Remember when Big Bird knew Snuffaluffagus was real, but nobody on Sesame Street believed him? That's essentially the dilemma facing Jenna Fagnan, president of Tequila Avión.
Jenna Fagnan not only has to persuade drinkers to try her tequila: She has to convince them the brand exists outside of Entourage, the show that this summer built a plot around the unknown spirit.
"I think it's probably the first time in marketing history where you have brand awareness before you have distribution or brand legitimacy," Fagnan says. "The key is for people to know it's real."
As Avión co-founder Ken Austin told Mediaweek last month, Entourage creator Doug Ellin needed something for Jerry Ferrara's character to do, and settled on tequila promotion after his boyhood friend -- and Avión co-founder -- Kenny Dichter suggested it. The deal required Avión's folks to keep out of the writers' room.
"We had no say whatsoever, which is stressful, because that show can push the limit," Fagnan recalls. "We had to just go with it."
So rather than stressing Avión's slow-roasted agave or slow filtration process, the show focused on how much character Vincent Chase liked to gulp it during self-destructive, cocaine-fueled benders. The show made no mention of the founders' journeys into Jalisco to recruit fifth-generation agave growers, a back story that appealed to indie mixologists in New York and Los Angeles, where Avión launched before the tequila episodes aired.
Fagnan maintains the product placement didn't dim Avión's cache within the industry.
"A lot of these guys watch Entourage," she says. "They live that lifestyle."
But, since even bartenders can fall prey to confusion, the brand's running a series of print ads and billboards that read: "Yes, it's real."
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Avión arrived in Dallas last week, and Fagnan says she's especially excited about the debut.
"Texas is the ideal market," she says. "Texans know tequila, and they understand good brands."
Entourage depicted one particular Texan who developed a fondness for Avión, but Fagnan says that plot line was pure fantasy - sort of.
"Mark Cuban is not one of our investors," Fagnan says. "But he is now a fan of Avión, so we're pleased with that."