Monday, September 19, 2011

AC/DC Does Wine Poorly; Clutch Collaborates On Beer Awesomely

When you're at the store trying to pick out a bottle of vodka, what's the first thing you want to know? If you're anything like me, it's "Has this bottle of vodka been lovingly crafted by the restless creativity of a hip-hop mogul?" Thankfully for our wallets and alcohol selection process, there's a new trend now: aging rock stars releasing their own wine. Finally!

Recently, I read two totally unrelated stories about alcoholic beverages branded with band-names. While there's really no connection between AC/DC deciding to cash in on their fame and release a line of wine, and the band Clutch and someone from New Belgium randomly meeting up and deciding to release a beer together, I can't help but think this is a valuable lesson in: how not to be tacky and crass when cross-branding. I ask you, can we not learn from observing even the smallest and subtlest of life's moments, in our constant endeavor to grow as human beings? Well, not usually. In this case, yes.

I'm not super familiar with Clutch, but I've listened to them once or twice, and they've toured with some of my favorite artists. I definitely don't know enough about the band to recognize anything obviously linking the label of the beer (pictured above) to anything about them. If I saw this beer in the store without knowing what it was, I would never for a moment consider that it had anything to do with a hard-rock artist. It's just a sweet-looking beer from one of the largest breweries in the country (and one that unfortunately doesn't distribute in New York.)

As the story goes, one of the brewers at New Belgium Brewing Company randomly saw the band at a sandwich shop, and, being a fan, decided to approach them. Coincidence! The band, it turns out, was actually in town to tour New Belgium. Both being fans of each other, they decided to collaborate. I think that passes as pretty reasonable motives when it comes to these sorts of things — maybe somewhat money related, but mostly born of cool, random chance. Again — you would never know from looking at the label that this beer had anything to do with a popular rock band. That sort of casual self-deflection away from branding is, I argue, necessary to avoid tackiness. It's the only way a project like this can work without being shitty. It makes the cross-branding seem coincidental and homage-y, rather than commercial.

Secondly, and most importantly, there is the beer itself. I have to admit, I haven't had it, so fail on my part. Feel free to throw out the validity of everything I'm saying here. The one time I encountered it in a store, I was on a business trip in Indiana and just couldn't fit it in my bags to bring home. But here's the description from New Belgium's website: "This beer is blended at 80% stout, 20% dark sour wood beer, for a collaboration that begins with a sour edge and finishes with a big, dark malt character." It's a freakin' sour ale, and a sour stout no less, part of New Belgium's line-up of experimental ales. This isn't some easy-selling lager being marketed to listeners of your local hard-rock radio station. This beer would be niche even among the general craft-drinking crowd. So we can pretty safely conclude that this is not a crass cash-in. And by the way, the beer sounds awesome. If anyone wants to send me a bottle, I would owe you, like, so many hugs.

Now, on the other hand, we have classic-rock legends AC/DC, who are releasing their own AC/DC branded wine with the help of a winery called Warburn Estate.

The obvious objection here is that wine is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of drinking along to AC/DC, but I guess that's kind of beside the point. For one, the band can like whatever it likes, so if they really like wine, that makes the most sense for them. I'm sure there are millions of casual AC/DC fans out there who imbibe in wine. Whatever.

So what did the band decide to release, now that they're so helpfully providing the means to achieve intoxication, and not just the soundtrack to go along with it? Obviously each wine is going to be named after one of their songs, right? Anything like that is inherently cheesy, because you've already crashed through the line of accidental association that we discussed with Clutch beer. Anyone passing this on the shelf is going to realize that this wine is direct from the band (with most of the profits flowing in a similar direction), because it goes out of its way to make this association. Now, there's an easy deflective strategy here: any sort of cheesy association like this must be accompanied by bad puns. Might as well embrace what you're doing and have a little fun with it, right?

You'd expect wines with names like:
A Whole Lot of Rose (I'd buy that! Maybe! Hilarious!)
Sink the Pink Zinfandel
For Those About to Riesling
I've Got Big Balls Bordeaux
Highway to Zinfandhell
Or, I don't know, Have a Drink On Me? HAVE A DRINK ON ME. COME ON.

Instead, AC/DC bravely came up with these brilliantly catchy names: Back In Black Shiraz. Highway To Hell Cabernet Sauvignon. You Shook Me All Night Long Moscato.

What is this shit I don't even. Did they come up with this idea while drunk and then just leave it to their accountant to hammer out the specifics? "Highway To Hell Cabernet Sauvignon" just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? Much like the wine in question might do, as I puke it back out, because it sucks. Probably. Let's be fair, because I haven't tried it! And I have no idea why I would. Everything about this screams "lazy money grab." This is a perfect example of why cross-branding is almost always stupid, crass, and does not work. What about AC/DC would compel me to buy an alcoholic beverage with their name on it? Undoubtedly they're good at consuming said beverages, but I have no reason to believe they're any better at making them than anyone else would be. And since the packaging just screams AC/DC at me, that's really the only factor that can go into my decision. They're not exactly falling back on the good will from a well-respected brewery like New Belgium here, are they?

So, today's lesson is: don't try branding your product with easy name recognition. It looks stupid and cheap. And if, being Famous, you really must release a totally random product to really emphasize how successful you've been, don't make the product all about you. Stick to co-branding shitty guitars or whatever, that's at least related.

1 comment:

  1. What is this shit I don't even.

    That could've been your whole post with the picture of the AC/DC wine.

    That said, that dark sour ale looks pretty bamf.


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