Celebrity endorsements come about in all sorts of ways. Some brands create ad campaigns featuring well-known personalities, while others reap the rewards of celebrity mentions via traditional or social media and other channels. And the benefits of these associations far outweigh the potential cons (at least most of the time—none of us can accurately predict who might be “called out” for bad behavior or overexposure next).

Celebrities often help people remember a brand’s message and can open up awareness to a wider audience. One recent example is Stoli being named the official vodka partner of the movie Red Sparrow, released in February and starring Jennifer Lawrence; signature Stoli cocktails were offered at select theaters during the film’s premiere. Other popular campaigns include Heineken’s featuring actor Benicio del Toro, who pokes fun at himself when so-called “fans” commonly mistake him for someone else, and Sir Patrick Stewart‘s bombastic turn for Strongbow Hard Cider.

Whatever the method employed, introducing consumers to a brand with the help of a celebrity can add a sense of fun, adventure, and even intrigue.

Campari’s “BitterSweet” campaign featured actor Kate Hudson [Photo courtesy Campari USA]

Every Cocktail Tells a Story

Campari was first created in 1860 by Gaspare Campari in Novara, Italy—and his recipe for the iconic, bittersweet aperitif has remained a secret ever since. The brand’s connection with the world of art began in the 1920s, when cocktails such as the Americano and the Negroni became instant classics, and artists including Leonetto Cappiello created brand-related images that are still collected today. The company’s collaboration with famous actors and directors began in the 1970s. In 1985, Italian director Federico Fellini directed his first short film commercial about Campari for the Italian market. The brand, which is distributed in 190 countries, has since created enticing advertising campaigns featuring famous faces, including its yearly Campari Calendar, each with its own theme and a celebrity to bring it to life (Kate Hudson, Eva Green, and Uma Thurman are a few examples).

In 2017, Campari announced its Red Diaries campaign, a holistic revolution from its well-known calendars. The Red Diaries is a series of short films (there are two so far, each running about 15 minutes) that are available on its YouTube and social media channels. The series expresses a rich sense of history combined with an air of mystery and suspense. The first installment, written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino and starring Clive Owen, is titled Killer in Red. The overall series theme, “every cocktail tells a story,” celebrates cocktails as a vehicle for expression,, shining a light on the inspirations of influencer bartenders and their craft. When he meets the Lady in Red (played by Caroline Tillette), he soon realizes there’s more to her than meets the eye.

“While Campari has long been a source of inspiration for cocktails, we hadn’t yet had the chance to celebrate cocktail creation as an art form. Our Red Diaries series encapsulates both the creations of top bartenders as well as a cinematic tale. It uses film to not only tell an incredible story behind the world’s best cocktails, but also shine a light on the everyday artistry of bartenders,” says Richard Black, vice president, marketing, vodka and cordials, Campari America.

“Red Diaries is targeted to adult cocktail lovers who are interested in new experiences and are passionate about learning, especially when it comes to art and culture. It’s meant to reach those who want to explore what makes an incredible cocktail, both in ingredients and the experience surrounding a well-made drink,” he continues.

In the second installment, titled The Legend of Red Hand, director Stefano Sollima follows Zoe Saldana’s character, “Mia,” as she travels the world to discover six of the world’s best bartenders on a quest to uncover the figure of Red Hand, the craftsman behind the best Campari cocktails.

Black notes the series has been well received; at press time, Killer in Red had 1.1 million views, with The Legend of Red Hand not far behind at nearly 800,000.

“At the root of Campari Red Diaries, there’s a rich sense of history, storytelling, and inspiration. This, mixed with the mystery/thriller genre, lets us take viewers on a journey,” says Black.

“Working with celebrities can be a powerful element that helps brands amplify their storytelling. The catch is that the connection needs to feel—and be—authentic, or it won’t resonate with the audience. Consumers are constantly talking about the need for transparency. We’re always very careful when we select our celebrity partners. We want them to embody the same values of the brand.”


This Calls for Tequila!

You might not recognize Jonathan Goldsmith’s name, but you’d definitely recognize his face. He’s best known for his long-standing role as “The Most Interesting Man in the World” for Dos Equis and, as such, is the second-most “memed” person in history. These days, however, he prefers tequila.

Actor Jonathan Goldsmith brought his popular “Most Interesting Man Alive” character to Astral tequila more than a decade ago. [Photo courtesy Astral Tequila]

Master Sommelier Richard Betts founded Astral Tequila in 2005, intent on creating tequila that expresses its true heritage. Having grown up in the Southwest, he was always a fan of tequila, but as he discovered more about it, he was saddened to learn how most of it is made. He researched how it was originally made in Mexico, and set out to use traditional processes to create a bold, authentic, agave-forward flavor. Everything is considered, from where and how the tequila is grown (organically, on hillsides), how it’s fermented (with the solids, which takes eight to 10 times longer than when the solids are discarded) and what the perfect proof is (turns out to be 92; most tequilas are 80 proof). The results have been embraced among critics, enthusiasts, and the public. Making sure it was easy to find was the next step.

“We knew we had great liquid, but we needed serious marketing muscle,” says Joen Choe, vice president of marketing for Davos Brands. It was time to bring in someone who could raise brand awareness.

