As competing brands vie to move products from shop shelves to kitchens and bars of commercial and residential clients, the use of celebrity branding is an increasingly common sight. Andrew Dann speaks to Crystal Head Vodka Managing Partner, Jonathan Hemi about this phenomenon and its importance throughout the food and beverage industry

In today’s competitive marketplace, advertisers are increasingly spending significant amounts of money annually on celebrity endorsement contracts that employ personalities as spokespeople and representatives of the respective brand or issue. For example, through its partnership with Michael Jordan the Nike corporation was able to increase its presence in new markets and create a multibillion subsidiary company, Air Jordan, while Mobile One has previously employed the NASCAR driver Tony Stewart to endorse its brand of motor oil. These partnerships offer several benefits to manufacturers by allowing them to build brand equity, create memorable advertisements, generate a feeling of ‘superstar’ status and to ultimately assist brands to stand out in the market.

Research carried out by Jeroen Verleun while studying as an MSc Finance student at VU University Amsterdam and Anita Elberse of the Harvard Business School concluded that celebrity endorsements are ‘big business’, particularly in relation to sporting and athletic partnerships. Titled ‘The Economic Value of Celebrity Endorsements’, the report appeared in the June 2013 Journal of Advertising and went on to observe that companies outside the sports apparel industry actively benefit from the use of celebrity endorsements and partnerships. Broadly speaking the report stated that the decision to develop a celebrity endorsement generally has a positive effect on brand sales, in both an absolute sense and relative to the firm’s competitors, as well as in increasing the company’s stock returns.

Brand loyalty
Within the food and beverage industries, these same advantages exist along with the added benefit that in addition to landing their name and personality to brands, celebrity chefs and culinary experts often have a hand in designing and creating the products that they endorse. This adds a sense of uniqueness and enhanced quality to previously existing or new market brands. The list of existing celebrity endorsed brands within the food and beverage industry is extensive and includes well-known personalities such as Jamie Oliver, Heston Blumenthal, Ina Garten – better known as the Barefoot Contessa and Gordon Ramsay.

Throughout the culinary marketplace celebrity endorsed products have proven to be an established success that have encouraged brand development and customer loyalty for a number of products around the world. While the strategy of celebrity partnerships is more pronounced in some regions than others, it continues to influence the development and sale of products across the food and beverage industries. “The trend of celebrity endorsed products is much more prevalent in the US, however it depends on the celebrity and the product,” reveals Crystal Head Vodka Managing Partner, Jonathan Hemi. “I think that consumers are realising that there is a difference between simply endorsing a product versus being the creator.”

Product creation
Crystal Head Vodka is produced in Newfoundland, Canada and is owned by the privately held company, Globefill Inc. The brand was launched within the US during 2008 and is now sold in 60 countries around the world. The multi-award winning, ultra-premium vodka was created by Dan Aykroyd and renowned artist John Alexander. The vodka is filtered through Herkimer diamonds and is completely additivefree. While Dan Aykroyd is better known for his work as a respected actor, comedian, screenwriter, and musician than as a celebrity chef or mixologist, his work with John Alexander in creating and launching the Crystal Head Vodka brand was driven by genuine passion to create a naturally smooth and pure vodka.

“When you are the creator, owner, and driving force of a product, it shows how much you truly stand behind your product. A large difference can be seen by the person who puts their own money, sweat, risk and time into the brand versus simply being paid to endorse something,” Jonathan says. “People have a different level of respect towards the brand when they find out how involved and passionate both Dan and John really are. Dan invested all of his own capital to create Crystal Head and he is the majority owner. Without Dan, Crystal Head could never have existed. As the business has grown, Dan’s involvement isn’t as critical, but still remains a valuable piece of the business. However, he is all about making a better tasting vodka using top high quality ingredients. Quality over quantity is something he has always strived for whether it was comedy, writing, acting, etc. Dan’s commitment and pride in the product can be seen by his choice to solely drink Crystal Head in addition to serving nothing else to his family and friends. He is on the road every month educating people on the quality of the vodka using his time, money, and reputation.”

As a distinctive brand, there are a number of characteristics that set Crystal Head Vodka apart from other spirits on the market. The vodka was conceived with purity as the most important factor, therefore zero additives, glycerol, citrus oils, or additional sugars are added during production. Peaches and cream corn are used as the base of Crystal Head vodka, which is filtered seven times with three filtrations passing through Herkimer diamonds. “The bottle itself is a piece of art, which was designed by John Alexander and crafted in Europe by leading glass manufacturers,” Jonathan elaborates. “The one-of-a kind bottle is an accurate glass rendering of a human skull. Our high quality product offers an enjoyable drinking experience for the consumers that appreciate premium brands.”

The use of celebrity endorsement has proven to be a potent tool in differentiating brands across a number of markets, whether that is through personalities endorsing pre-existing products or through well-known celebrities working with partners to introduce new product lines. The work of Dan Aykroyd and John Alexander in developing Crystal Head Vodka represents a unique example, where both instances are true to some degree. The passion to create a pure vodka product lead to the creation of an exciting new enterprise, which is now supported through Dan Aykroyd’s public ambassadorship and the work of John Alexander in designing unique vessels for the product. Throughout the food and beverage industry the trend is set to remain an important factor in the development of new and existing products over the coming years. This is also true for Crystal Head Vodka as the company prepares to further establish its brand throughout 2016 and beyond. “I do not see celebrity endorsed products going away. It is a concept that has been around for a while now,” Jonathan concludes. “Over the next 12 months Crystal Head will be focused on increasing its distribution in key markets, like the US, Canada, UK, France, Spain, and Germany – particularly on premise; and to continue to release and promote new products. Over the next three to five years, Crystal Head will be expanding more globally, finding ways to further improve quality, and maybe exploring the possibility of another line extension.”