Me Gwyneth Paltrow, it’s my own fault. The actor-turned-entrepreneur may not have been the first celebrity to launch a business empire, but Goop’s rise seems to have coincided with a craze for side hustle among the glamorous. Entertainers aren’t content with just entertainment, they’re also business moguls. Lil Nas X has a skincare line. Selena Gomez has a makeup brand. Jessica Alba has a baby products company. Kim Kardashian sells performance underwear.
Skincare has become a celebrity’s go-to business, but perhaps their biggest complaint is still booze. By one calculation, there were fewer than 40 celebrity-affiliated liquor brands in 2018. There are now reportedly over 350 of them. I can’t list them all, but Graham Norton has shillings, Chainsmokers (remember?) has tequila, Jamie Foxx has bourbon, and Cameron Diaz has wine. Launched a vegan-friendly ‘clean’ wine brand. (And thank God for that, right? I was really sick of all those meaty wines.)
Even Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is rumored to be releasing a bourbon called Conspiracy, of course. Even if there were signs that celebrity liquor brand trends were officially spiraling out of control.
Want to know why celebrities are so into the alcohol industry? As someone who’s worked with some of the biggest celebrity spirit brands in the advertising age, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Liquor he is 10% ethanol and 90% marketing.Do you think the taste of alcohol is refined? Think you know what you like? No, you’ve just been sold well. You have been successfully manipulated.
Vodka is a prime example. I always find it funny when people claim to have their favorite vodka. In fact, until 2020, the official U.S. government definition of vodka was “having no distinctive character, odor, taste, or color.” That definition has now changed to allow for vodka to have characteristics, but I would argue that there are very few differences between brands.
In fact, the Planet Money podcast once sent three samples of vodka (Grey Goose, a homemade version, and a very cheap variety) to a lab for analysis. Labs said they are all basically the same, but that the cheapest version is probably the best because it contains slightly less allergy-causing compounds.
By the way, Gray Goose is a great case study on how marketing shapes your tastes. In 1996, in Sydney, a heavy drinker and branding genius called Frank (it is to him that the Jagermeister shot became popular) decided to invent a new vodka. How is he going to take market share away from Absolut, which was the biggest brand on the market at the time? He got it from France because he associates luxury with France. They sourced delicious vodka, but the reason Gray Goose became “it” vodka for a while was mainly because it was so expensive.
Maybe you are a wine drinker. You may consider yourself too sophisticated to be influenced by labels and price tags. That may be so, but research shows that the average drinker can’t really tell the difference between a cheap pom pom and a fancy one. And guess what? When someone says the wine they’re drinking is expensive, they tend to enjoy it more.
For example, a 2008 study found that how people enjoy wine is influenced by their perception of wine prices. Drinking wine, which was said to be expensive, actually increased activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with pleasure, in the study participants. The study “provides evidence for the ability of marketing efforts to modulate the neural correlates of experienced comfort and the mechanisms by which that effect operates.” This means, “We are all sheep who need to be told what we like by marketers and price tags.”
By the way, I’m not saying this to offend vodka lovers or wine lovers. If you’re like me and are looking for motivation to have a dry January in 2023 or cut back on booze, let this be a lesson for you (and me). Your drink of choice isn’t always determined by your taste buds. The advertising industry has a lot to do with it. cheers!