The stunt-vodka Trojan horse theory of CPG marketing/everything
💀 Murdered darlings: alco-llaborations edition! Plus: negronis > Brioni, hazecan country club + more!
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I just published a story at VinePair about a marketing phenomenon I (somewhat clunkily) christened “alco-llaborations”—basically, all the [non-alcoholic brand] x [alcoholic brand] stunt beverage crossovers that have oozed across your social media feeds over the past 18 months. It’s a pseudo-category that I find fascinating, albeit kind of tricky to define. I’m not talking about alcohol brands sponsoring nonalcoholic people/places/things, or collabs between two or more alcohol brands, or licensing deals entered into by co-packers and booze producers for the purposes of selling Jack Daniels barbecue sauce, or whatever. Despite being sort of ambiguous, the alco-llaboration is very real, and like that smutty rascal Potter Stewart, I know it when I see it. If you’re reading this, you probably do too: think French’s Mustard beer, Red Lobster Dewgaritas, Arby’s French fry-flavored vodka, and so on.
I hope you’ll check out the full piece for more detail, because there’s a lot in there. And as usual, here are a few “murdered darlings” from the reporting process—i.e., interesting insights and quotes from sources that didn’t make the final cut, printed here for the Fingers Fam’s reading pleasure.
The quotes below have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Oreo has literally come out and said that they put out these like weird flavors to make people nostalgic for the O.G. [flavor.] There's even a New York Times article about it. They know that they're fucking with you. These combinations are just press, you know? Some foodie is gonna be like, Oh, I tried the Barefoot x Oreo [Thins collaboration] and it was disgusting, I hated it, and somebody else will be like You know what, it’s not that bad. It's just gonna be like a Trojan horse kind of purchase… I feel like these are the moments where you have to start testing what what hits with a younger demographic. Shitposting and chaotic vibes, this counterculture shit, this is what appeals to a younger audience. The people that are buying these things at the supermarket are not the people that you can probably get into… I mean, what does Gen Z know about Steak-umm? What does Gen Alpha know about Steak-umm? But [that brand] being on Twitter, or seeing them go viral on Instagram [with a stunt], it’s like, Oh, I've never heard of this brand, but it's been introduced to me now via this way that I'm accustomed to communicating in, that I'm familiar with.
— Mark Beal, Rutgers University School of Communication and Information professor, on how CPG brands divide labor in stunt collaborations:
In the case of Barefoot and Oreo, it’s two brands that are very well-known, big brands in their respective categories. So I think that’s a case where it’d be a true collaboration. They’re collaborating very, very closely on all the elements, including pitching media. What contacts do you have, what contacts do we have? Well, we’ve got beverage [media] contacts, you’ve got food [media] contacts, but what about the middle? Who's gonna make the call to USAToday? They'll even go through those lists and evaluate who has the better contact at each outlet. It’s that level of detail.
— Jon Kreidler, co-founder and chief officer of Tattersall Distilling, on how launch-day went for Arby’s French fry-flavored vodka:
It just immediately blew up. Seeing somebody like Jason Isbell comment on it, The Tonight Show… it was major. Jon Stewart commented on it on Twitter. It was fun to partner with a major brand like Arby’s. I mean, Arby’s is pretty cutting-edge when it comes to some of the promotions they do. People know they do some weird stuff. When you asked if we knew it was going to blow up, I mean, one of [Arby’s] previous promotions were the “meat sweats,” where they had the sweatsuits that looked like meat, and they were like Yeah, these will be sold out in two minutes. So they knew exactly how it was gonna play out. It was interesting as they prepped us… we only sold it through one retail store online, and they had to basically beef up all their servers [to handle the demand.]
— Tim Calkins, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management clinical marketing professor, on how companies hedge against damaging core brands with half-baked stunt collaborations:
Any licensing deal, you have to be very careful about the brand fit. You want to prevent your brand from being used in ways that will damage your core equity. You could see that play out in the whole Peloton experience, where they allowed their brand to be used in the Sex and the City [reboot]. Of course, the guy dies off, which is really not consistent with the brand imagery that they're trying to build for Peloton. So everybody's very careful on these things. Particularly so if you have a very strong, well-established brand Oreo. Oreo is truly a global icon. So you can be very sure that before they did that [Barefoot x Oreo Thins] deal, they explored exactly what people would think of it. In many cases, it's best to do some consumer testing: you show the idea to people and you get their feedback. People might say Wow, that seems really inconsistent with the brand. I feel worse about the brand. With Oreo[‘s alco-llaboration], you have to believe they tested that, and I'm sure they found that people said that it did not make them feel worse about Oreos.
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