Liquid Thinking

What a Terrible Idea

Is any idea a good idea?

6th September 2023

When Halewood Artisanal Spirits announced recently that its rum brand, Dead Man’s Fingers has partnered with fast food giant, KFC to produce a liquid that uses the Colonels secret blend of 11 herbs and spices, people had questions. In fact, the internet got very chatty, very quickly. News of the herbed and spiced rum from the decidedly unlikely pairing lit up social media and news sites alike. And a similar question kept popping up; this can’t be any good, right? In a world where getting people talking about you matters most for brands, we ask, is any idea a bad idea?

Electricity flavoured vodka. Chicken and waffle flavour syrup. Bacon bourbon. Smoked salmon vodka. This may sound like a line-up of the worst forfeit shots ever at an out-of-hand student party, but they’re all real products. Weird sells. So it wasn’t that much out of pocket for Dead Man’s Fingers – the brand that has previously brought us Hemp Rum – to launch a fast-food flavoured tipple.

The ‘herbed and spiced’ rum in question uses KFC’s secret blend usually used to season its chicken. And of course, though they won’t say what that blend actually is (such a tease), we can say that we know it to include both white and black pepper.

Finger licking cocktails?

To let Dead Man’s Fingers tell it, it’s “Kentucky zing meets Cornish soul”. A chattier KFC spokesperson added: “Although the Colonel’s recipe remains a secret, we can reveal it has the perfect balance of our herbs and spices including black and white pepper, together with the freshly fried goodness of our golden breading that makes our chicken taste so damn good. Infused with the unmistakeable notes of Dead Man’s Fingers spiced rum, the new tipple also has whispers of creamy caramel, vanilla, treacle toffee and nutmeg.”

Now, getting the whole mental picture of a chicken drumstick floating around in a bottle of rum, out of our head, the herb-spice blend doesn’t actually sound too bad. Sure, they’ll be a couple of things that don’t sound optimum in there, but there’s a lot of the regular ingredients you’d find in a plethora of decent spiced rums already. However, what both brands are banking on, is a mildly outraged curiosity. And they got it.

Mildly outraged curiosity

Though many media outlets from national newspapers, to global news titles picked up the story, for some reason Kent Live went hard on it, tweeting furiously about one of their writers attending the Margate pop-up for the brand; ‘Kentucky Fried Cocktail anyone?’. Consumers lit X (I mean, it’ll always be Twitter) up with curiosity and mild disgust, with comments ranging from “Can’t believe I just ordered this”, to “You have to be on something to wake up in the morning and say, ‘I know what we need to mix our rum with….KFC!’”

Regardless of how many people actually buy the product – and there will be many who do just once, out of curiosity – the brand have got people talking. And that’s the point. We all know from one glance at the product, that it is first and foremost intended not as a serious sipper, but as a blatant publicity device. And that’s okay.

Strategic partnerships

It follows in the footsteps of a tonne of recent partnerships between food brands and drinks brands that have led to unlikely launches, and marriages of our favourite snacks, and preferred drinks to accompany them. Most recently Pernod Ricard and its vodka brand Absolut partnered with sauce brand Heinz on a tomato vodka pasta sauce. I mean, vodka in pasta is already a thing, so though the resulting product is not that bizarre, the partnership is. Last year Camden Town brewery teamed up with love it or hate it yeast demon Marmite, to flavour its beer. And in the US, where e-numbers rule supreme perhaps the most overt of this trend of food and drink collabs was the partnership between Mountain Dew and popular snack, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. They birthed, yes, Mtn Dew Flamin' Hot Soda. Yum. No, we’ll say it… gross. But it had a job to do, and it did it well; the partnership even spawned streetwear inspired by the resulting packaging aesthetics, from Broken Promises.

For these kind of partnerships, gross doesn’t really matter. Hype, and an overlap in target consumer groups does. Even if the product tastes awful – and we actually think there’s a good chance this new rum will actually be quite nice – this partnership, this marriage of booze and the munchies, has captured the attention of vast swathes of potential new consumers for the brand. Because, even if the resulting products don’t, the partnerships feel natural. They are pairings people are making in their own homes, they’re brands that attract similar consumers.

In fact, if you drew a Venn diagram of KFC munchers with those that like a ‘cheeky’ little drink of a weekend – and preferably something packaged in either a neon or metallic bottle – Dead Man’s Fingers has basically just scooped up all of those in the middle. And that’s a job well done.

So when it comes to flavours, when it comes to oddball, zany and unexpected partnerships, it’s a case of the weirder the better… as long as the partnership between the brands makes sense. Odd flavour partnerships are just a lasso to scoop new consumers up with. What you do with them once you’ve caught them, is what matters.

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

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