There’s something about spirits that caters to flashy looks and exotic function. Luxury liquors often sport glitzy garnishes that consumers willingly empty their wallets for. Is it the exclusive, fanciful velvet rope mentality that lures otherwise average drinkers in? Or perhaps the profits stem from the initial shock of an outlandish deviation in traditional presentation.
In any case, it seems to work. Let’s take a look at four of the most ingenious marketing ploys by modern liquor manufacturers:
Maker’s Mark’s wax-dipped top
Looks: This classic Kentucky Bourbon made its claim to fame in 1958 with its simple but distinct bottle-topping glaze. Their signature red wax drips and glistens down the sides of each jug in unique patterns, as each is hand dipped for effect. It’s a sleek, eye-catching adornment that tells you there’s something special about this whisky.
The bottle’s crimson sheen is just beautiful to behold. It stands out on liquor store shelves, begging to be handled (and subsequently purchased).
Function: In this case, the wax is purely decorative. I suppose it may give a buzzed owner a firmer grip on the bottle if handheld swigs are being taken, but I’d frown upon such behavior with this grade of alcohol.
The important part is that the wax doesn’t inhibit the actual opening or pouring of Maker’s Mark. At first glance I’d be concerned about trying to crack a bottle that’s top is sealed over completely, but the creators were smart enough to provide an underlying peel-off tape (that functions much like a milk carton seal).
Overall appeal: This vibrant red wax is a genius little piece of marketing trickery. I can imagine it doesn’t cost the manufacturer much to produce the coating, but it may take longer than the average bourbon maker’s workflow to actually dip each bottle.
Regardless, the decorative approach pays off. Let’s face it: we’re drawn to the smooth, shiny, dripping finish. It reminds us of elegant candles and fine dining, and that playful urge to run our fingers across the melting wax. Maker’s Mark draws up a subtle piece of nostalgia and paints their product with it.
Goldschläger’s gold flakes
Looks: Here’s a high-proof phenomenon that’s reached an undeniable point of popularity in pop culture thanks to its (and parodied versions) role in movies such as Beerfest and Superbad. The bottle is an amalgam of striking gold aesthetics; the cap, the front-and-center seal, and of course the floating gold flakes.
And who doesn’t like gold? Goldschläger’s design is a clean, flawless example of luxury presentation. Reminiscent of an alcoholic snow globe, those shiny flakes are an instant turn-on to many a young drinker.
Function: Again, not much in the way of valuable function here. The flakes are said to weigh up to around €0.56 in worth, so you may in fact be worth a bit more the morning after indulging in this sweet beverage.
Overall appeal: There are few things more appealing than money, so the “real gold flakes” approach is a no-brainer. They’re benevolent enough to peak an adventurous drinker’s interest without raising concern for one’s well-being as a result of consumption (that is, besides the hangover).
Gold leaf has been a sought-after embellishment since the Medieval era in early Christian artworks, and it seems that this timeless ideal can even apply to drink. It’s another flashy accompaniment that transforms an otherwise average spirit into a hot commodity.
El Famoso mezcal’s worm
Looks: This exotic addition to many mezcals is a beast of a different color (quite literally). Commonly mistaken for tequila, mezcal is a potent libation distilled from the maguey plant in Mexico. El Famoso’s gusano rojo, or red worm, is a real larva that cozily rests on the bottom of the brand’s bottles.
The now-popular “mezcal worm” is a questionable supplement that is either a daring exploit or a foul stomach-turner.
Function: The worm is said to give the liquor a special hint of some kind. The flavor contribution is arguably minute, and it seems to me that the little larva serves a very different purpose here.
Overall appeal: Shock factor can be a valuable marketing device, and it’s not hard to tell that El Famoso is dunking worms to get an inquisitive reaction from daredevil drinkers. The insect has prompted a ballsy new challenge of eating the worm when the bottle is finished, generally under the presumption that it has become super saturated in alcohol. Believe it or not, people enjoy this kind of gross-out provocation, and the mezcal worm has generated a number of spin offs (Scorpion Vodka, English Garden Worm Gin).
1800 Tequila’s shot-pouring top
Looks: The classy glass top rests upon a faux cork and matches the bottle’s design to a T. Gleaming, translucent and spotless, this well-dressed tequila receptacle is another nudge at luxury contents.
Instigating investigation at first glance, the bottle’s hollow top is evidently innovative. But what’s so great about this fancy stopper?
Function: Well, it turns out there’s not much to see here after all. The vast majority of 1800 drinkers report utter frustration at the shot top’s touchy design. Courageous efforts to utilize the tool commonly result in a tragic waste of the expensive spirit, and most people aren’t so happy about that.
By the time you’re done screwing around with the “shot-pouring” top, you could have rifled through the cupboard for a measuring cup, dusted it off, poured a perfect ounce-point-five and tossed it back with a friend.
Overall appeal: Clever: in theory, yes. Ease of use: nonexistent. Success: nonetheless, yes.
There’s something inherently wrong with the shot top. When you engineer a product for people who are inevitably reducing their coordination throughout its use, it shouldn’t take above-average dexterity to make the product work properly. Hard liquor drinkers generally have the goal of thorough inebriation in mind, so they’re probably better off pouring shots the old-fashioned way instead of fooling with the 1800 bottle’s dopey design.
But that hasn’t stopped them from sticking their shot top on a whole line of tequila varieties. People must still be attracted to it, or at least enough to get their feet in the door and acquire a taste for the beverage itself.
Admittedly, these are all drinks that wouldn’t be nearly as appealing without their respective special additions. What other liquor brands make use of brilliant (or not-so-brilliant) marketing ploys to sell to their consumers? Let us know in the comments if you’ve got something.