Apr 5, 2024 - Business

New celebrity must-have: An alcohol brand

Illustration of a cocktail with a star-shaped lime, pearls, and a boa

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Kylie Jenner has a new vodka drink. So do Kate Upton, J.Lo and Jason Momoa. Dan Aykroyd already has a vodka brand, but just introduced ready-to-drink Cosmopolitans and espresso martinis.

Why it matters: In our star-soaked culture, it's not enough for a celebrity to have a cute pooch in their pocketbook — the accoutrement du jour is a signature brand of booze.

  • While the youngs have been turning away from alcohol and embracing faux booze, famous people and their social media accounts are making drinking stylish again.

Driving the news: From pretty cocktails in cute cans to manly spirits in hefty bottles, there's been an uncanny drumbeat of new alcohol products backed by boldface names.

  • The Kardashian/Jenner clan has the latest — Kylie's Sprinter vodka soda — which joins Kendall's 818 Tequila.
  • Tequila entrepreneurs include Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson and Eva Longoria.
  • Mezcal has attracted the likes of LeBron James, "Breaking Bad" actors Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston, and "Real Housewives" star Erin Lichy.
  • Whiskey drinker? Choose from products backed by Michael Bublé, Steph Curry, Matthew McConaughey, the Brothers Osborne, Liev Schreiber and Jason Aldean, to name a few.
Kylie Jenner drinks from a can.
Kylie Jenner has introduced a vodka soda in four fruit-juice flavors called Sprinter. Photo: Zhong Lin.

Between the lines: Being a celeb has its vicissitudes, so a steady revenue stream from the $564 billion global alcohol market can smooth out whatever shortfalls Botox doesn't fill.

What they're saying: "Alcohol is an image industry," says Donna Hood Crecca, who leads the adult beverage practice at Technomic, a food-and-drink consultancy.

  • "It's a very crowded market, that's for sure."

By the numbers: By one count, there were more than 350 celebrity-affiliated alcohol brands in late 2022, up from fewer than 40 in 2018.

  • Esquire has ranked 63 star-soaked liquor products, giving top nods to a bourbon from Peyton Manning and Andy Roddick, a Bolivian grape distillate from Steven Soderbergh and Ryan Reynolds' Aviation gin.
  • PEOPLE has a list of 72 products, from the usual suspects (Bethenny Frankel, Snoop Dogg, George Clooney and Rande Gerber) and numerous others (like Nick Jonas, 50 Cent and Ryan Seacrest).

Liquor stores have been publishing their own lists, the better to entice customers to buy celebrity brands.

  • Loved "The Vampire Diaries?" Maybe you'll enjoy sipping the "Brother's Bond," a bourbon backed by two of its hunky stars, Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley.
Two stars of "Vampire Diaries" stand holding bottles of their brand of bourbon.
Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder, who play on-screen brothers and describe themselves as off-screen besties, founded Brother's Bond bourbon. Here, they hoist it at a tony party in Aspen in January. Photo: Nick Tininenko/Getty Images for The Snow Lodge.

Where it stands: The popularity of food and drink on social media is clearly fueling the celebrity-backed alcohol craze.

  • "Social media is pretty huge for any kind of alcohol marketing," Hood Crecca says. "You think about Kylie Jenner — she can get the word out."

Friction point: Consumers may snap up products like Kylie's fruit-flavored Sprinter just to try them or look cool, but restaurant and bar owners are very picky about what they'll stock.

  • "The question they always have when they're presented with the new hot brand from the hot celebrity is, 'Was the liquid any good?'" Hood Crecca says. "Who's it going to appeal to?"

Zoom out: Overall, alcohol sales have been trending down, with consumers cutting back "as financial concerns grow and the cost-of-living crisis eats into their disposable incomes," per IWSR, which tracks the global alcoholic beverage market.

  • Beer and wine are on the outs — see ya later, spiked seltzer! — while spirits and "RTD" cocktails — ready-to-drink — are on an upswing.

Flashback: When Dan Aykroyd and artist John Alexander launched Crystal Head Vodka in 2008 — with its distinctive skull-shaped bottle — it was a watershed in celebrity-branded booze.

  • "That was one of the first ones that was recognized for being a unique and quality product," Hood Crecca said.

Yes, but: Celebrities have a habit of getting into trouble, potentially bringing down the corporate brands that quaff with them.

  • Just ask Diageo, the maker of Diddy-backed Ciroc vodka and DeLeón tequila, which parted ways with the rapper just before his latest troubles.
  • Other controversies have included booze brands from teetotaling celebs. (This one's for you, Blake Lively and your Betty Booze line.)

Fun fact: In the 1970s, President Jimmy Carter's black-sheep brother, Billy Carter, had a national brand of suds called Billy Beer.

The bottom line: Many of these brands are likely to be as ephemeral as the fame of the stars backing them.

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