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November 3, 2011

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Liquor makers team up with celebrities and famous brands

DO you like your vodka classical? Or are you a little bit rock-n-roll? Whatever your taste, there's a label out there for you as liquor producers join forces with some big names.

One of the newest brands to get in the musical spirit is Hard Rock Vodka, made by Boca Raton, Florida-based Ultimate Beverages, which has licensed the Hard Rock brand from Hard Rock Spirits, LLC, which was made famous by the Hard Rock Cafe chain.

The marriage of music and liquors makes sense, says Serge Abecassis, chairman and CEO of Ultimate Beverages. After all, drinks are commonly consumed in bars, restaurants and clubs where music is a big component of the ambience.

Feeling old-school? There's Chopin Vodka, from Poland, named in honor of the romantic composer. Looking from some hip-hop in your sip? Ciroc vodka has a very successful partnership with rapper and entrepreneur Sean Combs, better known as P. Diddy.

Abecassis has experience in the vodka field through the Silver Dagger vodka brand he founded, which comes in a unique bottle decorated with a bas-relief dagger on the front.

Stars and spirits

His connection to music comes through friend and business partner Steve Rifkind, founder of Loud Records, which launched the career of rapper Xzibit and other big names, including Wu-Tang Clan and Academy Award winners Three 6 Mafia.

Hard Rock vodka, which has an electric guitar etched on the front of the bottle, is being sourced from England, in a tip of the hat to the beginnings of Hard Rock Cafe, which opened its first location in London in 1971.

Some other collaborations include TGI Friday's ready-to-serve cocktails, Cabo Wabo tequila founded by rocker Sammy Hagar and 901 Silver tequila, which is backed by singer/actor Justin Timberlake.

"There are a lot of spirits brands that are engaged with stars," says Frank Coleman of the Distilled Spirits Council of the US, an industry group.

Teaming up with an iconic personality or established brand makes sense in a market where standing out has become more important as brands have proliferated. For instance, there are hundreds of types of vodka in the US market, including flavored versions.

Does having a star on board help sell liquor?

"I would have to say yes, otherwise people wouldn't do it," Coleman says. But, "does that alone guarantee the success of your brand? No way."

Abecassis agrees.

"The vodka business is very much like the cosmetic business. The vodka is only a small portion of the product. So much is put into the packaging and the marketing of the product," he says. "But that will only get you the first sale. If they open the bottle and the vodka's not great, they're not going to go out and order it. They're not going to buy another one."


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