Oct 17, 2023
We live in a culture where celebrities can be powerful influencers. As a result, many celebs increase their personal brand and earning power by endorsing products. Just think of all the perfume and skincare ads with famous faces involved.
But there’s a difference between simply putting your name to a product and being the creative force behind it, to seeing one brand acquired for over $600 million (Aviation American Gin) in just two years, and another (Mint Mobile) selling for $1.5 billion!
That’s just what Ryan Reynolds accomplished by being a disrupter. The secret? Using digital marketing tactics and clever PR that build authenticity and tap into the natural humor and sarcasm of Reynolds that he’s now famous for. Plus he's been busy creating waves turning around the Welsh football club Wrexham (covered in a FX series) and hanging out with famous friends at the New York Jets game (anyone heard of Taylor Swift?!)
How did Aviation Gin differentiate itself in a sector rooted in tradition and what can we learn from its innovative digital marketing strategy? Let's dive in…
First, let’s look at the fascinating history of gin, a history that has reflected differing cultural attitudes over the centuries.
If you go into a bar today, you’ll probably see bottles of gin displayed behind the bar. But that wasn’t always the case.
In the U.K. (long the world’s biggest consumer of gin) an act of parliament, called The Gin Act, was introduced in 1734 which taxed the spirit and made it mandatory to have a license to sell it. The spirit was blamed for being “the principal cause of all the vice and debauchery committed among the inferior sort of people”.
This print ‘Gin Lane’ by William Hogarth was published as a pair with ‘Beer Street’ to show the health benefits of drinking beer compared to the effect of drinking gin.
Plus, you’ve probably heard of the more modern term ‘Gin makes you sin!’ adding to gin’s notoriety as a spirit.
Unlike beer, which is brewed, gin is distilled in a still and when the column still was created in the 1830’s gin became easier, cheaper, and cleaner to make. This sparked a renewed interest and saw Victorian gin palaces open, turning gin into the drink of the sophisticated.
When Russian vodka came onto the scene in the 1960s people once again moved away from gin (a notable exception being James Bond’s martini which symbolically combined both gin and vodka). It wasn’t until the Scottish brand Hendricks Gin launched in 1999 and started to win awards that people started to show interest again.
But in the U.S. people have been slow to reach for gin. According to Statista, gin is the fifth most popular spirit in America behind vodka, whiskey, rum and tequila. Until now that is…
Aviation American Gin was established in 2006 by Christian Krogstad and Ryan Magarian after a classic cocktail, the Aviation.
The founders wanted to create a “pre-prohibition gin where the spirit is reacquainted with being the center of the drink and not the hidden component. It’s about maximizing flavor and drinkability”.
A decade later the brand was sold to Davos Brands but is still distilled by House Spirits and produced in Oregon. Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds, best known for the Deadpool films, came onto the scene in 2018 when he acquired a stake after finding out that Aviation American Gin was the reason his Negroni cocktail in a bar tasted so good.
In America, perceptions have been shifting with interest growing in super-premium gins and cocktails. Diageo reported that between 2014 and 2019 “super-premium” gins’ annual growth rate in the U.S. was nearly 19 percent.
In fact, due to the growing interest in this category, Amazon launched its first spirits brand across Europe, Tovess Single Batch Crafted Dry Gin, while some vodka brands like Purity Vodka have created gins to cater to the growing demand.
Aviation Gin is at the forefront of that trend (and called a disruptor by many) with global revenue from gin expected to reach $13.39bn in 2022 and grow annually by nearly 12 percent until 2025.
“I have had the pleasure of working on Kraken back in its early days and I see Aviation as a similar brand,” says International Brand Director for Davos Brands, Gareth Williams.
“It disrupts the traditional category of gin in exactly the same way Kraken did Rum and draws consumers who don’t traditionally drink gin into the category. The brand also speaks to its consumers in a different way, with social media being the driving force for the viral marketing that the brand has done so well,” Williams comments.
What makes Aviation American Gin unique is its videos. While some are slick and include other celebrities or public figures, others rely on Ryan Reynolds’ creativity in writing scripts and deadpan delivery to get the message across. Plus, it helps that people share the videos in huge numbers and the mainstream media also takes notice.
One of the earliest videos, when Reynolds came on board in 2018, was with Richard Branson. The two took part in the video which was to launch a partnership between Aviation American Gin and Virgin Atlantic. Although according to Reynolds it was a “merger” with him taking the helm.
Along with over 1 million views on YouTube and Facebook (no small feat for a partnership announcement), several media outlets picked up on the story such as USA Today.
But the videos are not just used to make announcements or feature celebrities. ‘The Process’ explains how the gin-making process works. The serene music accompanies a tongue-in-cheek script that includes lines such as “citrus fruits are misted using only the tears of the Aviation’s owner, me, Ryan Reynolds” and “all of our botanicals are humanely caught, cage-free and grain fed”.
This video has seen nearly 5 million views on Aviation Gin and Ryan Reynolds’s Youtube channels.
Tip: Check out ‘How to Create the Best Video Marketing Campaign…Ever’ to get some insight into creating videos.
Tapping into trending stories is an effective way to get your brand seen by people that may have never come across you otherwise. Aviation American Gin has capitalized on trends in the public arena to raise brand awareness.
One of those trends was the Bottle Cap challenge inspired by MMA fighters unscrewing the top from a water bottle with a roundhouse kick). It went viral across social media and a host of celebrities took part such as Jason Statham, John Mayer, and Mariah Carey.
Seeing an opportunity, Reynolds created a video featuring the head of an Aviation American Gin bottle wandering through various scenes: until Ryan Reynolds comes on screen and kicks the bottle out of shot before running away. The video posted on his YouTube channel has over 18 million views.
