Originally Published July 17, 2009 at Cocktailmatch.com
Recently, I was invited to a tequila tasting at a local restaurant and bar in the Albuquerque area called The Range Cafe. I know the importer of this brand and I am very fond of it, so naturally, I wanted to lend my support. When I arrived that evening with my business partner and our wives, I was horrified! I’ll tell you why momentarily, but first, let me make one thing perfectly clear:
I have never been a supporter or proponent of how liquor brands represent themselves at these on-premise events by using beautiful, scantily clad, buxom and leggy models to promote their booze. These promotions are typically geared toward the male patrons of the establishments where these functions are held and completely ignore the other 50% of the tequila buying public. As a marketer, I also understand that sex sells—from cars to jewelry and everything in between. Nobody understood this better than the late, great, Sidney Frank.
Tequila is steeped in Mexican machismo, and many incorrectly believe that this is why the use of tequila girls is so customary. But it was Sidney Frank, founder of Sidney Frank Importing, who popularized using women to push booze.
In 1974, armed with a little-known German herbal tonic called Jagermeister, he brainstormed the idea of using young women—called Jagerettes—dressed in skimpy outfits to patrol bars and to sell drinks. He even threw rowdy parties for higher visibility. Back then, for a fledgling brand to use such brazen techniques to get attention was unheard of in the spirits industry, and they were not without consequences. Frank was sued twice for sexual harassment, settling out of court both times for undisclosed amounts.
By 2005, due in large part to the Jagerettes, Sidney Frank turned lackluster sales of Jagermeister from 600 cases per year to over 2 million cases!
Don’t misunderstand—I’m not a prude! I’ve licked my chops at many a sparsely attired server (although I’m usually at Hooters when that happens). What bothers me the most is the mindless drivel that usually accompanies the poor gal’s lack of clothing. This is a sure sign of minimal training on product knowledge on the part of the brand owners, or the promotions service they use for these events.
Food and wine blogger, Gina Naya, based in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico agrees. When she discovered that tequila is usually promoted in this way, she tweeted:
“…habrá que empezar a enseñarles que el Tequila es una bebida para apreciar, saborear y valorar como el destilado fino que es!”
(“…we’ll have to start to teach [others] that tequila is a beverage to be appreciated, savored, and valued as the fine distillate that it is!”)
Moreover, she worries that these methods of promoting tequila will continue to harm its image.
“Perjudica mucho la imagen de nuestro tequila, ya de por si bastante mala por algunos pésimos tequilas (y pésimos bebedores de tequila) que hablan de sus malas experiencias con tequila!
(“This damages the already poor image of our tequila due to some awful tequila [brands] (and even more awful tequila drinkers) who talk about their bad experiences with tequila!”)
“…se puede promover nuestra bebida nacional de una manera digna y profesional, que no es nada aburrida!”
(“…our national spirit can be promoted in a professional and dignified manner that isn’t boring!”)
Jennifer Iannolo, Co-Founder and CEO of Culinary Media Network (@foodphilosophy; www.foodphilosophy.com), takes another stance toward the use of tequila girls. She recently tweeted,
“In certain contexts, if it fits with a ‘lick it, slam it, suck it’ theme — why not? Not my personal preference, but I get it.”
But, she quickly adds,
“Now, if one is marketing a premium tequila — not so much.”
“There’s the rub…” as Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet.
Tequila Brand Ambassadors
Via Twitter and Facebook, I am constantly contacted by up-and-coming brands to help with their tequila marketing. It never ceases to amaze me that no matter whether it’s a value or a premium or a super premium brand, the use of tequila girls continues as a traditional marketing technique in every business plan. It’s a case of “not fixing what ain’t broke,” or fear of “reinventing the wheel.”
To set themselves apart, the premium and super premium brands have even upscaled their girls by officially naming them tequila brand ambassadors. To my disappointment, instead of wearing smart blazers and skirts, the attractive models in the stretchy black dresses with plunging necklines emblazoned with logos across the chest are still nothing more than glorified tequila girls.
So much time is taken in the packaging and presentation of a new tequila brand. But when it comes to packaging and presenting their brand ambassadors, these start-ups sadly miss the mark and run the risk of cheapening an already solid look.
When my former partners and I organized The New Mexico International Tequila Experience™, I became keenly aware of how important it was to have a promotions service that employed a competent staff of both women and men. With so many tequilas vying for customers’ attention, each booth needed a knowledgeable and capable server to pour their samples, and in turn, to train the public on the subtleties of their brand.
Dawn Langdon, owner of Larimar Staffing, has been organizing promotions for distributors and liquor companies in the Albuquerque area for over ten years. She believes that in her experience, tequila girls “…want to be more than just bimbos! They want to be more of a brand ambassador for the products they promote.” She should know, having once accompanied Master Distiller Carlos Camarena through several states on a grass roots tour publicizing his tequila, El Tesoro de Don Felipe.
A stickler for details and information, Langdon prides herself on intensive and continuous training of her staff on whatever wine or spirit they are handling. Not only is she particular about who she hires (“Good looks help, but it’s not a prerequisite,” she admits), she requires new recruits to Google every single brand that they represent, no matter how well-known, to gain even more insight to impart to both male and female customers.
It was this type of dedication to product knowledge that was the key to the success of the New Mexico International Tequila Experience ™. And I guarantee that they did it without exposing any cleavage!
To my surprise, a new tequila called Huizache (review coming soon exclusively for CocktailMatch.com) has settled on a happy medium between tequila girls and brand ambassadors.
Elegantly dressed models cheerfully handle bottles of their blanco and reposado tequilas during formal functions throughout Mexico. At other informal events, the gals are conservatively, yet playfully, attired. The charm and caliber of these young ladies is evident in the following photo, courtesy of Huizache.
What is also evident is the caliber of the two brand owners: members of the Romo family of Tequila Herradura fame, and both sisters!
Meanwhile, Back at The Range…
So why was I horrified when I arrived at the restaurant that evening?
It turned out that one of the provocatively dressed tequila girls was someone I knew as a child! Now, she was hawking tequila part time for this brand all over Albuquerque.
Next time you attend an event promoted by liquor girls, it’s important to remember that the young lady you’re ogling could be your best friend’s daughter!
For more information on the tradition of The Tequila Girl, we encourage you to read The Patron Way, by Ilana Edelstein. Ilana Edelstein, life partner of Martin Crowley during Patron Tequila’s infancy and heyday, played an integral role in the creation of The Tequila Girl. Back then, it was groundbreaking, but is it for today’s more informed consumer?