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If you’ve been to a bar lately, you’ve probably been asked, “Hey, what are you drinking?”  But have you ever really taken the time to think about your answer?

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It was a sunny Sunday in New York City this past weekend, and as I watched the people of Manhattan leisurely go about their day, I had to wonder how many of them were a little hung-over, just like me.


A few glasses of great wine over Saturday night dinner with friends led to a few more at an outdoor garden, and my friend and I started talking to a couple we just met. When the waitress came over and asked what he wanted to drink, the husband — a neurosurgeon no less – asked for something “different and exotic.”

Without skipping a beat, the server came back with an orange colored concoction in a martini glass, to which she then floated something in it and lit it on fire. Everyone was happy… the man who got his wish, the onlookers in the back garden, and the waitress who later got him to order a second one, at $14 a pop.

His wife was much more direct. Her drink was straight and to the point: Ketel One and tonic, on the rocks, with a lime. Bang. Done.

So as my brain unfogged that Sunday, I started to think why people drink what they do, and how marketers take advantage of this.

I’ll separate the camps into two categories:

1) Well, what do u have? (WellDUH)
2) This is my drink of choice (TIMDOCs)

For the WellDUHs… the alcohol companies have the opportunity to try and persuade drinkers to try their product. Their marketing should be about awareness first, then consideration, moving the user along a path to try and convert them to a TIMDOC, where they always order the same thing.
One example of a company trying to become a TIMDOC is Patron tequila. If you ask the average drinker to name a brand of premium vodka, I think most people could rattle off quite a few… Ketel One, Belvedere, Grey Goose, Smirnoff, Absolut, Level, SKYY, Stoli, and so on.

According to the Distilled Spirits Council, vodka dominates the spirits industry, accounting for 28% of all volume.  In 2007, over 50 million 9-liter cases of vodka were sold in the United States, generating over $4 billion in revenue for distillers. Super-Premium brands drove growth – increasing around 38% in volume.


However, while the growth of Super Premium brands of tequila has grown, up 15% in 2007, it’s been a harder road for brands like Patron to duplicate what vodka has been able to do.

This is just from personal experience, but while I’m sure just about anyone who went to college would be able to name Jose Cuervo as a name brand tequila, I think brand recognition of Patron and Don Julio is far more limited, and you’d be hard pressed to get people to name many more.


Patron has definitely tried to position itself as a go-to name brand, both in status and packaging. I don’t think it’s an accident that they’ve pushed Patron Silver to the forefront, making it easier to position the clear version vs. the world famous Jose Cuervo gold.  An example of how recognized the name is right now occurred last week. A co-worker sent me a video clip of JJ Abrams on the Jimmy Fallon show.

JJ was the guest editor of Wired’s May issue, and although he was on the late night talk show to promote Star Trek, he brought along the Wired Magazine. In joking about all the great puzzles and games within the issue that he couldn’t figure out, Jimmy opened up the magazine to a Patron print ad, and exclaimed “This was a great one. Oh my gosh, drink Patron!”


View clip of J.J. Abrams on Jimmy Fallon

No doubt the Wired sales rep called his Patron contact and said, “Now THAT is why you advertise in a publication like Wired.”  Sure, Fallon randomly pulling that out for all to see was good fortune. But placing your advertisement in front of the audience you want to reach, in this case, a thought-leading tech magazine with a predominantly male audience edited by a hot director promoting the summer’s hottest movie, good things can happen.

Continuing with alcohol companies that happen to be in this month’s Wired as an example, 2 others include Negro Modelo and Bud Light Lime.  Modelo isn’t quite a household name, so they’re trying to build up awareness. And while everyone knows Budweiser as the King of Beers, they need to gain awareness of this particular flavor.

Although I disagreed strongly with the Bud Lite Lime ad campaign last fall, which I covered in Episode 23, their current tagline of “The sun is out, and so are your friends” is hitting the right audience at the right time of year.

The TIMDOCS have their drink and they’re not going to vary from it. Whether it’s a beer or a premium spirit, the TIMDOCs know what they want and they’ll tell you straight up.

The job for alcohol companies in marketing toward the TIMDOCs is to reinforce the decision that these loyal drinkers have made the right choice. Whether it’s being cool or looking sophisticated or having the best tasting beverage, they want the person to say I’m proud to order this drink.

Some companies I’d say fall into this category are:
Budweiser, Guinness, Jack Daniels, Tanqueray, Maker’s Mark, any perceived premium brand, and all the way up to one that might have done it the best, Cristal.

Cristal worked it’s way into the Hip Hop culture as THE drink to have in the club scene, and was mentioned in rap lyrics, most notably by Jay Z. Of course, that was until the media mogul interpreted comments in a 2006 interview in The Economist by Cristal’s managing director as racist, after which he boycotted it.

How do you know when you’ve reached the TIMDOC status? It’s actually quite easy.

Customers replace the generic drink name and incorporate the brand directly into their order.

  • They don’t order a vodka soda, they order an Absolut soda.
  • They don’t order a gin and tonic, they order a Tanqueray and tonic.
  • They don’t order a whiskey on the rocks, they order a Maker’s on the rocks.
  • They don’t order a beer, they order a Budweiser.

I think one company that did a great ad campaign around this was Sam Adams. In one TV spot, the waitress in a German brewhouse starts to rattle off the 100 or something beers that they have on tap, and the patron cuts her off and simply says – I’ll have a Sam Adams. His mind was made up long ago, he knows what he likes, and there’s no need to ask about something he’s unsure of.

The one form of alcohol that doesn’t follow the rules is wine.


Ordering wine is so much more about the type of wine you’re having. People are passionate about a cabernet, riesling, shiraz, pinot grigio, and as the movie Sideways taught us, merlots. Toss in variables like the price, the year, and the region of the world it comes from, and I find it rare that people ever order based on brand.

There is more of a chance for branding at the retail level, but I wonder whether a company can ever put enough marketing muscle behind a single brand name to move them onto the TIMDOC list.

As for me, I’m probably a marketers nightmare. My drink of choice varies by situation, so I guess we need a third category, the STIMDOC.  One single, savored beer after work? I’m going Guinness. If it might be more than one, I usually go for a pint of Bass. But if the bar is crowded and there’s a spill factor, I always go for a bottle. A more formal event might lead me to a Ketel One and tonic or a martini, while a well-prepared meal calls for a nicely paired wine. So I guess the marketers have to catch me at the right time.


After all this talk you might wonder if I favor Tylenol, Advil, Aleve, Bayer, Motrin, Excedrin, or Bufferin.  Actually, aspirin branding doesn’t work on me. I get the generic version at WalMart.


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