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ILEGAL MEZCAL // CREATIVE CAMPAIGN
INVITING SPIRIT DRINKERS TO PLAY WITH FIRE.
There's no shame in sticking to rum and coke. Nor is there any shame in seeking some more adventure from one's drink choices. Ilegal Mezcal, founded by a bootlegger and acquired by Bacardi, is an exciting if not naughty introduction to the world of mezcal, tequila's smoky cousin. To engage free-spirited drinkers, we positioned Ilegal as an invitation to play with fire.
What I Did: Spoke to spirit enthusiasts about their drinking evolutions. Interviewed bartenders to find out who orders mezcal. Researched traction in the tequila and mezcal markets. Snooped on spirit subreddits.
BACKGROUND: ILEGAL WAS ONCE BOOTLEGGED MEZCAL.
In 2003, US expat John Rexer began bootlegging bottles of his favorite spirit, mezcal, across the border from Oaxaca, Mexico, to his bar in Antigua, Guatemala, Café No Sé. When Mexico legalized mezcal exports in 2006, Rexer founded Ilegal to satisfy his bar patrons' growing demand. In 2017, Bacardi acquired a minority stake in Ilegal, allowing its expansion throughout the US.
PROBLEM: ILEGAL IS NOT THE TOP CHOICE IN AN INCREASINGLY CROWDED MARKET.
Ilegal is riding a mezcal heat streak. The US market is projected to grow 14.2% from 2020 to '25. Still, the first mezcal brand to enter the US market, Del Maguey, now owned by Pernod Ricard, remains its standard-bearer. In 2019, it sold nearly twice the number of bottles Ilegal did. Ilegal aspires to be a go-to for people who want easy access to the world of mezcal, but it faces an increasingly crowded marketplace.
TARGET: FREE SPIRITS
Mezcal is not for those who play it safe. It's for those who seek the thrill of a smoky cocktail. Free Spirits are seasoned drinkers who have graduated from the standard party elixirs, like vodka, rum, and tequila. They want to explore bold and unusual flavors, but such liquors often feel too rarified. Free Spirits aren't pretentious. They still want to have fun even though they crave a more sophisticated buzz.
REALIZATION: ILEGAL IS A CROWD-PLEASING MEZCAL WITH AN APPEALING HINT OF DANGER.
Retailing for around $30 for a 750ml bottle, Ilegal is an entry-level mezcal. Its un-aged "Joven" variety is light enough to compliment all manner of cocktails, but its pleasant smoke can also be enjoyed neat. What's more, Ilegal's louche backstory imbues it with an unmistakable hint of danger. While speaking to a 27-year-old mezcal drinker, he explained that this is the quality he seeks from mezcal:
"I associate mezcal with a loss of inhibition in a fun, vagabond-y way. Mezcal is definitely sexy. It's like let me take down a few more buttons on my shirt."
ILEGAL MEZCAL IS AN IRRESISTIBLE INVITATION TO PLAY WITH FIRE.
CREATIVE IDEA: WHERE THERE'S FIRE, THERE'S SMOKE.
Offbeat spirits crave a spirit that is from off the beaten path. That's why the musicians, travelers, and creative misfits who frequented Café No Sé took a shine to founder John Rexer's smoky elixir. Where there are interesting people, exciting times, and thrilling adventures, chances are there is also Ilegal Mezcal. Will you join?
OUT-OF-HOME + PRINT
THE SLOW BURN BOOK
The Slow Burn Book would allow drinkers to introduce some fire into their cocktail rotation—and love lives. The book would contain recipes for delicious mezcal cocktails with corresponding tips for dialing up the heat. The physical version would also include a perforated sheet of temporary tattoos.
These coasters would be flippable, allowing you to signal to your barkeep, server, and friends that you're ready for more mezcal.