First—with the exception of a couple of my kids who may tune in to see if their names get mentioned—we’re all adults here, so let’s suffer no fools and yank no chains: We all know how the merry mass-mockery of marketing works.
When you see ‘Escort Service’ in an ad, you think ‘hooker’; when you see ‘Thai Massage’ on a billboard you think ‘hooker’; when you see ‘safety, discretion and confidentiality’ in an ‘in-call specials’ cut on the back of Metro Times you think ‘hooker with an AIDS test’ and when you see a wealthy old cock-o’-the-walk with a trophy wife you think ‘hooker willing to work for Armani Privé couture instead of cash’.
That’s just the way the game is played. craigslist, for example, is not allowed to promote prostitution, but what do you wanna bet we can track a few down skulking among the listing weeds?
Booze, where competition through advertising instead of price is the preferred strategy, is hardly exempt from such subliminal doublespeak. And why should it be? If I fall for ‘brand capital’—the collective positive association that people have for a specific product—and think that Coors beer will convert my drunken old body to an energy pattern and beam it to Telluride with a 20-year-old ski instructor, or that with another snort of Bacardi I will find my arms between the thighs of prime feminine real estate, that’s my problem.
Still, my problem is not the problem.
Over time, of course, brand capital depreciates. Look at the bourbon ad to the right and tell me if your current bucket list includes becoming an obese plantation owner being served by a shuckin’, jivin’, gape-jawed skivvy. So, the Great White sharks of Madison Avenue, who need to keep moving forward in order to survive, are constantly on the look-out new ways to segment markets, new images to create ‘personality’ for a brand (and hence, the brand user) and—perhaps most aggressively—new designer drinks that can be sweet-talked down gullible gullets and thirsty throats, especially, those of younger drinkers.
Why younger drinkers, who likely have less disposable income than their parents? Because, like cigarettes, the younger you can hook a potential junkie with a caché flavor, symbol or promised personality reinvention, the sooner you can reel them in and ice them. Thus, in the future, the less ‘individualized’ advertising expenditure said junkie will require.
In other words, brand loyalty is formed very early in a drinker’s consumption cycle, and if you’re able to tattoo ‘Budweiser’ on his/her wrist like a concentration camp victim’s while they are still in the blush of youth, you have them for life.
That’s the goal of successful marketers, and anyone who disagrees should call my suspension bridge broker for the latest listings.
Denial is Futile: Own It, Translation Advertising (Anheuser-Busch’s Agency)
So—like the ‘One-hour therapeutic massage by Oriental twins Cinnamon and Serenity’ found in the ‘services’ section of craigslist, where amenities are available for a nudge and a wink—colorful packaging and splashy alcohol campaigns suggest to young people that they can tap into a fantasy lifestyle for a minimal outlay of cash. Use of well-informed, precisely-targeted, youth-centered advertising vehicles like e-marketing, online ads, cable tv, even brick-and-mortar theme pubs and club bars, make sure that the message is hand-delivered to the young consumer.
And how young is young? Consider this staggering stat:
11% of the alcohol in the United States is consumed by underage drinkers.
Even if the ads are ‘designed’ for legal drinkers (another nudge and wink), the idea that adolescents are not responding with the identical Pavlovian goose-step is criminally stupid.
Hitting Cîroc Bottom
One of the latest groupie growlers to enliven the teenage night life is Cîroc, a fake ‘vodka’ that is essentially unaged brandy distilled from mediocre ugni blanc and mauzac blanc grapes from Gaillac and often blended with fake Skittles-ish flavors like berry and coconut which dilute it to a mother-approved 35% alcohol.
Such grape-based spirits have drawn the ire of European Vodka Belt countries (Poland, Finland, Lithuania, and Sweden) who petitioned the EU Parliament to categorize vodka’s standard-of-identity as being ‘made from grain or potatoes’ only. As a wuss-wipe concession, since 2007, ‘grape vodka’ is required to state those words on the label, which is, of course, as absurd and confusing as ‘grape Scotch’.
