I came across a program while in the U.K. called “Dragons’ Den,” which is similar to the U.S.’s “Shark Tank” that airs on ABC. The dragons, like the sharks, are big time moneymakers in their respective industries and are looking for their next big investment. On this episode of “Dragons’ Den,” two men, Padrig and Dewi, present their toffee-flavored vodka, Toffoc, to the panel and ask for a £75,000 investment to help expand their brand.
Though Padrig and Dewi had the backing of Michelin-starred celebrity chef Gary Rhodes, they revealed to the dragons that while the Anglesey-based company made a profit in its first year, the following two were not profitable. Dragon Hilary Devey, an English television star responds, “Well, something is wrong there isn’t it.”
Another dragon, Peter Jones, founder of the U.K.’s first Enterprise Academy, asks why Rhodes’ name isn’t on the bottle and how much he’s invested in the brand. His advice: “Get your celebrity endorser to do more work for you.”
The duo came up with the idea to create a toffee-flavored vodka about eight years ago while skiing in the French Alps. The spirit, apparently, is a popular drink choice among skiers there. This particular brand is available in Wales and retails for about £15 for a 70cl bottle, according to its website. The vodka, along with apparel and other swag items, also is available for purchase online. It is triple-distilled U.K. grain vodka that is infused with toffee that results in a clear, golden-hued liquid.
The dragons got to sample the vodka and most seemed impressed with the flavor and quality, remarking that the smell and taste were good. However, none of the five dragons were interested in investing in the brand. In the drinks industry we’ve seen scenarios like this before. A new product that is struggling to get the word out, partners with a celebrity or a pop culture entity, and then what? Does celebrity affiliation automatically equal success?
That depends on the celebrity and the brand. I recall going to a Sopranos wine tasting at the Trump World Tower in New York City a few years ago. It was for a range of Italian wines that were branded with “The Sopranos” TV series that aired on HBO. While there was a lot of hype surrounding the brand at the time produced by The Sopranos Wine Co./Vesuvio Import Co. the buzz seemed to fizzle out with the show.
On the other hand, take brands like Ciroc with P Diddy or Jim Beam’s Red Stag and its affiliation with Kid Rock. Those are two good examples of celebrity done right. That’s because these celebrities do more than just attach their name to a new brand, they embody that brand, they live it and they represent what that brand stands for. In turn, consumers that relate to a particular lifestyle—luxury or rock ’n’ roll in this case—directly relate to that brand.
While Padrig and Dewi seemed reluctant to get Rhodes more involved in their brand, saying that it was “their toffee” and not Rhodes, Jones was on target with his advice. A successful celebrity endorsement needs more than just a face or a name printed on a sell sheet; it requires an authenticity that consumers won’t compromise on—and neither will the dragons.