What do Kevin Hart, A$AP Rocky and Post Malone have in common? James Morrissey.
Morrissey, an Irish expat who now lives in New York, isn’t always in the limelight, which is by design. But as the brands he co-founded grew exponentially, Morrissey found himself cultivating a reputation as a man with the Midas touch in the increasingly cluttered and fickle world of celebrity booze.
Morrissey is the founder and CEO of Global Brand Equities, the business partner of some of the most hyped celebrity spirits launched to date. Take, for example, his first venture: the Maison No. rosé. 9 by Post Malone. Users crashed Vivino, the world’s largest wine platform, on the day the wine launched in May 2020. Over 50,000 bottles were sold online in two days; over one million bottles have been sold to date. Maison No. 9 has more than 186,000 followers on Instagram and has more than 11 billion impressions in earned media to date, executives say.
The buzzy wine launch was followed in 2022 by Sunny Vodka with influencers Zack Bia and Anastasia “Stassi” Karanikolaou, Gran Coramino cristalino tequila with Kevin Hart, and Mercer + Prince Canadian whiskey with A$AP Rocky. Every brand launches with celebrity social media games, providing instant visibility to a built-in audience.
If that sounds like a strategy more suited to fashion than spirits, it’s intentional, says Morrissey. To begin with, the launch of Maison No. 9 was meant to mimic the advertising of a limited edition sneaker. “The idea of announcing a multimillion-dollar venture just 48 hours before the product comes to market?” says Morrissey. “Are we only using social media as a means of communication? And then turning on ‘available for purchase’ at the exact minute at the exact time?… That’s never been done in the beverage industry.”
This technique may be foreign to the established alcohol world, but not to the culturally savvy consumer that Maison No. 9 was watching. “It’s just talking to the users we know in the language they speak,” says Morrissey. He adds that he sees it as a strength to be a new entrant in a world dominated by legacy brands. “Looking at things through a new lens was very beneficial from a business perspective. This is very foreign to the conglomerates sitting next to me. Idea to execution at a larger company level can take anywhere from three years to six years with our competition. We launched three brands [in 2022].”
Something about Morrissey’s alchemy is paying off. According to GBE executives, the company sees approximately $60 million in retail sales in 2022; projected retail sales for 2023 are $128 million. More launched brands are likely, but executives are tight-lipped about what the next celebrity-backed brand to drop could be. In part, this is due to Morrissey’s approach of matching the right product with the right face.
Each GBE brand stands on its own as a separate entity and has its own corporate strategy. For Mercer + Prince, GBE and A$AP Rocky collaborated on an original bottle design that featured two detachable cups at each end of the bottle. The bottle, which is rectangular, can stand vertically or horizontally. Even the Mercer blend (a Canadian whiskey that is finished in Japanese Mizunara oak) aims to attract attention and spark conversation. For Gran Coramino, the choice to stand out comes from launching with only cristalino (clarified aged tequila) and not blanco or reposado.
“There is a huge misconception in the consumer market and in some business circles that creating success with celebrity-endorsed alcohol is as simple as putting a name on a bottle,” says Morrissey. “I started by building the basics in the beverage business first, which is the opposite of how most people do it. Most people find the celebrity first. I wasn’t interested in that. I had to build a good product myself, then if there was a natural connection with someone like Post [Malone]it made sense then.’
“It wasn’t just about marrying the talent,” says Gran Coramino co-founder Kevin Hart of Morrissey’s approach to building a brand. “It’s finding the best ways to tell a story. . which provides opportunity for evergreen moments in this business. [This is] it is not a business in which you want to achieve temporary success. You want to have lasting success. I feel like with the brands that James has built with GBE, that’s what they deliver.”
Hart, an entertainer who juggles a comedy tour alongside TV spots and film gigs, was drawn to what he saw as a kindred spirit. “For me, it’s never about doing something halfway, being able to do it 100 percent or nothing,” Hart says. “I feel like James is someone who embraces the same world and the same level of need. Everything went well and I think I made the right decision.”
Post Malone also has glowing words for his business partner. “Corporate partners rarely speak the same language as artists and musicians, but James and Global Brand Equities get it right,” says the artist. “Me and [manager and co-founder Dre London] We collaborated really authentically with James and the team and managed to deliver incredible growth for the Maison No.9 brand in a very competitive business. Our trips to the winery in France made for an amazing partnership.”
Part of what makes the brands work, according to Morrissey, is that he only partners with artists who will be as committed as his team. “These are business partnerships,” says Morrissey. “It just so happens that some of my business partners are some of the most famous people in the world. I treat them as a true business partner.” Possible new launch brands at GBE are at a standstill as Morrissey concludes that a potential new celebrity partner “has good intentions but will not be a committed partner from a business perspective”.
Morrissey isn’t just being strategic with his star partners. He was able to connect with corporate partners, including some of the world’s largest wine and spirits conglomerates, for production and distribution. The third co-founder of Gran Coramino, for example, is Juan Domingo Beckmann, the billionaire CEO of José Cuervo Beclé producer SAB and founder of Proximo Spirits, the US-based importer of Beclé. Other GBE partners include E&J Gallo Winery, the world’s largest wine producer. “The corporate partner is just as important as our talent,” explains Morrissey. “Juan Domingo Beckmann and Proximo Spirits, which is the original creator of the tequila category and the largest agave landowner in the world, gives us a source and perspective that other brands don’t have.”
Combining GBE’s experienced startup energy with an established conglomerate is a win-win, says Morrissey. “We don’t want to be the same as the long-standing traditional conglomerate that controls the industry,” he says. “That might sound like a negative thing, but it’s not. There’s a place for us at the table. We are very unconventional and unconventional as a company. That is why yin and yang work between partners.”
As more executives and artists watch from the sidelines, there will likely be more companies trying to replicate the GBE formula. Morrissey is optimistic about it. “Do I think we’re going to have competitors?” he muses. “Of course we have competition every day, but we are not focused on that. We’re confident enough in what we’re doing that we know our way around and don’t look at other people’s backyards.”
“There’s a lot to lose,” he adds. “I’ve had some success, but that’s all in the future. I need the right people to do it. I need the right corporate partners. I need the right partners for talent, product creation, innovation. There are many variables. But to date, we are firing on all cylinders.”
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