In 2019, Peloton released a 30-second ad ‘The Gift that Gives Back’ that got huge backlash from the public and media along with being turned into a meme across social networks. It was criticized for being ‘sexist’ and ‘privileged’ as it featured a woman being given a Peloton bike for Christmas.
Seeing an opportunity Ryan Reynolds contacted the Peloton actress and created a video - ‘The Gift that Doesn’t Give Back’ just days after the original ad went live. It shows the actress in a bar drinking Aviation Gin to help her get through the ordeal of the advert backlash by toasting to “new beginnings”.
On occasion, Reynolds taps into a newsworthy event by introducing a new Aviation American Gin spokesperson to raise brand awareness.
When LeVar Burton was lined up to be the new host of TV game show Jeopardy, he was featured in a video promoting the spirit. In light of a disagreement over NFL player Tom Brady on a podcast, former player Ryan Fitzpatrick promoted Aviation American Gin as part of their deal with the NFL as the ‘new Ryan’.
Social media is a great friend to Aviation Gin. The brand’s humorous tone and messaging lend itself to gaining traction on social platforms and has the bonus of promoting content on two channels - Aviation American Gin and Ryan Reynolds.
The brand is fully active across social channels with the highest follower counts on Twitter and Facebook. However, the majority of its website traffic comes from YouTube, according to Similarweb due to its focus and success with video marketing.
Read ‘10 Ways to Grow Your YouTube Channel’ for some actionable insights.
However, the brand’s follower and engagement count pales in comparison to Ryan Reynolds’s own accounts. With over 20 million followers on Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok, his accounts offer the kind of reach most brands can only dream about.
This great video on TikTok promotes the new Deadpool movie but also manages to sneak in a shot of him pouring Aviation Gin and features Hugh Jackman.
If you’re looking to get started on TikTok check out our ‘An In-Depth Look at Marketing on TikTok’ for some pointers.
This tweet on Aviation Gin’s new gin distillery and visitor center received over 25,000 likes.
While this Facebook post taps into Mother’s Day by creating a cocktail for his mother. His ‘Mother’s Ruin Punch’ creation also features his mum in the video.
While Aviation Gin’s account focuses solely on the brand, Reynold’s account has a mixture of topics and content. This appeals to a social media audience looking to be entertained but also shows authenticity as he shares content about personal interests and news he cares about, such as mentoring youth.
Social listening also plays a role in Aviation Gin’s branding strategy. “It’s as simple as social listening with the Tweetdeck opened, or searching for keywords that might not mention the brand but say, like Reynolds Gin,” says Aviation Gin’s Senior Brand Manager, Adrian Molina. “It’s about seeing what consumers are saying about the brand which could help the sales channel.”
In this golden age of influencer marketing, brands are keen to partner with public figures or celebrities that can enhance their profile. With an A-list actor at the helm, Aviation American Gin has attracted other celebrities in its promotional activities.
TV host, comedian, and father of eight children, Nick Cannon teamed up to promote a cocktail known as ‘The Vasectomy’. A humorous video poking fun at the number of children he had fathered, it uses satire to promote the gin in anticipation of Father’s Day.
This campaign proved so popular, that the brand created a Vasectomy Kit and annual videos with celebrities to promote the drink while using Ryan's wife, Blake Lively's tonic water 'Betty Buzz'. Here's the latest with country singer Jessie James Decker who creates the cocktail for her partner while joking that the drink gets its name from the procedure her husband has “refused to get”.
Other partnerships include an ongoing fake feud with Hugh Jackman that plays out across social media. They met on the set of Wolverine and have taken jabs at each other over the years (all in the name of humor of course).
If you don’t have that kind of celebrity power (or a creative team like the one at Diageo), public relations or PR is an underused tactic that can reap great rewards. PR is not simply about putting out a press release or landing a media interview, it’s about how the public perceives your brand.
Authenticity and trust are key to engaging prospects and customers. According to Stackla, 90% of customers cite authenticity as an important factor in deciding which brands they like and support.
Aviation American Gin not only creates video content that gets shared widely but also features in media as it has entertainment value. Basically, it entertains and promotes at the same time.
But it also links to social issues that give it legitimacy. For example, during the pandemic, Ryan Reynolds pledged to donate 30 percent of online sales of Aviation Gin to the United States Bartenders’ Guild (USBG) to support on-trade members affected by the coronavirus.
The move encouraged other celebrities to do the same and the #TipYourBartenders pledge took off in the U.K too.
It may seem like the answer to brand success is to get a celebrity on board and boom, you’re on your way! However, that’s not the case. Remember, there have been many brands that have failed to resonate using a celebrity influencer (Pepsi and Kendall Jenner is one that comes to mind).
It’s the combination of Ryan Reynolds’ PR and celebrity power combined with clever digital marketing tactics that work.
Marketers know that video is a powerful content format, but it’s not just about creating a video and putting it out there. Aviation American Gin is careful with what videos it produces. It looks for an angle, creates clever scripts and puts humor at the core of each one it creates.
The company also uses social media to its advantage using every post to hammer home the fact that Aviation is American and premium. It’s not about being another gin on the shelf, it’s about using the spirit to create exciting cocktails with elite brands (think Virgin and BA).
Ryan Reynolds is a powerhouse with his growing portfolio of investments in the Alpine F1 Team, Canadian fintech Wealthsimple, and password management platform 1Password. But it’s more than just being a public figure.
The lesson for marketers? Believe in what you promote, think outside the box and try to have fun while doing it.