Tequila is hot. So is its smaller cousin, mezcal. What happens when the two are combined? A couple of celebrities are finding out.
Rocker Sammy Hagar and pop star Adam Levine are partnering on a new booze brand called Santo Mezquila that is billed in new ads as "the world's first mezquila." The celebrities are absent from three new digital video ads that launched this week by Narrative, the agency founded by Russell Simmons and Tricia Clarke-Stone.
The sexually suggestive spots do include a guitar riff from a song that Mr. Hagar recorded years ago but was never released, Ms. Clarke-Stone said. The centerpiece of the ads are barely clothed women. The tagline: "There are still places your tongue has never been." The ads were directed by artist/photographer Tasya Van Ree. She is known for taking pictures that have an "overt sensuality and pillowy layers of eroticism," according to this profile on smashboxstudios.com.
The Santo ads are aimed at making people "feel something and not just tell them that there's a new spirit," Ms. Clarke-Stone said. "In terms of the sexual approach, it's about being provocative and what happens when you reach that higher place." The theme is continued on the brand's website, which uses the phrase "higher spirit." Content is found by scrolling up, not down as is usually the case.
The brand -- which retails for $55 a bottle -- enters a growing tequila market that has been fueled by premium brands, including luxury market leader Patron and challengers Don Julio from Diageo, Brown-Forman's Herradura and Avion. Across the tequila category, dollar sales jumped 9.2% in 2016 at stores, according to Nielsen. Mezcal is much smaller, with a market size of about 1% of the tequila category. But mezcal's dollar sales jumped 37% last year, according to Nielsen.
Tequila and mezcal both come from the agave plant in Mexico. Tequila comes from blue agave and typically comes from the Mexican state of Jalisco. Mezcal can come from a wider variety of agaves and is usually from Oaxaca. Mezcal is known for its smokier flavor.
The creation of Santo Mezquila dates back to a 2015 dinner Mr. Hagar had at a restaurant in Cabo, Mexico, with Jack Daniels -- not the famous whiskey brand but a guy actually named Jack Daniels. Mr. Daniels is the co-founder of Wilson Daniels, a wine and spirits marketing and sales company that once distributed Mr. Hagar's Cabo Wabo tequila brand that was later sold to Gruppo Campari. Mr. Daniels was drinking tequila at the restaurant along with Mr. Hagar's buddy Mr. Levine when the restaurant owner offered them a mezcal.
The mezcal was "way too smokey," Mr. Daniels recalled. So "not to hurt the owners feelings we started pouring our mezcal in the tequila glass," he said. "We all raised our eyebrows and said, 'Wow this is pretty good, we might be onto something here' -- a few more tequilas and you are on your way and you can come up with all kinds of good ideas."
The trio later joined forces with Marco Monroy, another one of Mr. Hagar's business associates. They researched the tequila/mezcal market and found no one had ever combined the two, Mr. Daniels said. "What we've done is create a whole new category within the beverage industry."
The Santo brand is made by third-generation master distiller Juan Eduardo Nunez from the El Viejito distillery in Jalisco, Mexico. The taste is described as having an intense agave aroma mixed with "an earthy, light smokiness with a hint of herbs" and "a particular sweetness to its finish."
Santo is already on sale in Las Vegas, including at Mr. Hagar's Cabo Wabo cantina chain. The brand is launching in Los Angeles today with distribution soon slated for Dallas, Houston, Austin, Miami and New York.
Ms. Clarke-Stone said the brand is still finalizing its marketing budget but that the digital video ads would get paid support. Out-of-home is also planned. The brand will rely on Mr. Hagar and Mr. Levine to spread the word among their fans via their social channels, Ms. Clark-Stone said. As to why the stars are not featured in the video ads, she said: "We wanted Santo to have a distinct brand identity inherent to who Santo is as a product and not necessarily a vanity project of a celebrity."
The luxury tequila category already includes one other significant celebrity entrant -- the Casamigos brand, which was co-founded by George Clooney in 2013. Other celebrity-backed brands include DeLeon Tequila, a joint venture between Sean Combs and Diageo.
As for Santos, "this offering sounds unique," said Danny Brager, senior VP of Nielsen's beverage/alcohol practice. "But like all new products that come to market, its success will still depend upon the basics of taste/price, distribution and its success in generating on premise trial." But "that said, the 'name' badge that comes with celebrity backers sure doesn't hurt."