superbowl™ Ad You Won’t See During the Game
3
GQ Reveals the Bourbon Family Tree
4
SideBlog: Atmospherics Are Everything In Whisky Advertising.
5
Mainstreaming of Cocktail Culture: The Blacklist
6
SideBlog: Ohio Regulations Restrict Microdistilleries’ Marketing

Blogger Spots Ill-Thought Out Liquor Product in Local Store

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The product development team in question here, shown servicing their car….

I was out shopping for rum the other day, and as I passed down the aisle of the liquor store, my eyes fell upon an eye-catching bottle that I didn’t recognize. It was in the brandy section, so I bent down to examine closer, and my eyes beheld the following product: Twenty Grand Vodka Infused with Cognac. The shelf tag, in addition to revealing that this new item was already marked down, proclaimed it to be “Good as Money.” Apparently two dollars a bottle less money than initially thought…


I squatted there in the middle of aisle, stunned. My mind whirled, trying to grasp how you could make a product that, aside from its merely tacky vessel, is stupid in nearly every possible way.

Let’s start with the marketing stuff. The name is Twenty Grand. Um. Why? Is this some magical number that the Culture has decided is the price of class?

Well, it might be.
An old guy like you would probably have missed a cultural marker like that….

Well, if so, the Culture is wrong. Unlike anyone misfortunate enough to purchase this product, I have actually had twenty grand in ready funds lying around from time to time during my long toil upon this Earth. At none of those times did the “Beautiful People”, despite my culturally significant bank balance, “Hit Up” “My Digits” with invitations to go clubbing.

Hmmm…
Perhaps the beautiful people are not as dumb as they look.

Further, what kind of catchphrase is “Good as Money”? Have you seen money? I’m not drinking anything like that.

CT  CT cons-save-dirty-money0001.jpg
Shown above: Money—possibly after a night of drinking its alleged liquid equivalent.
Photo: Chicago Tribune

I’ll forgive, or at least leave aside, the bottle’s stopper, which looks like a cheap doorknob and is nearly as big, because it is not totally hideous at first glance, and because I like stoppers on liquor bottles and like to encourage the practice.
Instead, I will put on my Font Nazi hat and bitch about the label instead.

20-grand label
Click image for full-sized detail of this mess.

What the hell is this supposed to be, with all the background engraving, faux aged border, and “anti-counterfeiting features”, a bearer bond? Now, I will grant that, given the whole Good as Money theme, it is a clever conceit. But a bond like this should have little coupons that you tear off each time you consume an ounce of this fluid. Turn in a label’s worth of coupons and get a pony or something. Because anyone sad enough to have drunk a bottle’s worth of this is sad enough to deserve a pony.

This is the frilliest main font ever devised by man. At full size, it is nearly impossible to read, and when it suddenly changes color and shrinks toward the bottom it becomes not so much illegible and practically invisible. Then we get an abrupt, pointless typeface change for the one word on the bottle that you could read from the other side of a bar, especially in bad lighting after a round or two. You are changing the typeface and color on your label in the middle of the name of your product? Or is the name simply Twenty Grand, with “vodka infused with cognac” being the product type?

And what a confusing product type that is! Is 20K a vodka or a cognac? A dessert topping or a floor wax? As their website asks, “uptown or downtown”? It sure looks like they want it to be a Cognac. It is the only legible word on the label. The bottle and stopper, and the material inside all look Cognac-y. But it is worded like it is an infused vodka. Does half the team think that it has to be a “vodka” because that’s all the Wall Street suits who are funding them want, while the other half think the only people who will buy it want “cognac”? Perhaps the group all met in Synergy 224 while getting their MBAs. Most likely, honesty (with some help from the FTC) compelled them to call it Vodka infused with Cognac.

