For his latest role, Justin Timberlake spent six hours in a make-up chair every day to transform himself into his character. And that character is a lime. A man lime. A man lime named Rick “Sour” Vane. Sitting by a once luxurious, now decrepit pool, he recounts the rags to riches to rags story of how limes, once in global demand, have become obsolete in the tequila game. Like the Fred Durst of drink garnish.
This is not a new film or booze-themed animated feature, it’s a new marketing campaign for Sauza 901 tequila, a brand partnership between Timberlake and Beam Suntory, owners of Sauza, Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Courvosier, and more. Originally launched by Timberlake as 901 in 2009 (named for the area code of his hometown Memphis), the entertainer teamed with Beam Suntory to broaden distribution and marketing. The new brand landed in January 2014, and according to Beam Suntory SVP and global chief marketing officer Kevin George, it’s a true business partnership.
Timberlake joins other celebrities, like George Clooney and Sean Combs, in the tequila business, a market that’s doubled in the U.S. over the last decade.
“He’s not just the face of the brand but has been involved in everything from creative to liquid development, activations, bottle design, everything,” says George. “We have regular meetings with him and his team around strategy and brand direction.”
The entire idea for the campaign came out of a 60-minute meeting George had with Timberlake in December. “He came in and said, ‘Here’s what I’m thinking,’ and right away we knew it was something completely different for the category,” says George. “Our meeting was literally an hour long, and in that short time we decided to make it happen. Did I have some reservations? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, we decided to figure it out and get it done. It’s been a great collaboration, but it largely comes from his idea and the tone he wanted to set for the brand.”
Given the new TV spot and extended web version is a comedy, written by SNL vet Paula Pell, makes it a bit of an anomaly in the high end booze market. Let’s just say you probably won’t see Clooney or Diddy dressed up as citrus anytime soon. “If you look across the high-end spirits landscape, there are a lot of velvet ropes, yachts, and things like that,” says George. “One of the tough things in marketing is to make premium look fun. But Justin is someone who can easily portray a premium image without being pretentious.”
Justin Timberlake helped launch the campaign with a faux corporate video rejecting the notion his tequila has made limes obsolete, saying they’re still perfectly good for soft tacos, guacamole, and indoor golf.