Tequila Softens Up
Is tequila finally showing its more sensitive side?
We all, should by now have heeded the lessons of Bic’s ‘For Her’ lady pens. If you haven’t, pop over to its immortalised Amazon page and have a read of the reviews. Yes, someone in the brand’s marketing department thought it was a great idea to market a pen directly and very patronisingly, aimed at women. For no real reason at all.
It’s no wonder wry consumers felt the need to load the item’s listing with reviews such as “I didn't understand why I could grip and use a wooden spoon or sewing needle but couldn't properly hold my black-coloured pen for more than 45 seconds without dropping it on the floor and weeping.”
The drinks industry too has a storied history of gendered missteps, launching products that single out one gender. Skewed historically male, it’s a lesson the beer industry learned the hard way, with a number of pink hued beers such as Molson Coor’s Animee. Launched ten years ago after the brewer ploughed a tonne of time and money into an all-female panel that ended up creating one of the most obviously wrong product launches, it aimed at bringing more women to the category. Available in lemon and rose flavours, liquid-wise it had absolutely nothing to do with a beer. But it did include an anti-bloat ingredient for the delicate flowers amongst us still fretting over our figures.
More recent gendered launches – and it always seems to be frilly attempts to win over women – include Bacardi’s 2018 Plume & Petal vodka. The low alcohol product was created “by women, for today’s modern woman, intended to be enjoyed with other women” according to the brand. But an internet backlash to what was perceived as a dated and patronising view of what women want and how to speak to them, saw the brand backtrack and apologise.
Gender is such a volatile forum, that even when brands are acting in irony, things can go wrong. BrewDog – who have a chequered history when it comes to gender equality – attempted to fight women’s corner in 2019 with a beer launched just for women. Intended to highlight the gender pay gap, consumers who identified as female were offered the beer for a discounted price. However, they were later successfully sued by a male imbiber.
Success of tequila
And so we come to tequila, a category that is riding high. According to the IWSR in 2020 the spirit overtook both the rum category and US whiskey’s largest subcategory, bourbon, in the US. As of 2021, agave-based spirits are the third largest spirits category in the US, behind vodka and whisky. Endless celebrity brand launches and endorsements have helped to bring the drink to a new audience, making the category very evidently aspirational. The IWSR further estimates that US consumption of tequila alone has risen by more than 30% between 2015 and 2020, with premium-and-above products up by over 60%.
There’s no doubt that a shift in image has vastly transformed how consumers view the category –from shooter party drink to sophisticated sipper – and accelerated its success. And pretty evenly. The IWSR reports an almost equal split between men and women consuming agave spirits. Across age groups too, there’s a wide spread, with 46% of agave spirits consumers aged 25-44 and 34% aged 45-64.
A shift in perceptions
And it’s against this backdrop that we’re seeing an interesting shift. Over the past couple of years there’s been a decided feminisation of the category. What do we mean by that? From the championing of all-female owned brands, to a marked shift in packaging designs to a non-overt, but distinctly feminine approach, the category has recently undergone a sensitive, yet notable shift from a distinctly masculine identity, to something more centred on women.
As a creative drinks design agency, our gaze of course first goes to the packaging. From the muted ceramic pastel shades of ultra-luxe brands like Komos, to the fashion orientated handmade ceramic vessels launched by Kendall Jenner’s 808 brand, the concept of tequila bottle as homeware is starting to make its presence felt.
Then there’s brands such as El Rayo. Without a hint of pink (good), its graphic sunset design marks a decidedly softer approach from a black or dark blue colour palette and the text-heavy labelling that used to dominate the category.
Think pink… sometimes
And of course, yes, there are brands opting for pink. We’d like to make a case here that the love for a genderless pink – Millennial pink if you will – has never fully died down since its emergence five or so years ago. But brands like CaliRosa (which ages its tequila in Californian red wine barrels) carry it off with a clear glass bottle to show off the pink hue of the liquid, accompanied by a blunt font and minimalist label, which appears entirely gender neutral. Brands such as Neurita (another that has a rosa variant in its range), have also subverted and thrown away the usual visual language associated with the category, that in contrast to what has come before also appears distinctly feminine in its neutrality. According to Lucy Smith, Co-Founder of Neurita, “the important point is that we have adopted a pink hue for our Rosa, based on taste and liquid quality, rather than specifically producing a liquid women will find ‘pretty’.
Championing female makers
Liquid quality is vital. As radical a switch in visual identity as this is, consumers are largely too savvy to be pandered to. The increasing and notable championing of female makers in this category then, offers credibility to this shift in identity. From Leyenda De Mexico, to Curamia and many more, the traditionally male-dominated production of tequila is giving way to 100% female-owned and operated brands, right down from the boardroom to the planting and harvesting of agave. It’s a profound change. So it’s perhaps no wonder then, this is being reflected in a shift in packaging design.
So what effect does this have on sales and for consumers? Overtly gendered products simply do not work. If they have in the past, those days are now gone. However, it could be argued that tequila has been late to the party in terms of softening the visual language it uses on its packaging. From gin to rum and even Scotch, most categories have diluted branding that used to lead on text heavy prestige to something a little softer, a little simpler and often, a little more pastel-hued in recent years, not to single anyone out, but to welcome more people in.
Fashions will shift again of course. But in the meantime, tequila’s more feminine approach to visual identity is far from being sexist. Instead, in fact, its arguably more neutral approach is a signal that everyone is welcome. And its working.
Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?
Please contact us at email@example.com or 0207 101 3939