|Margaritaville: A Brand Anything But Wasting Away
By: Peter Migut
For most of his career as a singer-songwriter, Jimmy Buffett had only one Billboard Top 10 hit, "Margaritaville," in 1977. Eventually, he had an inkling that the song was brand-able. But unlike most musicians, Buffett went far beyond selling tickets, T-shirts, and posters. Today, the title of his most popular song is on restaurants, clothing, beverages, and casinos. Earlier this year, Buffett was in Las Vegas to see the opening of the first Margaritaville Casino in the Flamingo Hotel, and just last month, he announced on stage at a concert in Cincinnati that he would be opening a new Margaritaville Cafe at the Cincinnati Horseshoe Casino, opening in Spring 2013.
In spite of the lush, laid-back lifestyle the song suggests, Buffett is actually a pretty savvy businessman — Margaritaville has become a multi-million dollar empire and lifestyle brand. Soles of the Tropics boat shoes and flip flops are in shopping malls. Margaritaville Foods sells salsa, hummus, tortillas, and dips in Wal-Mart and other stores. Landshark Lager is sold in grocery stores, and Margaritaville tequila is in liquor stores. Buffett owns or licenses Margaritaville Cafe and Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant chains, Radio Margaritaville is on Sirius, and he also writes best-selling novels. That’s an awful lot of brand extensions stemming from one song.
Not many people have leveraged their brands so well — and made it look so easy. A big reason behind Margaritaville Enterprise’s success is Buffett’s devoted fan base of self-proclaimed “Parrotheads.” While some would describe his appeal as broad, Buffett particularly became an icon of certain baby boomers by offering the dream of throwing off their responsibilities for his tropical party vibe.
Like other celebrity brands, Margaritaville uses different channels but keeps the voice consistent. Brand extensions are connected and complimentary. No one is confused that the Buffet Brand is on music, beer, blenders, and Adirondack chairs — in Margaritaville, they all go together. When the Margaritaville frozen-food line was being developed, for example, Margaritaville Enterprises was careful to convey the same look that permeates all of Buffett’s concerts. Tropical colors and relaxing imagery make eating the food feel like a vacation. "The brand implies quality, value and good times," was how Richard Fields, CEO of Coastal Development, once put it.
Without expertise in every industry, Buffett has said, “You go out and try to find the best people who understand who you are and what you do.” Staying on the creative level of what goes on in the casino industry, for example, Buffett shows up “like Bob Hope on a USO tour” to make employees understand they’re part of something more than a chain; they’re in the fun business.
A marketing professional based in central New Jersey, Peter Migut writes about branding and creativity in the 21st century. Visit him online here.
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