And now we get to the meat of the issue. The actual alcoholic beverage inside the bottle.
An important disclaimer here: This is a totally unfair post, in that I have not actually consumed any Twenty Grand myself. I am not going to. Don’t send me any. My liver only has so many miles left in it, and I won’t waste so much as one of them on Twenty Grand Avenue.
I don’t actually have to taste it, because Mr. Vuitton has. Mr. Vuitton is a YouTuber who vlogs about Louis Vuitton products from his blank-walled apartment with laundry stacked on top of his Louis Vuitton bags in the background, all while wearing Ed Hardy shirts.
His video review of Twenty G will either be the best or worst 11 minutes of your life you have ever spent on YouTube.

Whether you watched that or not, I’ll discuss it a bit as a lead back to my thoughts on Twenty Grand. First, how about that cinematography? I’ve never seen a clearly practiced and polished video style that consists of a continuous, unedited mirror selfie shot which keeps the phone unerringly blocking the view of his mouth. I genuinely admire his dedication to his craft. He held that phone up for eleven minutes! My arms would fall off. But then I’m old.

The video tells a tale actually—the tale of a man who may not have the most extensive liquor knowledge, but who does in fact appear to have a fine and developed sense of taste and smell. It is a tale of a man who is excited by a new product, who tries it for the first time on camera, only to discover that the phrase Good as Money is true in the sense that I spoke of above. Our hero doesn’t want to be mean…

You used to be like that,
didn’t you, Doug?

He doesn’t want to be mean as the stuff assaults those excellent senses of taste and smell, or perhaps he just doesn’t want to admit to himself or his viewers that he has wasted twenty seven dollars that likely tasted better than the Twenty Grand in the bottle.
Some epic, revealing quotes:

It’s a vodka, obviously. [Snif]Yeah. Ah…damn. Yeah. It’s… of course, the smell is alcohol. [grimace] Yeah… it’s, uh, it’s gonna be rough, guys! Sh*t…

[Sip]Yeah. [Forced grimace] It’s sweet. It’s, um, really, really sweet. There’s an, um, thickness to it. It’s is definitely not vodka. It doesn’t taste like vodka. Doesn’t feel like vodka.

Yeah. I can taste the vodka. More like vodka and… syrup. You could really call this “vodka, mixed with honey” or syrup…

The earnest hope in his voice when he decides to throw in some ice is endearing.

Yeah, I’m sure this will be… This’ll be definitely a lot better.

You will be shocked to watch as his hopes are dashed.

I kept thinking I’d abandon the video after each new moment of pathos, but it just kept on going so hilariously I couldn’t stop. Bear with the attempt to remove the plastic shrink-wrap from the stopper with one hand, while the other holds the phone, the rest is worth it.

Listen, I feel for the guy. I’ve searched desperately a time or two to find something nice to say about a dog product, either on this blog or in person. I just think he should learn that it is wise to know what you are reviewing before you review it, especially if you are going to act as if it is live TV.

As I said before, Mr. Vuitton appears to have a much better senses of taste and smell than I ever had, but I knew what he was going to taste before he ever opened that bottle, and I (again) have never experienced the stuff. Because old age and experience beat youth and talent every day. Before my brain had finished processing what I was looking at in that aisle, I knew. The words Early Times were flashing in my brain.

Scores of bottles in that same store that call themselves Blended American Whiskey could just as well have labeled themselves as Vodka infused with Bourbon. They look just like Bourbon, just as 20K looks just like Cognac. The marketing theory behind blended whiskies is that they are smoother and more approachable than the full straight stuff. The truth is that vodka is cheap as hell to make, and faster than it is cheap.

Twenty Grand is not vodka infused with cognac, it is cognac diluted with vodka, at somewhere between 1:1 and 6:1 vodka. But vodka is clear and flavorless, so if that’s all you served up, you’d have a very pale-looking and pale-tasting product. To get the color and flavor back, blenders add colorants and flavorants, mostly caramels of one type or another, to the mix in an attempt to counterfeit the natural ones occurring in the wood-aged product of the base premium liquor.

