The pitch to candy-drained parents: after your martini and screwdriver Halloween party, wash out a couple of the skulls, put some candles in them and you’ll have one of the creepiest-looking houses on the block.
“We’re solving everyone’s Halloween problems with the head. It’s the new Crown Royal bag. Nobody wants to throw them away,” Aykroyd said while on tour, referring to the purple velvet sack that the Canadian-made whiskey comes in.
The smiling Crystal Head, which is so, um, life-like, that it looks like it belongs in a museum or maybe a dentist’s office. What makes its brand even scarier to some, however, is that it’s been banned from liquor store shelves in Canada’s biggest province by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO).
While some entrepreneurs might be running to their lawyers over such a snub, Aykroyd is revelling in it and thinks it makes the vodka more appealing. In towns close to the U.S. border, Crystal Head is being marketed as “banned and outlawed” in Ontario to encourage cross-border shopping trips.
“I like that. You can’t buy that kind of cache. It’s an outlaw vodka,” he says. “We don’t market to Goths and bikers. It’s not like we’re selling used battery acid. We are targeting premium, upscale consumers aged 25 to 65. (The bottle) gives the bartenders and retailers something to talk about. Every beverage should have a legend.”
In a press release, the LCBO defended its action.
“As a socially-responsible retailer, we feel it is inappropriate to sell beverage alcohol bottled in the shape of a human skull in our stores, especially its common association with death and poison. We try to balance our commitment to making products available and responsibly serving our customers. Social responsibility is an important factor when considering products to offer for sale and this extends to their packaging and promotion.”
What’s that they say about no publicity being bad publicity?
Crystal Head has carved out a significant niche in North America's premium vodka market since last spring, recently surpassing the 1-million-bottle mark. Each one sells for between $50 and $60 CDN.
"It's nice to ride a winner. I've flogged a lot of bad movies that I'd be telling you how funny they were on Wednesday but by Friday, I'd know they were dead," Aykroyd quips.
The bottle was designed by John Alexander, an American landscape artist and friend of Aykroyd. It was inspired by the actor’s interest in the occult and the legend of 13 quartz crystal heads that were discovered around the globe.
“I find the legends of the paranormal and extra terrestrials very entertaining,” he says.
On the surface, Halloween would appear to be Crystal Head’s best time of the year and Aykroyd doesn’t dispute this. But the liquid has proven sufficiently popular in winter, spring and summer, too.
“We came out at Halloween and wondered, ‘is it only going to be a Halloween product?’ It is one of our peak buying seasons but we’re not an exclusive Halloween product. People like the taste of it and it looks great behind a bar. Halloween is a bonus bump,” he says.
Aykroyd didn’t take the private jet route that you might expect of someone of his celebrity. Instead, he and his crew built brand awareness as they cruised around in a white, six-cylinder, 13-speed RV he dubbed “the Skull Wagon” or “the Head Mobile.”
From the front, it looks like any other RV, but this one is emblazoned with Crystal Head's skull logo on each side. “It’s a rolling billboard,” he says.
Crystal Head’s brand also gets a significant boost from its website. Not only does Aykroyd appear in a video to tell its story, the site also includes some tasty head-focused recipes, such as Brain Freeze, Red Head, Bubble Head, Head Stone, Heads Up and, naturally, Lobotomy. Yummy.
Aykroyd says he sees no problem with using his celebrity to promote alcohol.
“Why not use it for something that will please people? I’ve put experiences in people ears and eyes and minds but I’ve never put something in their mouths. This is a tangible material taste that I’ve put on people’s tongues,” he says.
Even though he’s the owner of the Aykroyd brand and a partner in Diamond Estates, which distributes Crystal Head, he says it doesn’t rely on his celebrity for sales.
“More than 70 per cent of our customers don’t even know I’m involved. I’m not doing commercials or putting my face out there, although I wouldn’t mind getting a beautiful celebrity like Beyonce to endorse it,” he says.