Cocktail cobranding: What does your drink say about you.

October 20, 2014

For the record, I’m not a big drinker. I’d be happy with … well, content with an Arnold Palmer or Coke Zero. But in the past couple of weeks I've found myself sitting at a bar not once but twice, trying to decide what to order. Usually, there’s nothing I love more than saddling up to the bar for a good cocktail or a glass of wine, appetizers and some good conversation. I love trying new drinks. I’m even willing to go as far as a jalapeño infused gin with black pepper foam and a splash of bitters and ginger. OK, I don’t know what bitters are or if pepper can be foamed, but I’m up for anything.

I usually order a Side Car – it’s on the sweet side and I love citrusy drinks (it helps me to fend off colds). But this past week, as I gazed upon the menus, I was struggling to place an order. Not because of the selection, but because I wasn’t willing to commit to certain drink names. The vodka, St. Germain, pomegranate, lime and orange bitters sounded great, but I just couldn’t bring myself to say the words, “Russian ELDERFLOWER”. The Tequila, lime, jalapeño, cucumber, cilantro, agave cocktail with chili salt rim also sounded tasty, but I couldn’t order a “Spiced DAISY”. “The Kate and Ella” was really pushing it.

I couldn’t get past the fact that these names didn’t complement my brand – my personality. In my mind it was a short-term co-branding situation and I needed to consider which name I verbalized and how it would reflect on me. Especially in a bar environment, where there are limited tools to express oneself. Of course there were many names I wouldn’t have minded blurting out (“Cuban Mistress” wasn’t so bad), but if I’m there to enjoy a drink, I also want to be able to get it down.

And then there’s the visual expression of the cocktail. Just because, I prefer citrusy, slightly sweeter drinks, doesn’t mean I wanted something plopped down in front of me with fruit garnish pouring out onto the bar. The words, they come out quickly, but the visual expression of a cocktail has staying power. And yes, there’s probably some bigger psychological situation to analyze here, but I didn’t want to be judged by what I was drinking.

And that’s the issue with co-branding situations. People will make opinions and develop perceptions about you based on who or what you associate with. Even if you understand the benefit of what you are getting out of the partnership (in this case, a tasty beverage), others will only have limited visual and verbal cues from which to draw an opinion. They will develop expectations of you based on your choices. Your brand is affected by the company you keep, whether it’s your corporate brand or your personal brand.

I suppose a bar is where you should really let go, put your guard down, or even be someone else for a couple hours (in full disclosure I was meeting colleagues so that last one really wasn’t my intent). But these and other drink names had a lasting impression. Maybe next time I just need to start with a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned and then switch to a “Jane Says” or “Betty White” when I can barely remember where I am. Or just stick to the Side Car.

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