American blended whiskey makers have had decades of experience and the millions spent in the Lost Laboratories of Seagram’s Gone By to perfect the mix of sugars and colorants needed to make a pleasing and visually satisfying counterfeit for a light bourbon.
Twenty Grand? The color is perfect. To my knowledge, this is the first Blended French Brandy of its kind, and I doubt that the good folks at Citispiritz of Wilson, Wyoming have the kind of resources needed to reproduce the decades and millions it took to get as far as Early Times. Bravo to them for trying, I suppose. Or jeers to them for giving the Pernod-Ricards of the world ideas….

A final disclaimer: As I said, I haven’t tasted the product myself. And Twenty Grand has absolutely the least informative liquor product website to be found on the web. It consists of good photography, bad recipes, and no frigging text to speak of at all! My description of what 20K is and how it is made is merely my own informed speculation. And if you can’t get Twenty Grand Vodka infused with Cognac near you, perhaps you could find their new product: Twenty Grand Rosé. It is vodka infused with flat Rosé Champagne!

This Year’s Best Superbowl™ Ad You Won’t See During the Game

Anna Kendrick Behind the Scenes Newcastle
Anna Kendrick: Beer Commercial Hot?
Anna-Kendrick-Black-Bra
I’m going with a tentative Yes.

Confession time: I am one of those people who watches the Superbowl for the ads. In fact, I usually DVR the Superbowl, and fast forward through the game to get to the commercials. Why? The last time I watched a sporting event live in which a team I actually cared about won that game was literally in 2011. Sportsfans, pay me to become an avid fan of your team’s biggest rival….

But I still like the ads. Each year, the ad companies trot out their best ideas, and there always some heartwarming, hilarious, and weirdly fascinating results. Sure, there are still clunkers, but the ad industry’s winners ratio in Superbowl ads is way better than the motion picture and television industries’. And a zillion people watch them, which is why companies spend so much to run those ads. And then, the best ones get replayed endlessly on YouTube for weeks thereafter.

All of this has led to a new peripheral phenomenon in recent years, the Ad You Won’t See On The Superbowl!11!!1! Companies or causes craft an ad to submit to the network to run on the Superbowl which is rejected. Usually its subject matter is self-evidently controversial enough that the NFL realizes testosterone-hyped families across America will get into literal fights over it and be unable to watch the other commercials. Sometimes the ad is perfectly innocuous in subject matter or product, but has a stray moment of unacceptable language or a gratuitous nip-slip or something.

The point is, the ad was deliberately crafted to be rejected. Then the marketing company can run off a press release, filled with High Dudgeon™, about how the ad was banned. If, as is usually the case, it is a political cause, they scream “the NFL doesn’t want you to hear this TRUTH!” And all their supporters rush out to tweet the YouTube link, and they get two million hits. If it is a product, they usually scream “the NFL censored our ad because it was so racy!” Then all the pubescent boys (here meaning males over the age of 12) rush out to watch the video for the nip-slip that ends up not being there anyway.

This is a very successful guerrilla marketing tactic. These advertisers don’t have the money, or at least don’t have it to spare, to afford an actual ad on the Superbowl. It is also an increasingly obvious tactic, and even your average low-information American is beginning to see it for what it is. (Guys will still click on that nip-slip ad link anyway. We’re predictable.)

But most people now realize that the advertiser’s ad is actually not on the Superbowl because they don’t have the money as opposed to having been “banned”, and now we see the next phase in the game. The Ad You Won’t See On The Giant Game We Can’t Name Because We Are Such a Plucky Little Group Who Can’t Compete With The Big Money Guys, So Go With Us Because We Are Artisinal And Stuff style advertisement.