“Jonathan and Richard were introduced by a mutual friend,” continues Choe. “When they realized they shared a passion for the environment, the bond strengthened.

“At Astral, we see the tequila as a product of Mexican heritage, and we want to honor that in every way: How it’s made, how the workers are treated and paid, and why all that makes tequila special in the first place.

“We’ve grown distribution for the past six months, and Jonathan was instrumental,” says Choe. “He’s been the face of the brand. He traveled with us to 60 different stops; we were at every major top tequila account in the country and he was guest bartending. Sometimes, people seated at a table and ordering tequila would be told by the waiter, ‘I suggest making that more interesting,’ and then Jonathan would come out with models and paparazzi and serve them.”

Once distribution was set into place, Astral launched a national advertising campaign via television, social media, and digital channels, which began in January and will run through June. “We shot 10 different spots with Jonathan, celebrating different moments where he gets news from his assistant/butler and then proclaims, ‘This calls for tequila!’” Examples include the assistant bringing in a signed copy of the Bible, or proclaiming Jonathan’s pet shark has been found—and yes, the most interesting man in the world’s persona is embraced with these efforts. It’s also why the brand’s message takes on an air of enjoying oneself.

“Tequila is something that helps kick off a celebration or special occasion,” says Choe. “It’s a serious product, but being serious doesn’t fit in with how most people enjoy it.” He also says the company is excited about how Goldsmith’s participation has been received. “I was surprised by the diversity of people who love Jonathan,” he says. “All ages and nationalities—and it helps that, as famous as he is, it’s the character he played that’s so popular.”

Goldsmith has enjoyed his involvement with the brand so much that he’s now a part owner and key stakeholder. “It’s very collaborative, and that’s what makes it special,” says Choe.

“When you work with celebrities,” he continues, “the greatest fear is they’ll do something people don’t like. Jonathan is actually a really nice, cool guy.”


Building Relationships

Established in Sonoma County in 1972, Jordan Vineyard & Winery is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. In 2017, it added Jordan Cuvée by Champagne AR Lenoble to its repertoire. Throughout the years, its marketing efforts have been well received—and shared largely by word of mouth and personal connections.

Jordan winery owner John Jordan built a relationship with football Hall of Famer Troy Aikman based on the former quarterback’s daughter, Jordan. [Photo courtesy Jordan Vineyards & Winery]

When it comes to celebrity endorsements, the winery’s kudos arrived in a similar manner. From the beginning, the Jordan family has held dinner parties at its chateau in Healdsburg, Calif., hosting top chefs, journalists, celebrities, and socialites. Over the years, guests have included Lee Majors, Liza Minelli, Wolfgang Puck, and many more. In the early 1980s, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn rode bicycles up the winery’s long driveway—way before there was a tasting room—and happened upon Winemaker Rob Davis, who ended up giving them a private tour.

It’s these types of personal connections that make all the difference, especially before the emergence of social media. “Social media has let us discover what people are saying more easily,” says Lisa Mattson, director of marketing and communications at Jordan. “We aren’t a big company, so we don’t have the budget for celebrity endorsements. We just pay attention to who’s talking about us,” she adds. “We also reach out to celebrities who share our name.”

For example, when New Orleans Saints defensive end Cam Jordan promised to send long-time rival Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers quarterback, a bottle of wine as a mocking thank-you after the Saints defeated the Panthers in a three-game sweep, the folks at Jordan took note. “John [Jordan] and Cam [Jordan] messaged, and we shipped him the bottle to send,” says Mattson. “We received hundreds of press clips when that happened. The Chicago Tribune and ESPN did feature stories about it.”

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and Hall of Famer Troy Aikman is also a fan. “He has a daughter named Jordan,” says Mattson, “so we invited him out for a harvest lunch a couple years ago, prior to a broadcast he was doing in San Francisco. He sat across from Bob Highfill, former sports editor for The Record [Stockton, Calif.], who now does marketing and communications for the Lodi Wine Commission. Both were certainly happy about the seating arrangement. I remember [Highfill] saying: ‘What are the odds?!’”

Another high-profile mention came in an article Meghan Markle wrote for Today.com, in which she listed some of her favorite foods and beverages—Jordan Cabernet among them. At press time, the winery was putting together a special gift for the Suits star and her fiancé, Prince Harry.

Jordan Wine has been featured on episodes of Cougar Town, Big Band Theory, and other popular shows. [Image courtesy of Jordan Vineyards & Winery]

Musicians are also fans of the winery, including members of Weezer and Train. “Jimmy Stafford, Drew Shoals, and Hector Maldonado [all members of Train] came to the winery’s 40th anniversary party in Los Angeles,” remembers Mattson. “That was really cool, they’re awesome guys.”

You’ve also likely seen Jordan’s wines on some of your favorite television shows, including The Big Bang Theory and Cougar Town, among others. “We have a long friendship with someone who has helped get Jordan on television shows and in movies,” says Mattson. “It isn’t a product placement company; we don’t pay cash for exposure. It’s all relationship-driven. It’s been great for us and lets a small business like ours have access to things we otherwise couldn’t.”


The Right Move

Whether you’re a small business looking to achieve brand recognition, or a large producer seeking to stand out among the rest, it’s important to consider what star power can do for your company.

Choose wisely, my friend.