The Mega Marketing of a Brand Part II – Jose Cuervo Is A Friend of Mine

Originally published on TequilaAficionado.com Dec 3, 2006

tequila aficionado vault, jose cuervo

 

 

In a relationship that the Animal Planet calls symbiotic–like the small fish feeding on scraps from a shark’s jaws, or birds picking the bugs off a hippo’s butt–Cuervo has benefited nicely over the years by partnering with major restaurant chains all over the US. They have single-handedly influenced thousands of tequila drinkers.

 

The Lonely Bull

In an informative article in the Los Angeles Daily News last December, Staff Writer Brent Hopkins recounted the humble beginnings of one of the oldest Mexican food restaurant chains in Southern California.

el torito, jose cuervoEl Torito--which also celebrated its golden anniversary in December 2004–was the brain-child of ex-fighter pilot Larry Cano, whom Brent describes as having “…a few recipes and knowledge of an exotic sounding foreign drink known as tequila….”

In the late ’70’s and early ’80’s, it was the ultimate place to eat, drink, and party. I’ll admit, I was among those who enjoyed traditional Mexican food with more than one margarita and a round of shots.

According to the article, El Torito grew into an international powerhouse with restaurants as far away as Turkey and Abu Dhabi. After many changes in ownership, it has been streamlined to a manageable 69 locations.

Through it all, Jose Cuervo was there.

El Torito has now begun to focus on its cuisine, but one look at the menu–which we’ll do shortly–tells you that that’s not the only thing management is emphasizing.

In a relationship that the Animal Planet calls symbiotic–like the small fish feeding on scraps from a shark’s jaws, or birds picking the bugs off a hippo’s butt–Cuervo has benefited nicely over the years by partnering with major restaurant chains all over the US. They have single-handedly influenced thousands of tequila drinkers.

Where other tequila houses like El Tesoro de Don Felipe and Cazadores visit bars and restaurants around the country, Cuervo’s version of a grass roots campaign is a little bit different.

 

 

The Good Ol’ Days

In Part I, I promised a glimpse at Cuervo’s La Rojeña distillery, but first, more about me….

LaRojena1I had just moved to New Mexico from Southern California. My first job was in Customer Service with one of the largest paper, food, and chemical distributors in the state. Starting at the bottom, I figured the quickest way to becoming a darling of the company–a route salesman–was getting to know the old dogs.

Before my arrival to this company, one other product that it sold was liquor. When the family-owned operation sold out, half the sales force morphed into one of the two major liquor distributors in New Mexico. Those that stayed with the food and chemical division longed for the good ol’ days.

At one of the quarterly meetings’ mandatory dinners, 25 raucous salesmen (and a few of us from Customer Service) ran up a $3000 bar bill on the company’s credit card! During a round of Cuervo Gold shots is where I heard it first.

“This reminds me of the time at Jose Cuervo,” said one salesman.

“What a party that was!” agreed another.

Simultaneously, they described the beauty of the facilities, the grounds, and the tequila at Jose Cuervo’s La Rojeña distillery.

7079The hospitality at these Cuervo “education” junkets is legendary. Mariachis, food, and all the tequila you can drink. Not to mention a generous spiff to each salesman for every caseload sold, or every new account acquired.

“We used to send two delivery trucks a week to every territory,” lamented another salesman. “One with food, and the other full of booze!”

Ah, the good ol’ days!

Many tequila distilleries graciously open their doors to tequila aficionados. CorralejoLa Cofradia (Casa Noble), and Herradura’s Tequila Express, a train that takes turistas to their distillery, to name just a few. But no one does it better–or did it first–than Jose Cuervo.

From Applebee’s (The Perfect Margarita made with 1800), to here in Albuquerque, New Mexico with the Garduños chain of Mexican restaurants (with locations in Arizona and Las Vegas, too), to the popular El Torito. Wherever you live, in every major or minor market in America, there is sure to be a restaurant chain–or liquor supplier to that restaurant chain–that has fallen under the spell of La Rojeña.