Enter Newcastle Brown Ale, the PBR of the UK. An elderly working class brand now enjoying a hipster-fueled resurgence. This plucky little brand has released this “Behind the Scenes” video of their Superbowl ad that won’t be, starring Anna Kendrick of Pitch Perfect. The whole thing is about how Newcastle’s reach exceeded their grasp and they couldn’t afford to run their ad on the Superbowl (along with some unconvincing worry about whether she is hot enough for a beer commercial), and now she has to go back to making indie movies or something. It is funny. And trust me, listen carefully to her description of the ad. It would have gotten all the YouTube hits.

Cute, huh? And a great, creative way for a small company to leverage the Superbo… Giant Game With The Trademarked Name hype to their advantage. America really is the land of opportunity, huh?

Yeah, about that… Newcastle Brown ale is owned by, um, this impoverished outfit.
(H/T: Mary Katherine Ham at HotAir)

GQ Reveals the Bourbon Family Tree

bourbon-family-tree-large
Source: GQ

GQ is not my magazine. Despite my occasional outbursts of sartorial grace, I get little value from a magazine that chiefly specializes in articles on how athletes and rappers fail to dress like gentlemen, and how actresses and supermodels barely dress at all…. But, via a Gizmodo link, I discovered a recent article of theirs that is worth a discussion.

In The Bourbon Family Tree, GQ excerpts an excellent illustration and some good information from the The Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining. Most of that volume (which I’ve ordered for my own library) is a rundown on the how-to of home distilling, an illegal (shakes tiny fist and overweening big government) and daunting task, which the book is unlikely to give me the courage to undertake. It also has a bunch of likely valuable information on craft distilleries and other segments of the modern American whiskey market.

The chart you see atop this post, hopefully an indication of how well author David Haskell communicates information in his book, shows a truly useful “distillation” of the corporate and chemical relationships between most of America’s commercial, non-craft bourbons, ryes, and assorted other brown liquors. Click the image atop this post to pop up a larger version. In thirteen years of booze nerd-dom, I’d already learned most of the information on this infographic, but I think I’m garnering some new insights from seeing it presented all together here. In case you refuse to click through to GQ (you know, because you are afraid you might accidentally run into the aforementioned pictures of hot women in few clothes), you read the chart from the bottom up.

Discuss the bottom row with your broker, as it details the corporate ownership of your favorite brown liquor. Diageo (DEO) has done quite well for me, for instance. How many rednecks out there who argue relentlessly on the relative merits of Jim Beam versus Maker’s Mark would be yanked up short if they knew both were kissing cousins? Thank God, Ford and Chevy still have different stock symbols….

The next row shows the major American distilleries each corporation owns. There are a lot fewer than I think most Americans believe, but happily, a couple more than I had previously thought. The trunks shooting up from each of these distilleries first branch out into whiskey varieties, then individual labels. The farther up the chart, the older, and generally more expensive, the product. The chart prominently features Buffalo Trace’s three mash bill family, but totally glosses over Four Roses’s ten bourbons to make three bottles process. Probably because it would have turned that tree into some futuristic-looking topiary that would better belong in Tomorrowland.

The most important concept for the whiskey drinker to take away from this graph to make him or her a better consumer is how many of these labels can be found on the same stems, representing that they all have essentially the same mash bill, and that bottles as disparate in taste and reputation, such as Knob Creek Bourbon and basic Jim Beam, or RI(1) and Old Overholt, may well have come off the same still, from the very same batch. Nothing could more clearly show the defining truth of whisk(e)y, that having a good white dog may be important, like a good foundation for your house, but most everything interesting and unique happens after it leaves the still. “While the four mash bills contribute to the flavor, the more significant differentiation among brands is done in the warehouse, where the type of construction, placement within the warehouse, and duration of aging have a stronger impact on the finished spirit,” says GQ about the Buffalo Trace bourbon family.

In whiskey, nurture wins out over nature, or Elijah Craig would just be Evan Williams in a fancier bottle.

Which of course leads me to my ding about this article. (I can’t write about someone else’s writing without finding fault. Feel free to find fault with me about this.)

