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It’s no surprise that tequila reigns supreme for Cinco de Mayo, with on-premise sales nearly tripling around the Mexican celebration. Despite current coronavirus-related restrictions on bars and social gatherings, tequila is also consumers’ spirit of choice during lockdowns, with sales of the libation growing 54.2% for the latest four-week period, according to Nielsen.

The recent sales surge for tequila underscores how brands like Patrón would be remiss to pass up marketing around this year’s Cinco de Mayo even though it comes with a new set of challenges. In the past, the brand’s marketing plan typically centered on in-person events and sponsorships, reflecting how people typically celebrate at bars or restaurants. While at-home consumption made up a smaller portion of messaging in past years, it’s now the focal point.

“Tequila and Cinco are both very social, and I think for us, the biggest pivot was knowing that even though consumer behavior might have shifted a bit, they still want to connect and engage while social distancing,” Patrón’s VP of Marketing Adrian Parker recently told Marketing Dive.

This year, the 31-year-old tequila company is opening up the bar — albeit virtually — to connect consumers with bartenders across the nation for a night of conversation and tutorials about margaritas.

“It’s going to be a simple Cinco, but one that still has an element of celebration,” said Parker, who calls Cinco de Mayo “the Super Bowl of tequila.”

The brand will go live on Instagram Tuesday, May 5, at 5 p.m. ET, featuring 20 bartenders taking virtual gigs from their home bar or kitchen to chat with tequila fans and demonstrate how to make margaritas, pair the beverage with food and celebrate Cinco de Mayo at home. Patrón’s effort includes partnerships with delivery companies like Drizly and local restaurants for ready-made cocktail pickup.

Leaning into purpose

Promotion of the five-hour virtual cocktail-making event includes paid media on TV and social, with everything pointing users back to the brand’s Instagram account, where the livestream takes place on Tuesday. Leveraging Instagram as its campaign hub aligns with the brand’s past efforts on the social platform, including integrating an ordering capability in Stories, and may allow Patrón to extend the campaign’s reach and adapt its messaging in near real time based on consumers’ reactions.

Patrón since mid-April has hired bartenders — many of whom are out of work due to coronavirus-related shutdowns — for similar virtual gigs every day on topics such as how to run a home bar and how to make complicated drinks. The Cinco de Mayo campaign evolved into an extension of supporting the tequila brand’s partners during the economic downturn.

“The biggest opportunity is to just be there for our fellow humans and serve the people who have served us.”

Adrian Parker

Patrón, VP of marketing

“Our first response is, how do we support our bartenders, our trade partners and their families to make sure they have relief to get through, but also have jobs to come back to?” Parker said. “Thanks to Cinco we can empower bartenders across the country to work their craft to make a meaningful income and inspire consumers to do the same.”

While the brand’s activities will pivot to a virtual format this year, the intent and motivation to support its bartending community remains the same, he added.

“Our focus is now to be much more empathetic, and I think many brands will have that moment where they realize you can still support your business, but in ways where the consumer truly is at the heart of your actions and how you’re thinking about how you support them,” Parker said about how the pandemic is shifting marketers’ mindsets.

Historically, marketers’ mission is to promote product. And while that’s still the case, Parker argues the coronavirus pandemic is changing the creative process and accelerating purpose-driven initiatives to facilitate human connection.

“The biggest opportunity is to just be there for our fellow humans and serve the people who have served us,” he said. For Patrón, that means hiring the bartender community for virtual gigs while supporting consumers with tutorials, recipes and booze that’s accessible from home.

Laying the foundation

The Bacardi tequila brand’s Cinco de Mayo celebrations this year may set the stage for more virtual events down the road. In the past, Patrón has leveraged mobile tech like its Amazon Alexa “Ask Patrón” skill for cocktail recipes and tequila facts, and a “Bot-Tender” chatbot on Twitter.

Some of the nimbleness and adaptability Patrón has been forced to learn amid the pandemic will guide the tequila label’s marketing team after the world returns to “business as usual,” with its renewed focus on being empathetic and really listening to consumers, Parker said.

“Amid so many unknowns, I think we’re all learning together as marketers, as peers in the industry, but also just as people. When it comes to the Cinco-specific conversation, a lot of brands are using words in their briefs we don’t typically focus on — you know, empathy, comfort, connection and hope,” he said.”This pandemic has given us the opportunity to really lean on our brand purpose on a significant way.”

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