 

The Secret to Jose Cuervo’s Success

jose cuervo, brandsTo understand how deeply Jose Cuervo is entrenched in El Torito’s menu, you have to be aware of the “rules of engagement.” It’s called “the three tier system,” and it’s the key to the final segment of this series, so heads-up!

In order for a tequila producer–or any spirits producer, for that matter–to get his product to the US, he has to use an importer (Tier One). This importer is in charge of spreading the word to as many spirits distributors–state and national–as possible (Tier Two). Once distribution is secured, their sales forces are responsible for getting the product to their consumers–every bar and restaurant they service (Tier Three).

Here’s the secret to Jose Cuervo’s success…

Like a computer virus, Cuervo can be found everywhere along these three tiers. At one time or another, every importer, distributor, and chain of bars or restaurants has been invited to enjoy the pleasures of tequila at La Rojeña.

Unfortunately, unlike wines, spirits, by US law, cannot be sold directly to the end user (you and me) by the producer. Let’s drown our sorrows over that one, shall we…?

 

El Torito–Auténtico!

On every table is a simple, hand-sized brown three ring binder. A painting of a jimador harvesting a blue agave–that looks coincidentally like a well-known photo taken at one of the Cuervo agave fields–shares the cover with the El Torito logo, a lonely bull, and the word auténtico. Desserts and drinks in one little package, all made with Jose Cuervo products.

There’s the classic Cadillac Margarita with a side of Grand Marnier. You can order this signature drink in different colors like Green (Midori Melon), Pink (cranberry juice), and Red (Rémy Red).

The Blue Mesa Margarita with 1800 and Blue Curacao. The Real Mex Margarita with Tradicional. And a series of popular tequinis with names like Buenas Noches and Agave Tequini.

To be fair, El Torito serves other very respectable blanco, reposado and añejo tequilas like…

Sauza Tres GeneracionesDon EduardoChinacoCorralejoHerraduraCazadores…and Quita Penas. Along with the Cuervo standard bearers, Gran CentenarioReserva de La Familia, and even Don Julio (suspiciously missing from Cuervo’s Taberna del Tequila menu in the previous segment).

You can even wash down your dinner, drinks and dessert with a cup of Mexican coffee made with Tradicional and Kahlúa.

Each of the signature drinks is very reasonably priced from just over $5 to a bit under $7. Shots range from $5.25 to $10.50.

Although their menu tries to give equal time to other tequilas, when you check the bar, there’s no mistaking who’s on display…

Jose Cuervo!

In the final segment, I’ll take a look at where the marketing future of Jose Cuervo is headed. Here’s a hint…

You’ll be surprised to learn that it has nothing to do with tequila! Instead, it’s slick, high-tech, and chances are good that you already own one. And with it, Cuervo conquers the mystery of the missing “fourth tier.”

 

logo1By Mike Morales, Co-Organizer
New Mexico International Tequila Experience™
Southwest Tequila Association

New Mexico International Tequila Experience™

Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!

The Mega Marketing of a Brand Part I – On the Road With Jose Cuervo

Originally published on TequilaAficionado.com Nov 30, 2006

tequila aficionado, vault, Jose Cuervo

 

 

What better place to introduce your products but in your own place?

What better audience to introduce your products to, but to a sequestered one?

Maybe there was something to this mega-marketing to travelers with long layovers?

What’s The Price of Hornitos Got to do With This?

It was the beginning of my vacation, a sweltering Friday afternoon, and the start of the monsoon season in Albuquerque. I had to fly to Southern California, with a three-hour layover in Phoenix. I hate to fly in rainy weather. The forecast for Sky Harbor was even more harrowing. Thunderstorms–and guaranteed turbulence.

Arriving on time at Albuquerque’s International Sunport, and surviving the annoying airport security routine–removing my tennis shoes, emptying my pockets, and then putting myself back together (I swear, one day airports will just have dressing rooms!)–I had an hour to spare before my flight. I had earned a shot of tequila.

After all, I was going back to visit my folks for their 47th wedding anniversary, and we all know what it’s like to visit family!