Can’t find Pappy? Go for Weller
Pappy Van Winkle is frequently described by both educated and uneducated drinkers as the best bourbon on the market. It is certainly aged for longer than most premium bourbons, and has earned a near hysterical following of people scrambling to get one of the very few bottles that are released each year. Of the long-aged bourbons, it seems to be aged very gently year-to-year, and this recommends it enormously. But if you, like most people, can’t find Pappy, try W. L. Weller. There’s a 12 year old variety that retails for $23 around the corner. Pappy 15-year sells for $699-$1000 even though it’s the exact same liquid as the Pappy (same mash bill, same spirit, same barrels); the only difference is it’s aged 3 years less.

No.

The only difference is not three years. GQ’s own article, two paragraphs before notes that it is more than just toss the barrels in a rick house and yank ‘em out after the requisite months have passed. Barrels are different. Their placement in the rick house, and the rick house they are in is different. Over the years, the distillers taste each, and determine which are coming along how, slowly segregating them by of what destiny they are becoming worthy. At the end, barrels (in most cases) are blended together to further refine different characteristics for each bottling.

There’s more in GQ’s article, most of it better and more informative than that last quote. And there is more for you to glean on your own from the chart. I especially love details like the honest family tree twining of branches, where you notice things like how George Dickel’s rye whiskey looks an awful lot more like the MGP milkman than George, and his Bulleit bourbon looks more like the handsome neighbor with the rose bushes… Mrs. Dickel gets around, I guess.

Have fun with this, and be sure to read GQ’s article, or Haskell’s book, so you can make sense of things like the dotted lines atop the stump (sapling?) growing up from Kentucky Bourbon Distillers.

SideBlog: Atmospherics Are Everything In Whisky Advertising.


Chivas Regal offers this lush video about bespoke tailoring. The marriage of two marvelous, lightly decadent fields is delicious. I am privileged to own a bespoke suit from Maurice Sedwell on Savile Row, it has been the single best investment I have ever made in clothing.

Mainstreaming of Cocktail Culture: The Blacklist

Blacklist Megan Boone James Spader
Among the more important elements in growing and sustaining the cocktail movement is the way it is seeping into the popular culture, particularly the entertainment media. The obvious leader here is Mad Men (the show no one watches, and everybody talks about), with its loving ruminations on the importance of a well-made drink. If the world of fine cocktails wants to move beyond the strong fad or wave of fashion stage and embed itself firmly in a place in modern society similar to that of fine wine, it needs shows like Mad Men. But more, it needs scenes like the one that popped up this week on a new NBC show called The Blacklist, a show no one is talking about, but everyone is watching.

Below is the entire second episode, embedded for your perusal. NBC doesn’t seem to want to let me embed a clip or set the start time, so fast forward to 12 minutes for the scene that concerns us here. NBC may take a few moments to interest you in some insurance or soap before you can watch the video….

Here we see the series’s heroic villain (villainous hero?) proantagonist, Raymond “Red” Reddington sitting down with young FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen at a Montreal restaurant. Before I get to the cocktail implications, I’m going to do a brief review of the show, because regardless of your cocktailian proclivities, it is worth a watch. Red is a former government agent who currently holds down the number four spot on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, yet he has turned himself in to the feds solely in order to screw with the mind of Keen for some unknown and likely nefarious reason that we’ll get a little bit closer to understanding each Sweeps Week. Red is played by James Spader (you know, Ultron), who chews the scenery in a delightfully understated manner and he uses the rest of the cast, and the FBI as a whole, to accomplish lots of Really Good Things, by Really Dubious Means, for reasons that no one understands, but that we viewers imagine are Really Bad. He is stylish, unflappable, decisive, and nearly omnicompetent. He loves a really good drink. Oh, and he’s a textbook sociopath.

Red’s keeper/protegé Liz is played a bit too strongly in the first two episodes as an innocent with things to prove. I think this is to provide contrast to the dark and twisty road that Red (and probably her own past and her apparently too good to be true hubby) will take her on.

