Star power: when does celebrity endorsement work?

As Cameron Diaz becomes one of the latest celebrities to move into the world of drinks, IWSR looks at which brands, categories and geographies are most benefiting from the influence of star power


Celebrity-brand partnerships play a significant role in 21st century marketing. The proliferation of famous faces in the drinks world continues to grow, and celebrities are now present in most mainstream categories. In fact, celebrity drinks brands have become so popular that a new app called GrapeStars has been designed specifically to provide a direct-to-consumer sales channel for celebrity-endorsed beverages.

When a brand strikes the right partnership with a celebrity, the rewards can be bountiful, says Brandy Rand, IWSR’s COO for the Americas. “Celebrities as paid spokespeople for brands is an inherent part of the business, from coffee brands to make up companies to cars. As long as the celebrity is well-regarded by the public (and stays that way), there’s limited risk to brands that develop good celebrity-centred marketing campaigns.”

There are, however, a few categories that have been uniquely galvanised by star power, particularly in the US.

In July 2020, actor Cameron Diaz became one of the latest celebrities to move into the drinks business with the US launch of organic wine brand Avaline. The range, which Diaz created in collaboration with businesswomen Katherine Power, comprises a French rosé and a Spanish white, both described as “clean” wines with no added sugar. The launch taps into both the wellness trend and the glamourous image cultivated by pink rosé wines.

“Looking across the spectrum of drinks, it’s clear that categories with a strong lifestyle connection are ripe for celebrity involvement,” says Rand.

Diaz joins a legion of celebrity rosé brand partners, including Kylie Minogue, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mary J Blige, John Legend, Jon Bon Jovi and Francis Ford Coppola. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were two of the first celebrities to move into rosé wine with the purchase of the Miraval estate in Provence in 2011. Last year, a magnum of Muse de Miraval even broke the world record for the most expensive bottle of rosé ever sold.

Such partnerships have introduced rosé to swathes of new fans for whom the pull of celebrity is strong – particularly younger drinkers who covet the Instagrammable aesthetic of pink drinks. Elsewhere in wine, Jay Z is a shareholder in Armand de Brignac Champagne, which has helped to drive renewed interest in the category from hip-hop fans and night-club-goers – similar to the path taken by Cognac in the early 2000s.

But the power of celebrity stretches beyond the US and other western markets into the east. While some markets here prohibit celebrity endorsement, producers in South Korea and China frequently use famous personalities to promote their local spirits.

“Korean soju producers often use female pop stars and actresses in their advertising,” says Tommy Keeling, IWSR’s Asia-Pacific research director. “In China, baijiu producers also use famous personalities in their advertising, though they tend to be older and more sophisticated than those for soju, in keeping with the older consumer demographic.”

Tequila is another spirit that has seen a huge increase in celebrity affiliations. However, despite the category’s new luxury credentials and mentions in hip hop and pop tracks, celebrities who have moved into tequila speak more about authenticity, quality and heritage.

Casamigos Tequila – which George Clooney and his business partners sold to Diageo in a deal worth US$1 billion – is frequently cited as a prime example of a celebrity partnership that has propelled a category forward. Casamigos also demonstrates the power of brands that have an engaged and active celebrity partner, particularly one who invests their own money into the business. George Clooney was a co-founder of the brand, along with Rande Gerber and Mike Meldman, as opposed to merely a paid promoter.

Sex and the City actor Chris Noth acquired a majority stake in Ambhar Tequila in 2018, and plays an active role in the creative direction of the brand. At the time his involvement with the Ambhar was announced, Noth said he was “really excited about the opportunity to help reinvent the perception of tequila.” This exemplifies another trend in celebrity-brand partnerships: the brand is often tied to a premium category that is in a state of evolution. What’s more, drinks connoisseurs are more likely to buy into a particular partnership when the celebrity is interested in developing the broader category. IWSR data shows that tequila volumes in the US, for example, grew 42.2% between 2014 and 2019. In fact, volumes grew by 8.3% in 2019 alone and is forecast to grow by another 5 million nine-litre cases by 2024.

In 2018, Ryan Reynolds became the owner of American craft brand Aviation Gin – which could help spur the category’s slow progression in the US market, which has been in steady decline. Gin volumes in the US declined 6.5% between 2009 and 2014, but this decline softened to 0.3% from 2014 to 2019. Reynolds uses his trademark humour to connect his fans to Aviation through videos and television appearances. The actor even has a personal Aviation Gin email address with changeable out of office responses. IWSR data shows that Reynolds involvement in Aviation gin has had a significant impact on the brand’s consumption in the US.

“Consumers can tell if someone is being paid to promote a product versus really excited about sharing something they’ve had a hand in producing or genuinely love drinking,” remarks Rand. “In some cases, like Matthew McConaughey and Wild Turkey or Ryan Reynolds and Aviation, scripted commercials or video shorts actually reflect the actors’ talent for producing entertainment – if they can capture consumer attention through well-curated content (especially humour) it’s also a win.”

Some celebrities even have unique job titles for the brands they work with. For instance, Rita Ora is chief creative partner at Prospero Tequila, Jillionaire is Bacardi’s ‘minister of rum’, and Matthew McConaughey is creative director at Wild Turkey, directing some of the brand’s commercials.

But authentic celebrity involvement with a brand is perhaps most obvious on social media, which has produced a powerful offshoot of influencer celebrities in both western and eastern markets. “As social media provides a direct-to-consumer platform for celebrities, there’s an innate authenticity in messaging if it’s genuine and sometimes unscripted,” says Rand. “A celebrity in their living room with personal items in the background having a conversation with their followers is an intimate experience.”

Social media also allows celebrities to post teasing snapshots of their new brand or line extension. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has managed to drum up considerable interest in his new Teremana Tequila brand via his social media channels over the course of two years, despite the fact that the product is only now just starting to roll out in 2020. The actor has taken fans on the brand’s development journey, which could help drive lasting loyalty. Unusually for a tequila brand, Teremana boasts a dedicated distillery, which again speaks to the commitment of its celebrity founder.

But ultimately, adds Rand, the prevailing popularity of the celebrity will always trump the perceived connection between the celebrity and the brand they are promoting. “It’s less about consumers believing the connection between the brand and celebrity and more about the celebrity’s appeal to consumers,” Rand observes. “We’ve all seen very public instances where brands have cut ties with celebrities who don’t embody the brand values.”


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