Sidling up to Winners Sports Bar on the A Concourse, I discovered the tequila choices were pitifully poor–Sauza Hornitos, or Jose Cuervo Especial–and so was the choice of seats. Forced to sit next to a young couple that had obviously just met, I swallowed hard and ordered a shot of Sauza Hornitos. Not the most preferred, but it’s still 100% de agave.

Ordinarily, I order my shots in a snifter. I had to settle for a rocks glass, and icy stares from the couple next to me who were drinking micro-brewed beers. Seems every time the uninitiated catch me ordering tequila, they watch to make sure that I won’t go postal. It’s almost as if their fuzzy memories of toga parties with Jose Cuervo Especial seep back into their consciousness and are projected onto me.

Or maybe, those are just my memories of Jose Cuervo.

After spending a half hour on my cell phone explaining to my mother when my flight would arrive at LAX, I ordered another Hornitos to calm my nerves, and the bill.

“Eight dollars?” I shuddered. “For Hornitos?” I shook my head. Everywhere else in Albuquerque, better quality tequilas are priced much lower.

What’s the price of Hornitos go to do with this? Follow me to Sky Harbor….

Release Your Inner Lizard!

taberna del tequila, Jose CuervoAfter a one hour white knuckled flight from Albuquerque to Phoenix due to the predicted monsoon turbulence, and the absence of both complimentary sodas and snacks, I was ready for three hours of serenity with some food on the side.

I lugged my carry-ons and zeroed in on the closest fast food joints. Chinese food, pizza, sandwiches, fried chicken–none appealed to me. From the empty looks of these places, they didn’t appeal to anyone. Then, I heard the music.

Loud, pulsating music blasted from what I thought was the only nightclub in an airport in existence, the Taberna del Tequila. “Catchy name,” I smiled. It wasn’t until I was deep inside the Taberna that I realized where I was.

Jose Cuervo, that behemoth of tequila companies, has taken their marketing to the next level.

cuervo nation, Jose CuervoFirst, they purchased an island and called it Cuervo Nation with Anna Nicole Smith as its Ambassador. In the last couple of years, in partnership with HMSHost Food and Beverage company, they have systematically opened their own chain of restaurant-tequila bars in several airports across the country. McCarran International Airport in Las VegasSeattle-TacomaDetroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, among others, and Sky Harbor in Phoenix.

A meat market with a nightclub mentality, the only thing missing was a dance floor. Every table was occupied, and any available space at the bar was at a premium. The bar looked like a stage in a black velvet Elvis portrait from Tijuana, but there was no mistaking the star of the show–Jose Cuervo.

The back of the bar was black, with neon painted limes, saltshakers and shot glasses. The bar itself, surrounded by smokers, was lacquered with overlapping tequila labels from one end to the other. On either side, giant display bottles of Reserva de La Familia and Gran Centenario blanco were elegantly displayed on shelves with empties of 1800 AñejoTradicional, and Agavero. Behind the bar, a four-paneled big screen television was showing a Diamondbacks’ home game.

On the walls, made to look like crumbling adobe church walls (like drinking at the Alamo!), were murals of their logos, from 1800 to Especial. On the far wall, spotlighted and larger than life, was the Gran Centenario angel. I quickly grabbed a waitress and ordered a reposado, no lime, no salt, in a snifter.

This time, I got the snifter!

What better place to introduce your products but in your own place? What better audience to introduce your products to, but to a sequestered one? Maybe there was something to this mega-marketing to travelers with long layovers?

Idonthavethemoneyoneme“Show off!” said a buxom blond in her thirties. She sat at a nearby table with a younger man. Both had just met.

Behind them above the bar and the big screen TV, in large neon letters, was painted the slogan, “Release Your Inner Lizard.” Securing a corner of their table, I dropped my carry-ons and proceeded to make friends.

There’s something surreal about having a conversation with people who are ahead of you in the buzz department, particularly those who are traveling. I felt I was in the intergalactic cantina from Star Wars with aliens who had had too much to drink.

“So what do you do?” she slurred.

“I’m Han Solo,” I replied. “Captain of the Millennium Falcon. And you?”

