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Jeff Goodby, Famous for Milk, Is Hitting the Harder Stuff With His Own Tequila Brand


Tienes tequila?

Jeff Goodby may be best known as the guy who dreamed up "Got milk?"—one of the truly legendary advertising taglines of all time. But lately he's been obsessed with a very different kind of beverage.

For the past few years, the Goodby Silverstein & Partners co-founder has been helping to produce, design, brand and market a high-end Mexican tequila called Tears of Llorona—a side business completely separate from his work at his San Francisco agency. 

Goodby got into the liquor business with his old advertising partner Andy Berlin, who was also a co-founder of what was originally Goodby, Berlin & Silverstein (and later a co-founder of Berlin Cameron). At first they were interested in making a rum. But then a mutual friend, Martin Pazzani, introduced them to Germán Gonzalez—a master tequila distiller in Mexico and a direct descendant of Gen. Manuel Gonzalez, the country's president from 1880 to 1884.

Jeff Goodby

Gonzalez, already a renowned figure in the tequila business, had just created a new ultra-exclusive "extra añejo" tequila, which is aged five years. Goodby and Berlin were intrigued, though at first, Gonzalez wasn't planning to sell the stuff at all. 

"He said 'I'm not going to sell this. I don't have that much of it,'" Goodby recalls. "And we said, 'That's actually cool, not to have enough of it. People might find that interesting.'"

Soon, they were in business together. The partners include Gonzalez, Goodby, Berlin, Pazzani, Goodby's brother Scott (a onetime top executive at Liberty Mutual) and Larry Siskind (a college friend who was on the Harvard Lampoon with Goodby in the '70s). 

Goodby and Berlin's main job, unsurprisingly, is the branding and marketing. Among other tasks, they had to name the product, design the bottle and steer the advertising. 

A haunting name, a hand-written bottle
The name came fairly quickly. Goodby and Berlin were aware of the legend of La Llorona. In Latin American folklore, she is the ghost of a woman who had drowned her children as revenge after her husband left her for a younger woman—and who is forced to wander the earth weeping. 

"She's a little spooky, and she cries looking for her children," Goodby says.

Designing the bottle was trickier.

"I got a designer friend involved, and the things he was cranking out were really gorgeous, and expensive to make," says Goodby. "We did a little focus group where people said it looked like a high-end tequila. But it didn't somehow capture the handmade quality of the thing." 

Around this time, Goodby happened to go to Auction Napa Valley, a celebrated wine event. On the winning bottle, "a guy had actually taken what looked to be one of those silver Magic Markers and had written his name on the bottle," Goodby recalls. "And I thought, 'That looks great!' "

Instead of a really ornate bottle, Goodby and Berlin chose an almost off-the-shelf bottle and just put some interesting handwriting on it. Goodby wrote a little story about tequila, which appears in English on one side of the bottle and in Spanish on the other side. Berlin did the actual handwriting in his distinctive scrawl. 

"It looks very handmade," Goodby says. "Compared to the really beautifully designed ones, this one just killed. It was much more interesting to people."

From there, it was a matter of distribution and marketing.

"We've learned to make the bottles in Mexico. We have our own casting of the bottle," Goodby says. "We've learned how to get the bottle printed and silkscreened in Mexico, and then filled and sent across the border. There's a lot that goes into a little thing like this." 

Balancing connoisseurs and consumers
In terms of marketing, the brand leans heavily into social media. It's a sipping tequila, and a very expensive one at that—a one-liter bottle goes for $225 on Caskers.com. ("It's not that stuff that makes your head slap back when you drink it," Goodby says with a laugh.) And so, they promote it by building excitement among tequila aficionados in social, with almost no paid media. 

"We've done little promotional things," Goodby says. "We sent Donald Trump a bottle after he said he wanted to build a wall in Mexico. And we had Germán say, 'Mr. Trump, I think I have a little something that will change your mind about Mexico.' We had fun with that. People went back and forth and talked about it." 

The marketing challenge is to move beyond the aficionados. But that's easier said than done, and keeping the core fans happy is job one. 

"This is never going to be Jose Cuervo," Goodby says. "Social media is so important to this kind of thing—to make Germán into a known commodity. People follow him and know him in the inner circles of tequila. He's like a music composer and people are looking for his next album, and this is it."

A simple social post can draw incredible attention to even the smallest of brand moves. 

"We have a couple pallets of tequila coming across the border right now," Goodby says. "And we'll put a picture of that online, and people will be like, 'Oh my god.' "

Goodby has even indulged the obsessiveness of the fans with Easter eggs on the packaging.

"People notice little changes on the label that indicate that it's a new barreling—we're on our third barreling of it," he says. "This sounds really nerdy, but I've changed the little icon on the label each time to indicate that it's a new barreling. There was a star, and I made it into a pineapple. And people notice those things, and they go, 'Have you tasted the pineapple barreling yet?' It's crazy."

What creatives learn by becoming the client
The whole experience has been fun and interesting, Goodby says, and healthy creatively to pursue something outside of advertising for a change. 

"It's liberating and good for your creative head to have something else to think about as you're falling asleep at night," he says. "But the really important thing is that it makes you draw in artistic impulses from other places. I always think advertising people look to other advertising for their inspiration way too often. Rich [Silverstein] and I really try hard to look in places other than advertising—in film, in magazines, in news, in popular culture." 

Along with forcing you to seek new inspiration, any entrepreneurial venture is valuable in another way, too: "It makes you understand what it feels like to be on the other side of the desk—to be a client," says Goodby. "And that's good, because as advertising people, we can get pretty bratty about stuff and forget that other people have a lot of skin in the game, too." 

GS&P doesn't actually have a liquor client at the moment, but Tears of Llorona is pretty good practice for if and when they do. (Goodby says he can't imagine his involvement in such a "dinky" luxury brand would be seen as a conflict by any of the major liquor marketers, hardly any of whom deal in such ultra-high-end stuff.) 

For those of you who want to try Tears of Llorona but don't have $225 lying around, you may be in luck. The brand just made a smaller bottle it will be importing soon that will be less expensive. Says Goodby: "It's funny how much excitement there is about having a product that's finally under $100."

Goodby himself will always have a soft spot for milk, of course. But as he rightly points out, "tequila goes a lot better with cigars." 

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