NEW YORK — Like most brands in March 2020, Jose Cuervo had to quickly adapt its media strategy to fit restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Its first big test came less than two months later with Cinco de Mayo — the Super Bowl for tequila brands, according to Jason Harris, chief executive of creative agency Mekanism, which works with the brand. Scrapping the entirety of its initial plans, Jose Cuervo was forced to rehash questions from the drawing board.
"How do we rethink Cinco de Mayo in a world where no one's going to be on premises?" Lander Otegui, CMO of Jose Cuervo parent company Proximo Spirits, said during a panel at Advertising Week New York that was moderated by Harris.
Instead of relying on the high level of brand awareness from which it has benefited from in the past, Jose Cuervo listened to how consumers' interests were changing from pre-pandemic positions. Among its discoveries was that people were tiring of the interminable news cycle, which Otegui said pointed to the need for a mental respite. The brand also took notice of mass layoffs by shuttered bars and restaurants.
These two observations led to the launch of a campaign called #CincoToGo, in which Jose Cuervo offered to pay consumers' tabs for Mexican restaurants through the holiday. In the end, the brand had written over 1,500 checks and paid for a total nearing $100,000 in Mexican food, per Otegui.
From a marketing perspective, the strategy was equally successful. Although the brand had always performed well in terms of share of voice, Otegui said the campaign pushed it to the measurement's top spot in the industry.
"Something that you saw was when COVID started, most of the brands backed off and started canceling most of their advertising dollars, and we went the other way," said Otegui.
Acting on changing consumer perceptions by pursuing them via marketing has proven to be an enduring strategy for the tequila brand, and one that is guiding its preparation as pandemic rates decline.
The brand found the thinking behind #CincoToGo to be so successful, for instance, that it continued the strategy for Cinco de Mayo in 2021, despite vaccines' growing availability and the reopening of many restaurants and bars. Based on growing public knowledge of the difficulties facing delivery drivers, the brand's second iteration of #CincoToGo emphasized tipping these workers.
"We asked ourselves, 'What's going to be the next Cinco de Mayo campaign? … Should we consider the idea that we had initially?' Well, we know what happened ... So we went back to the drawing board and started listening to consumers again," said Otegui.
A more direct approach
Jose Cuervo has been a longtime leader in the tequila industry in terms of brand awareness, but as the industry continues to see growth and more competitors enter the market, it wanted to adopt an approach that spoke to consumers more directly. This "commercially-driven" strategy, as Otegui phrased it, has seen the brand dip its toes into marketing that more heavily prioritizes engagement.
Its campaign around the holidays in 2020, for example, asked consumers to submit pictures of themselves, which the brand then turned into cardboard cutouts and sent to their families. Titled "Doppeldrinker," the effort capitalized on insights showing that many families wouldn't travel to be together due to the ongoing pandemic, and sought to be a connective force in a humorous yet genuine way.
"This idea just blew up," Otegui said. "We got tons of impressions in terms of return on investment and thousands of people sending their pictures … So again, another way for Cuervo to continue bringing together [consumers]."
Going forward, the tequila brand is also considering digital ways of reaching consumers. E-commerce, for example, is an area Jose Cuervo hopes to take advantage of in order to maintain its marketing resurgence, per Otegui — an interest it shares with other alcohol companies looking to find consumers who are increasingly shopping online.
As the 2021 holiday season nears, and with a raft of new challenges affecting marketers, Jose Cuervo is planning to double-down on the strategy it used in 2020. To this end, the brand could potentially hone its efforts for a day in which the pandemic is less of a factor.
"We're sticking to it. We're making some fine-tuning to the strategy, but overall, it's going to be very similar in the future," Otegui told Marketing Dive after the panel.
Staying relevant to young consumers
In discussing other ways in which Jose Cuervo is preparing for the future, Otegui mentioned that it is keeping in mind the value-based consumption behavior that younger buyers are increasingly demonstrating.
Sustainability, for example, is an area that Gen Z and millennials passionately care about, which is in-part why Jose Cuervo has made recent efforts to be more transparent about the environmental work it has historically kept private. Using agave, a key component of tequila, the brand in late 2019 designed straws as an alternative to the plastic ones typically found in bars and restaurants.
Jose Cuervo is also using the interests of younger generations to guide some of its core marketing decisions. The brand this summer partnered with Ultimate Fighting Championship in a move that Otegui claimed to be aligned with the multicultural and high-energy passions of Gen Z and millennial drinkers.
Moreover, the brand in June announced its search for a series of humorous honorary roles, including chief margarita officer and chief tequila officer. Creating pseudo executive positions has become an effective way for brands to deepen engagement with young, diehard fans, and has been used by marketers including Hollister and Nerf.
As Jose Cuervo navigates the changing demands of younger generations, conversing with consumers by listening and speaking to them could have continued importance.
"The amount of questions and engagement that people are requesting from brands is something that is here to stay," said Otegui. "As long as we keep those strategies in place, we should be in a good place for the future."