(The kid next to her got it!)

Just then, the waitress brought me the bill. Ten dollars for a Gran Centenario reposado. Considering I had paid eight dollars in Albuquerque for a lesser quality tequila, the Taberna’s prices were more in line.

Life was good!

 

All Work & No Play is Totally Missing The Point!

So exclaimed the Taberna del Tequila’s menu.

Graced with a colorful collage of photos of mariachis and jimadores on the cover–presumably all taken at Cuervo’s La Rojeña distillery which we’ll discuss later on–the first half of the menu is conveniently designed without prices for any of their signature drinks, such as…

The Millionaire Margarita made with Gran Centenario reposado…The Striped Guavarita…and the classic Golden Popper made with Cuervo Gold, touted as the official initiation to the Cuervo Nation. (Anna Nicole, grab my toga!)

On the back cover were the credits to this Jose Cuervo Traveling Road Show. Tequileria Favorites describes each of this producer’s featured players, from Gran Centenario Añejo to Agavero.

Realizing I was hungry, and that Cuervo doesn’t cook, the remainder of the menu is taken over by The Blue Burrito Grill. They lease the kitchen and supply tasty Mexican food at reasonable prices.

 

Amigos Perfectos

Taking stock of my evening so far, I made new friends, enjoyed fine tequila, and was exposed to a hip, new version of a trendy tequila bar. I even had a great time!

eltoritoThe crowd at the Taberna del Tequila steadily disappeared to make their connecting flights. While I waited for my order of chicken soft tacos and a second snifter of Gran Centenario, here’s how some other customers anchored their relationships with Jose Cuervo–forever.

Within six minutes, five glasses crashed to the floor in different areas of the Taberna, a biker called the female night manager a bitch, and a red wine drinker tossed her cookies with no prior warning. Otherwise, it was a quiet Friday night in Phoenix.

Although a new concept in marketing, the Taberna del Tequila isn’t the only way Jose Cuervo is forging relationships with an emerging drinking public. In the following segment, I’ll explain how they’ve secured brand loyalty among established tequila aficionados using one of the oldest Mexican food restaurant chains in Southern California–El Torito.

 

Jose Cuervo Taberna del Tequila Sidebar

Here is a list of airport locations for Jose Cuervo’s Taberna del Tequila for you thirsty travelers!

Cleveland
Charlotte

Detroit (2 locations)
Las Vegas
Kansas City
Miami
Minneapolis

Phoenix (3 locations)
Seattle

By the end of the year, they will have additional locations open in Tampa and St. Louis.

My thanks to Stan Novak of HMSHost for this information.

Enjoy!

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By Mike Morales, Co-Organizer
New Mexico International Tequila Experience™
Southwest Tequila Association

New Mexico International Tequila Experience™

Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!

Craft Tequila–WTF Does THAT Mean? Part 2

Blurred Lines

Throughout Part 1, we employed the use of more adjectives and descriptors to define, describe and distinguish one booze from another in the same category, as well as to give the illusion that it is actually closer to another booze in the leading categories.

Words like award-winning, artisanal, small-run, limited-production, hand-crafted, and boutique are reused over and over.  So are micro-distilled, limited edition, small batch, small lot, organic (which we’ll cover in-depth in a future article), single village, homespun, authentic, small-lot, prestige, signature, high end and reserve.

They all have real core meanings, but because we see them repeatedly in ads, billboards, packaging, shelf talkers and point of sale (POS) materials, the lines between meaning and true definitions get blurred.

Has anyone actually ever been to Los Camachines, where Gran Centenario is made?
Has anyone actually ever been to Los Camachines, where Gran Centenario is made?]

For instance, the definition of the word premium as defined by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) is actually a pricing term.  To the average consumer, however, it has come to mean quality.  And when consumers’ buying habits change and trade up, it has become known as premiumization.

There’s no chance of spirits marketers discontinuing the use of the Tequila Marketing Myth of borrowing benefits any time soon.  How, then, do we really define and measure a craft tequila?