The rest of the cast is to this point unfleshed out. Most so far remain stock characters that you’ve seen in a host of other shows. The team leader, Cooper, needs to get some interest quickly before he turns into a black Basil Exposition. Malik is the sweet-faced CIA agent forced upon the team because… Justice always likes to have the CIA around to keep an eye on the FBI or something. Her main role on the show so far is to torture suspects right in front of FBI agents because the CIA is unbound by any law, and to just generally give some ambiguity to Red’s evil by being just as heartless. Finally the young FBI field agent Ressler is on the show to look smashing for the ladies while almost being blown up every episode.

I snark about these characters because snark is what I do. There is potential in each, combined with Red’s already fascinating portrayal and the generally strong stories, this could make for an ongoing hit. Think White Collar, with Hannibal Lecter instead of Neal Caffrey.

Now, back to the scene. It was crafted, I guarantee you, by someone who is a genuine cocktail snob who wants to show cocktails as superior to wine, not just a writer in search of a display of sophistication and mentoring (grooming?). Let’s break it down.

Liz orders first, a glass of chardonnay, as boring and prosaic as you could imagine from someone who isn’t really a world class sophisticate. Red immediately overrides her order to the waiter, in French. When the waiter returns with a purple cocktail, Red explains, “Aviation Cocktail. From the 20′s. Tastes like… Spring, doesn’t it?” The great cocktail in place of the boring wine is meant to be a gift, and also represent another step in taking control of her. But the clear implication here is that he upgraded her.
Blacklist Megan Boone
The Aviation is less popular today with the top of the cocktail set, but it used to be the cocktail fraternity’s Secret Handshake. It is a gateway concoction, and you largely find it on menu these days in markets or areas where the industry is still impressing on the minds of its clientele that cocktails have a next level. Red is using a gateway cocktail as part of a gateway conversation. And like the most effective gateways, the subject doesn’t know what she’s getting into, with the drink or her relationship with Red. The show also takes great pains make the drink look appealing: It is generally backlit so you can appreciate the exotic purple coloring, etc. (Incidentally, there is no way whatever is in that glass is actually an Aviation. That jewel-like color means there is no lemon juice present, and the purple is so dark you’d need 50% Creme de Violette to get there.)

We also get meaning from what Red drinks: a glass of neat whisky. Culturally, this is a cue that here is an older, more mature, and thoroughly masculine man, possessing both wisdom and perhaps inner pain. The scotch symbolizes him.
Blacklist James Spader
Scenes like this are essential to the mainstreaming of cocktails. First, it appears on a broadcast network, with an audience six times larger than a Mad Men, and ten times as diverse. Second, the drinks are portrayed as distinctly superior, in taste and sophistication, to wine. Third, the drinks are used to advance the story, and at multiple levels. Also, this episode is evidence of how far toward that end cocktails have come, for exactly the same reasons.

In the event you haven’t had an Aviation lately, or ever, I think I’ll finish with what I think is the best recipe, along with a picture of what one really looks like (equally as gorgeous, but perhaps less videogenic.) This is the exact recipe I happened to have just made for myself before my wife and I sat down and hit play on the DVR to watch this week’s The Blacklist. The looks on our faces at the twelve minute mark were priceless, I’m sure.
Aviation

UN COCKTAIL DE L’AVIATION

  • 2 oz. light, floral gin (Bombay Sapphire or a good New American style like Aviation)
  • 1/2 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz. Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
  • scant 1/4 oz. creme de violette

Combine ingredients with plentiful ice and shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass, then gently place a single brandied cherry in the bottom.

SideBlog: Ohio Regulations Restrict Microdistilleries’ Marketing

Ohio liquor regulations hamper microdistillery development. This article focuses on how direct sale restrictions meant for mega-distillers shut off the kind of face-to-face marketing that is so valuable to micros.

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