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Hard Rock Brand Continues Self Inflicted Qualitative Decline With Introduction Of Branded Cocktails In A Can

Ross Everett
by in Gaming Industry on
Hard Rock International Announces Hard Rock Ready-to-Drink Cocktails
  • Hard Rock International is introducing a line of premade ‘cocktails in a can’ under the name ‘Hard Rock RTDs’.
  • The line will include Margarita, Mojito, and Moscow Mule ‘inspired by those expertly made at Hard Rock International properties worldwide.’
  • ‘Hard Rock RTDs’ will be sold at retail outlets nationwide including 7-Eleven, Circle K, and Total Wine.

When I was in high school one of my best friends was a native of England and returned to London every summer. He always maintained that the first place he went after arriving in the UK was to the original Hard Rock Cafe for a hamburger. He wasn’t being ironic–at the time the London Hard Rock Cafe at 150 Old Park Lane was one of four in the world along with locations in Toronto, Los Angeles and Tokyo. After locations opened in New York City and San Francisco in 1984, he began to lament about how the ‘brand had been cheapened’ to the degree that he no longer had interest in maintaining his long running ritual on annual trips to London.

I can only imagine what he thinks about the brand now. The Hard Rock brand was founded by Issac Tigrett and Peter Morton–Morton is the son of Arnie Morton, best known for the Morton’s Steakhouse chain. His brother, Michael Morton, is former owner and co-founder of N9NE Group which was once a powerhouse in the Las Vegas dining and entertainment scene (for a time, N9NE Steakhouse ranked among the best in the city). The original founders sold their interest in the brand a long time ago, which passed to The Rank Group. In 1990, Rank completed their acquisition of the worldwide rights to the brand and proceeded to slap it on outlets in markets like Myrtle Beach, SC and Destin, FL that were more befitting of a TGI Fridays. In 2007, Rank sold Hard Rock, International and other related entities to the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

The Seminole Tribe acquired  124 Hard Rock Cafes, four Hard Rock Hotels, two Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Hotels and two Hard Rock Live! concert venues. They *didn’t* acquire the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas–it was sold by Peter Morton to Morgans Hotel Group in 2006. The Las Vegas HRH would soldier on until January 2020, when it closed for remodeling and transitioned into the Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. The closure of the HRH was the end of an era for both Las Vegas and the brand. Wolfgang Puck’s Spago is correctly given credit for lighting the torch of fine dining in Las Vegas. The same thing can be said about the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s influence on how Las Vegas was perceived by younger, hipper visitors. Here’s what we said about it last year:

The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino opened on March 10, 1995 not far from the former location of Howard Hughes’ ill fated Landmark Casino. It was originally opened as a joint venture between Harvey’s Lake Tahoe and Hard Rock Cafe founder Peter Morton but Morton bought out the entire project in 1997. It’s been through several ownership changes since but has always remained a vital part of the Las Vegas ecosystem. Even as it ceased to be a ‘hip new property’ it has stayed relevant due to their music venue aka The Jointa decent sportsbook (most recently run by Cantor Gaming, now known as CG Technologies) and a solid dining lineup including one of the best 24/7 options in town (Mr. Lucky’s).

The best way to understand the significance of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s influence on Las Vegas is to look at the media coverage at the time the property opened. The predominant tone was that the property’s ownership was ‘rolling the dice’ by targeting a younger, hipper demographic. There was plenty of condescension such as a New York Daily News story with the headline “Yo! Roll Over, Wayne Newton”. The fact that Las Vegas long ago shed the image of being a bizarro world for unsophisticated geriatrics is due in large part to the influence of the HRH.

Las Vegas fixture John Katsilometes called the HRH ‘an epicenter of energy’. He knows more about the city than anyone and wrote an excellent tribute to the property when it closed. In this paragraph, he details the HRH’s decline of influence as the ‘cool spot’ in town:

Over the decades, resorts chipped away at Hard Rock’s dominance as the place to be seen in Las Vegas. I recall House of Blues arriving and stripping some of that vibe, especially as it plucked Santana for a residency that continues today. The Palms became the next bright-shiny object in 2001, giving way to The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. When that hotel opened in December 2010, a friend texted from Hard Rock that you could actually fire a cannon across the casino and hit only a Mick Jagger memorabilia case.

Today, massive pool attractions are common, high-tech concert venues the norm. Hard Rock’s Vanity nightclub has never been particularly unique, and hotels long ago copped Hard Rock’s emphasis on high-scale restaurants (Palms partnered with Simon himself, and Nobu branched out to Caesars Palace).

The current ownership can’t be blamed for the dilution of the brand–that happened long before the Seminole Tribe got involved. At the same time, they haven’t done much to elevate it. It long ago ceased being synonymous with ‘cool’ or ‘quality’ or whatever you want to call it. Today, it is just another meaningless marquee of blandness for ‘flyover country’ America similar to the Olive Garden and Red Lobster. There’s no reason to think that will change–to the contrary, the brand positioning strategy now looks to be ‘extract all possible value while the gettin’ is still good’.

That leads us to today’s announcement–Hard Rock International once again takes aim at a clueless demographic of ugly Americans that consider the Cheesecake Factory to be ‘fancy’ and think they’re ‘well traveled’ because they took a week long tour of Europe after high school. I give you…..Hard Rock branded cocktails in a can!

Hard Rock International (HRI) today announces a second partnership with Stewart’s Enterprises, Inc. this one to launch Hard Rock RTDs which join their sister Hard Rock Hard Seltzers. The Hard Rock RTDs comprise Margarita, Mojito, and Moscow Mule, iconic cocktails which are inspired by those expertly made at Hard Rock International properties worldwide, ranging from the beloved Hard Rock Cafes to the iconic Hard Rock Hotels to the booming Hard Rock Casinos. At 8% ABV in 12-ounce cans, the RTDs will be sold in single flavor 4-packs (SRP: $12.99); and in mixed 6-packs, containing 2 of each flavor (SRP: $19.99). Distribution agreements are signed in multiple states. The licensing partnership between HRI and Stewart’s Enterprises, Inc. was negotiated by Broad Street Licensing Group (BSLG), a recognized leader in international brand licensing.

The three flavors are perfect choices. The Moscow Mule is a phony ‘import’ that originated in Manhattan at the Chatham Hotel. There’s not a cocktail that has been suffered the level of indignity as the margarita–done right, it’s a delicious and simple summer drink. The mojito–another favorite drink of Ernest Hemingway’s–is headed down the same path as the margarita with sickly sweet and fruity perversions. And now you don’t even have to go to TGI Friday’s or exert a little effort to make your own cocktails–you can pick up a somewhat reasonable facsimile of these three drinks in a can.

In other words, a once quintessential British brand has gone ‘full American’. Don’t be surprised to see Hard Rock logo gear for sale at WalMart sooner rather than later.

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