We’ll show you how in a moment, but let’s get two things straight right here–

Remember Fact #1?  Tequila belongs in Mexico.

Though some American micro-distilleries have attempted to distill small batches of agave spirits, it has proven difficult and labor intensive due to it being produced from a plant that takes years to mature as opposed to grains, hops, and grapes that yield more frequent harvests.

It would be silly to define and measure craft tequila in ways that relate to wine, beer and other spirits created in the United States and abroad.  There may be no boundaries in spirits marketing, but to impose limits on the number of barrels, bottles and cases manufactured and sold by a tequila distillery in order to measure a craft product would have no jurisdiction whatsoever in Mexico.  Secondly–

There Is No Backpedaling

The Beer Wench, Ashley Routson said it best when interviewed for this article:

“No one wants to fault the big guys for being successful–that is not what this argument is about.  My main question is–how big is too big?  And as long as a company stays independently-owned, does that mean it will always be craft?”

Indeed, both the craft beer and spirits segments are growing at such a fast rate, that the Brewer’s Association has changed its definition multiple times.   This has allowed the burgeoning brewers more room to expand.  And as spirits writer, Wayne Curtis, discusses in this article from The Atlantic, the alarming growth rate of small distilleries is having an effect on the quality of the finished craft product due to a shortage of experienced distillers.

As a consequence of this exponential growth, in both the craft beer and craft spirits categories, the process–the art form itself–is getting watered down.

*Rant Alert!*

Let’s face it–

No backpedaling!
No backpedaling!

No one gets into the tequila business to be a failure.  Everyone wants to be on top.  And once you get there, the challenge is to stay on top.  We know how arduous the tequila hero’s journey is.

No one with a business plan ever said, “I’m going to mass produce my lousy tequila and once I’ve flooded the shelves with my swill and lost market share, I’m going to distill a tequila the old fashioned way.”

Don’t pretend to continue to still make your tequila like you have over the past 250 years, either.  You are not that home based family operation still harvesting agaves by mule and macerating piñas with a tahona, any more.  That family’s history was forgotten when the brand was sold.

And just because you build a separate, smaller facility on your distillery property to produce a more labor intensive line (and even petition to do so under another NOM number!) when you have never attempted to do so in the first place, does not make your more expensive line a craft tequila.

Moreover, just because you happen to be a colossal consumer of agave, still being emulated for your unique style of 80’s spirits marketing, and prefer to see things differently, don’t expect the rest of us to swallow your slant.

The Craft Tequila Gauntlet

El Tesoro handmade tequila.
El Tesoro handmade tequila.

Following are some tips and suggestions that may help guide you in making more informed decisions when selecting, defining and measuring a craft tequila.

#1:  NOM list

By Mexican law, every tequila must display a number that corresponds to the legal representative, tequila producer or distillery in which it was produced.  Tracing that number to the CRT’s list of distilleries, you can discover what other brands are manufactured under that specific number, and presumably, in that specific factory.

Logic dictates that the fewer labels a fabrica (factory) produces means more care should be taken with its one or two flagship brands.  Logic also dictates the opposite when you see many different brands appearing under a particular NOM number.

Whether the distillery produces only a few lines, or many contract brands for others, is not necessarily a sign of the tequila’s craftiness or quality, but it’s a start.

You can view and download the most recent NOM lists from our website here.

#2:  Pedigree

Don Felipe Camarena
Don Felipe Camarena

Taking a pointer from panel expert, Chriz Zarus’ now industry classic article, “Change is at Hand for the Tequila Market, Part II,” a craft brand with a good chance of survival in the market will be one that “You, your distillery, and your brand have generations of lineage.”

Meet-the-Maker dinner pairings, industry meetings and on-premise tastings showcasing a craft tequila will more than likely feature the brand owner or the master distiller behind the brand.

In some cases, a well respected Brand Ambassador (not the gal or guy with the tight t-shirt!) will stand in for the owner if there is a scheduling conflict.

Again, this is not a guarantee of craftiness or quality, but most family owned brands will stand behind (or in front) of their tequila with pride.