Anyway, the same year that the Europarl was gacking down grape Koolaid, P. Diddy—our favorite pistol-packing, swagger-swinking, stampede-stimulating entrepreneur, who rose from from the gutters of Harlem to the glitter of Fifth Avenue—signed one of his numberless names (Sean Combes, Puff Daddy, Diddy, P. Diddy, Peckerhead Diddy) to a ‘groundbreaking strategic alliance’ with Diageo to oversee and manage all branding and marketing initiatives for then-struggling Cîroc.
For his contribution of name recognition and street cred, Penischnitzel Diddy would receive from Diageo a 50-50 profit split. It promised to be a move of Mephistophelean genius, because, as Pricktard Diddy modestly reminds us,
‘I’m not just a celebrity endorser, I’m a brand builder. I’m a luxury brand builder…’
At fifty dollars a fifth, Cîroc—now the second best-selling ultra-premium vodka in the world—has undeniably found its niche among a hopper generation without much interest in the company’s touted ‘four distillations in column stills and a fifth in a traditional Armagnac-style copper pot still’, but rather in the fact that that five distillations produce a product so smooth that you can do shot after shot after shot as easily as slamming Nantucket Kiwi-Berry Nectar.
With a slightly different end game.
In 2011, Diageo Brand Ambassador, again re-naming himself (this time, ‘Cîroc Obama’), Pusswad Diddy introduced Cîroc Peach to his mesmerized minions of mostly minors, and it wound up being the most successful North American Diageo product launch ever. With his endorsement, Cîroc sales leaped from 40,000 cases pre-Diddy to a current high of 2.1 million cases of Cîroc sold as of December, 2012.
Of course! Ads for the product are offering an unspoken, unwritten and undeniable covenant:
Drink me and you will become like Sean Combes, whose drug-dealing father was shot to death outside the public housing project where Sean grew up and who is now worth (according to Forbes) $550 million.
However… consider the precise demographic that a guarantee of gangsta credibility appeals to. I mean, not many gangs are recruiting new members among twenty or thirty-somethings, are they?
And—in no small measure the result of such an in-your-face media blitzkrieg—the sugary, sweet-tooth, childlike drink with grown-up consequences has been an unprecedented market success; my local liquor store tells me that they are selling a case per day.
P. Dickcheese, according the Cîroc website, ‘…has heavily contributed to make this brand a household name…’
He Has Certainly Succeeded In This Household
On Friday night, my fourteen-year-old daughter Julia and a couple of her airheaded, if A-student friends, got ahold of a bottle of Cîroc Peach from one of their equally brain-dysfunctional ninth-grade buddies and proceeded to down the entire thing in the course of an hour.
The parents at home in the house where this took place were apparently as clueless as me, and by the time I even suspected anything was up, Julia was pretty much puked-out and passed-out.
She’s fine, which I am sure will help Mr. Diddy slip a bit more effortlessly into Slumberland tonight considering that it could have been worse: According to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, around five thousand minors die from alcohol-related issues each year (several hundred from overdose), and every day, approximately 13,000 unentitled drinkers between the ages 12 and 20 take their first drink anyway.
Do I blame P. Diddy? Or the fact that 48% of rap tunes mention the glories of alcohol? Or the fat old bald white fucks running Diageo who couldn’t care less about my daughter so long as their bottom line remains solid? Or the absurd ‘Downplay Reality’ tab on the Cîroc website (actually titled ‘The Century Council’) that goes to shamefully and seriously ludicrous lengths to show that teenage drinking is on the dramatic decline?
Or do I blame myself, earning a living spouting a very lax and lenient attitude toward alcohol while making endless jokes about the subject of overdoing it—of which Julia is doubtlessly aware?
Obviously much more the latter than the series of formers. Which for me is drink—if not food—for thought.
And which, in the meantime, leaves me between Cîroc and a hard place.