By / Magazine / March 14th, 2011 / 1

“For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.” Bob Harris (as played by Bill Murray in Lost In Translation)

“Action please (long pause). Action, Orson, please … ‘Mmmwaaah, the French,  champagnehasalways …’ Cut!” Orson Welles (as played by his inebriated self in an outtake from a Paul Masson champagne commercial)

Truth be told, I bother easily. I lack the three crucial requirements needed for true and lasting serenity (patience, tolerance, money). People who know me know this. Those who don’t, should. Like the considerate fellow who decided to park his mobile nightclub under my balcony at three am to share with me the totally awesome sub-bass power of his totally awesome sub-bass car stereo. The opening salvos of Operation Desert Storm, to those in Baghdad at the time, may well have been less traumatizing. Whoever you are, you bug me. Big time.

I live in Toronto. This kinda bugs me (having just visited Montreal). Especially when the powers that be effectively bottleneck the only east-west artery into the downtown core in the midst of an already nerve-shatteringly torrid summer. But nothing (maybe) bugs me more than the vapid, unrelenting bombardment of advertising. Being sacrificed to clouds of flesh-eating bugs while strapped naked to a tree in some backwoods swamp, with a Justin Bieber song as my only companion, would absolutely pale in comparison to the Torquemada-inspired torture of another “sell me your gold” ad. They all make my head hurt.

You are, I’m sure, much more tolerant. So maybe you can (calmly) help me out with this. What the !%$#@ is the deal with celebrity endorsements of booze? Now, I get that the concept of wooing the great unwashed to emulate famous people’s ways isn’t exactly new (“I’ll have what Socrates is having” no doubt being the happy hour cry heard ’round the Acropolis in the day), but it appears to be escalating to a fever pitch as of late. I mean, Bruce Willis is putting his fame behind a vodka, as is “The Donald” Trump and designer Roberto Cavalli. It seems every golfer, hockey player, race car driver, actor, fashion designer, rock idol and porn star is shilling various intoxicants. It makes my head spin and hurt more. And I haven’t even been drinking. Much. Yet.

Paris Hilton (who I suspect actually might know a thing or two about booze, having been busted for DUI) was/is pumping (as it were) a Prosecco called “Rich.” It comes in a can (which, not coincidentally, is often where she allegedly ends up after a long promo tour for the stuff. Note to Editor: I said “allegedly.” This, apparently, will absolve us.).

“Rich Prosecco: it keeps ya movin’,” promises the tag line. I’m sure it does. At least till ya get nailed for blowin’ over. “It’s fun, fun, fun till the PD takes the Bentley away.” And there I go, inadvertently promoting the whole sorry thong … I mean, thing (Freudian slurp).

The entire booze/famous person shtick is getting to be, well, ludicrous.

Speaking of which (and oh, god, how I’ve waited my life for a segue as sublime as this), rapper Christopher Bridges, aka “Ludacris,” is now flogging a cognac called Conjure. Will it ever end?

Why even get them involved with booze at all knowing full well their reaction to the stuff typically mimics that of sharks in a well-chummed sea? The Orson Welles outtakes from the Paul Masson champagne commercials depict a rather wobbly Welles, who must have been doing some moderately heavy research prior to the shoot. And if you’re as old as me, you might even remember that Viking dude who did the Labatt Ice Beer commercials back in the mid-1990s? Alexander Godunov. He died from “alcohol-related” factors (read: poisoning) at age 45.

I can (sort of) understand why celebs do it. You can’t be too thin or too rich. And after a satisfying meal of a $20 million movie, there’s probably nothing like a $2 mil digestif to finish it off. Welles claimed that the Masson spots were done for “grocery money.” Willis reportedly got a 3.3 per cent ownership in the company that makes the vodka he’s promoting (Sobieski, if you haven’t yet heard). Plus, you probably get a few hundred litres of whatever stuff you’re promoting, gratis (which would be enough to get me to do it). Is it worth possibly “tarnishing” their reputation? Yeah, probably.

But do those dolling out the dough to these talking heads seriously think that well-educated, highly intelligent, discerning and discriminating people like me (and maybe you) would rise to such slimy bait? Do celebrity booze endorsements actually get people to bite? I mean, my sleuthing suggests that stars are most effective when promoting products they are associated with somehow. I might buy a set of tires Mario Andretti is recommending. But his wine? Greg Norman could conceivably sway me to try a certain line of sticks. But he loses credibility, at least in my eyes, when he tries selling me his name-brand Chardonnay. Willis was quoted as saying he’s been into vodka since 1969. He was born in 1955. So if Hilton gets a DUI, I guess Willis gets a DUA. Not sure if that makes him any kind of an expert, though. Also, I see a lot of “Newman’s Own” Cabernet Sauvignon going nowhere fast (that salad dressing and wine are at opposite organoleptic ends might have something to do with this).

But at least Norman and Andretti and others of their ilk (the aforementioned Trump and Cavalli, and even Newman), have upped the ante a bit. Rather than simply endorsing someone else’s hooch, they’ve actually created their own brand. Meaning that if it tanks, the ego (and perhaps even the numbered Swiss account) takes it on the chin. Homies like Wayne Gretzky, Mike Weir and Dan Aykroyd all have branded wines. Even the “sort-of famous” duo of Steven Sabados and Chris Hyndman (as in Steve & Chris, The Designer Guys) have launched the Trend Wine Collection of Niagara-based VQA wines. S&C may be good at blending colours, but blending grapes could be a stretch. Rocker Sammy Hagar, without actually putting his name on it, helped create Cabo Wabo tequila (before selling the brand for a gajillion dollars to the Italians). If anything, these types of associations, by default, require that the product maintain at least a certain level of quality. This isn’t to suggest that the famous names know what makes for good firewater (okay, maybe Sammy does), but you can reasonably be assured that those involved in the actual manufacture of the stuff do.

I suppose that if the product is of a respectable calibre and the actual endorser of the thing — booze or otherwise — has some sort of stake in the success of the brand, then celebrity endorsements might be a bit less disingenuous than they seem. But honestly, libations promoted by luminaries just make me suspicious. They tend to shout “back off,” rather than whisper “come hither.”

In any case, determining whether celebrity support for booze is a good or bad thing remains, for me, an elusive (and still) headache-inducing pursuit. Maybe you can help settle things. Visit tidingsmag.com/mavericks/ and weigh in on this issue. The future of the beverage alcohol industry (and my sanity) is in your hands.


Tod Stewart is the contributing editor at Quench. He's an award-winning Toronto-based wine/spirits/food/travel/lifestyle writer with over 35 years industry experience. He has contributed to newspapers, periodicals, and trade publications and has acted as a consultant to the hospitality industry. No matter what the subject matter, he aims to write an entertaining read. His book, 'Where The Spirits Moved Me' is now available on Amazon and Apple.

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