Liquid Thinking

Celebrity Launches

Do consumers expect credibility?

12th April 2023

JLo is the latest celeb to get it in the neck from the court of public opinion. ‘What business does a non-drinker have launching a booze brand?’ Twitter users collectively asked after she announced the launch of new spritz brand, Delola. And she’s not the first to come under fire. After Michael B Jordan was forced to cancel the launch of his rum and Kendall Jenner’s tequila brand was labelled ‘problematic’, we ask, is credibility increasingly required of celebs who back drinks brands?

Ethics. They’re so annoying and inconvenient. Time was, all a celeb has to do was lend their name to a drinks launch and watch as pics circulated the internet of them happily holding a bottle, or sipping from a glass. 

Nicki Minaj launched a years-long campaign to insert the name of her moscato brand Myx into almost every single one of her songs and no-one was mad at her. Diddy still fronts campaigns for his (and Diageo’s) vodka brand Ciroc and no-one shouts at him. And George Clooney’s Casamigos tequila brand (which he and fellow co-founders Rande Gerber and Mike Meldman sold to Diageo in 2017) was the fastest growing spirits brand in 2022, tripling its brand value, according to the Spirits Business. So, for sure, nobody is mad at them.

So how come poor Jennifer Lopez is currently receiving a tongue-lashing across the far corners of the internet? The singer and actress announced the launch of premium bottled cocktail brand Delola just last week, intended according to the press release for “effortless entertaining as part of a thoughtful lifestyle”. Backed by Beam Suntory, the gluten-free, lower calorie range offers three spritz serves, with Paloma Rosa, L’Orange, and Bella Berry. Its US launch will be followed by a global push. So far, so normal.

Walk the walk

But then the press release gets into territory that the internet is now holding in dispute. For buried towards the bottom after comments about Jen’s “strong work ethic” and how her carefree, playful alter-ego Lola (because we all have one and have named it, right?) sometimes emerges, is the following: “In those times, Jennifer "Lola" enjoys a glass of rosé, champagne or light cocktail.”

But, according to past statements made by the star, that may not be true. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the internet submits into evidence numerous comments from JLo about how she doesn’t actually drink. At all. In fact, holding their receipts (which I’m told is internet youth lingo for saving screenshots) it’s claimed the star has in fact previously spoken out many times on the ills of consuming alcohol. Which is all fair enough.

But it’s something long-standing fans have taken umbrage with. One comment on her Instagram post reads: “You’ve said countless times you don’t drink…but okay.” And another said: “How about we support small business instead of celebrities slapping their name on whatever they want to make more money.” Since then, stories on the backlash have spread like wildfire. And following the old adage that no publicity is bad publicity, it’s helped to spread the story of the launch – and accompanying backlash – far and wide across the industry.

New scrutiny

If the launch has angered many in her loyal fanbase, then who is it really for? And is this kind of scrutiny new? Are information hungry and cash poor(er) consumers just becoming more scrupulous when it comes to which celeb products they’re okay with backing and which they aren’t?

This isn’t the first instance we’ve heard of in the past few years. Actor Michael B Jordan was forced to ‘rename’ his Caribbean rum, J’ouvert in 2021, after angry consumers called him out for taking a name from an annual Caribbean cultural event rooted in slavery, that he has no connection to. As far as we can tell, no renamed product has since emerged.

And Kendall Jenner announced a number of charitable efforts after her launch of 818 tequila was criticised for being ‘problematic’. Accused of appropriating Mexican culture and failing to properly credit local producers, she’s since made a feature of the liquid’s production in her marketing. The controversy largely centred on a photo campaign of the socialite walking a horse through an agave plantation, while appearing to be ‘dressed up’ as a Mexican woman, with some of the harshest comments including: “Modelling that chic migrant worker look for her tequila brand.” Since the criticism, she has announced numerous charitable initiatives to “give back” to the community that produces her brand, including turning agave waste into building bricks, donating 1% of revenues to eco causes. That’ll do it.

Has the shine worn off?

David Beckham too is making moves. The retired footballer announced in March that he was ending his Haig Club partnership after almost a decade. The partnership will come to an end this summer, so he can pursue his own drinks brand launch, which suggests the star feels there’s something out there that will be a better fit for him.

So, has something shifted? Are consumers demanding more? Is ‘celeb-washing’ a term we can expect to hear about soon? Consumers are not demanding deep connections from celebs to the brands that they launch; step forward Prime Hydration. But what seems new is that they are calling out celebs whose connections to their brands seems hollow, hypocritical, blatantly self-serving, not aligned to their values or lifestyle, or at worst, culturally disrespectful. Any celeb that launches a brand that goes against previous stances or points of view can expect to hear from their fans.

While it seems that people are happy to buy into a brand based on the associated glory of the stars they admire, when they’re being sold something that seems blatantly hollow, there’s a problem. Greater scrutiny into the provenance, brand story, ingredients, production methods and eco-claims of products is becoming par for the course among a growing number of increasingly switched-on consumers, and brands need to be ready for it. Having a celeb attached to a brand is no longer enough.

From investing in producing communities – especially if they are in economically challenged regions – to showcasing the people actually producing the liquid, consumers are increasingly looking for greater depth from brands, beyond a celebrity name. And while they’ll be no slow down to the number of famous folk looking to attach their names to a perceived cash cow drinks product, from now on, those that do had better do their homework.

Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?

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