#3:  Distillery ownership/partnership/co-op

Another tip from Zarus’ treatise that could be useful in determining whether a craft tequila will be successful or not is, “Your company does…own at least a portion of the distillery that produces your product.”

This was successfully accomplished by the owners of Suerte Tequila, one of the few still produced with a tahona (milling stone).  In order to ensure the quality of their tequila and to regulate the brand’s eventual growth, Lance Sokol and Laurence Spiewak purchased the distillery.

Does your craft tequila have some skin in the game?  Most good ones do and will proudly make that information public.

#4:  Agave and land ownership

Similar to #3 above, some craft brands are owned by families with ties to the land and own their own agave.  In some instances, they may or may not own all or a portion of the distillery where they produce their tequila.

In the midst of this current agave shortage, this one asset could make or break a craft brand.  This information should be readily available in POS material, but is also not a guarantee of quality or craftiness.

#5:  Use of a Diffuser

While considered a legitimate tool in tequila production efficiency and has the full blessing of the CRT, it is a dead give away that shortcuts are being taken.

As noted agave ethno-botanist, Ana Valenzuela so succinctly declared in this open letter…

“…prohibir el uso de difusores (hidrólisis de jugos de agave) que les quita “el alma” (el sabor a agave cocido) a nuestros destilados, únicos en el mundo por su complejidad aromatic y de sabores.”

[“…to prohibit the use of diffusers (in hydrolysis of agave juices) that takes the “soul” (the flavor of baked agave) out of our native distillates, singular in the world for its complexities of aromas and flavors.”]

El Tesoro's tahona, still in use.
El Tesoro’s tahona, still in use.

This is also in keeping with Zarus’ definition of preserving the process as the art form or craft outlined in Part 1.

Using a diffuser is a closely guarded secret by most mid-sized to large distilleries and hard to spot.  You can read more about them here.

#6:  Organic

If there are any products that deserve to be described with the aforementioned adjectives that spirits marketers are freely throwing around these days to denote a handcrafted tequila, mezcal, or other agave distillate, they are in the organic segment.

Stringent regulations are required in both farm to distillery, and then from factory to bottle, to be given the designation organic and the permission to use the USDA seal that appears prominently on the labels.

By virtue of being organic, the process is considered much more natural and is inherently small batched.

But, not every brand has the budget to become a certified organic tequila.  In addition, some brands may simply not see the value of being certified as organic, especially since some organic certifying agencies have been looked upon distrustfully in recent years.

Still, it could arguably be the most reliable indicator of a craft agave distillate.

#7:  Transparency

This might be the toughest test of all.

As we mentioned above, many brands prefer to play their cards close to the vest.  By the same token, many family owned brands are fiercely proud of their origins and will gladly tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Is your craft tequila brand willing to tell you their story, or just tell you a story?

Many of the more popular craft tequila brands are helmed by creators who are delightfully flamboyant and outspoken, as well.

 Craft by Any Other Name

As our reader in Part 1 stated, the meaning of craft is “all over the place” and then some.

Spirits marketers using their powers for evil.
Spirits marketers using their powers for evil.

With mixology being the leading trend driving the spirits industry and demand for better ingredients on the rise, this means quality tequila is essential for those creating crafted cocktails (there’s that word again!).

But, with  the invention of the wildly popular michelada cocktail, a margarita (which is the favorite way Americans consume tequila) served with a beer bottle upside down in a margarita glass, and chilled tequila on tap, there will surely be more cross pollination between adult beverage categories.

We’ve already seen this with tequila brands selling their used aging barrels to small brewers to create signature craft beers, as well as tequila aged in barrels bought from other brand named spirits.

This will only lead to even more crossovers between categories caused by inspired spirits marketers, PR firms, uninformed spirits journalists, and multinational corporations.  Borrowing benefits has been the norm for some time.

There will always be those who deliberately hide the truth or feed false information to the media and practice opacity.  We can’t control what they will say and do.

The key is to become educated and informed about a tequila’s recipe and process.  Using the Craft Tequila Gauntlet above can certainly help in making the right choices.

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Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!

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Salud!!