Why A Tequila Fountain Really Isn’t Funny or OK

Yesterday, for National Tequila Day, Jose Cuervo did a marketing stunt, installing “tequila” fountains in three locations around Los Angeles. It worked. Here’s a story from Hollywood Reporter: “Jose Cuervo Put Tequila In A Hollywood Water Foundation Because Mondays Are Hard.” AdWeek* also wrote about it, and it certainly appeared on countless Instagram feeds.

I saw the photos this morning while I scrolled through my social feed. Isn’t it funny? Isn’t it innocuous? This photo by Jose Cuervo appears to be staged, though maybe it’s real. This is the stuff that marketers love to dream up around conference room tables. “What can we do that hasn’t been done before? How about switching out tequila for water in high visibility LA destinations?” I can see the brief right now, and it reads something like this:

“Goals: Demographic: diverse millennials with their phones out, coverage by major media, and use of the hashtag #H2Cuervo.” (I know this because I’ve sat around these kinds of conference tables, though thankfully never on this kind of account.)

So, success:


Accompanying this stunt was the disclaimer that IDs would be checked.

“Drink responsibly.” Isn’t that the tagline on everything? A Cuervo employee was operating the water fountain lever.

I just want to ask: what about marketing responsibly?

Because, disclaimers and all, images like this one were designed to populate social media feeds. It reads: Drinking tequila like water — harmless fun. Disclaimers aside, this image visually equates ethanol with H20.

And that’s messed up.

From the company’s release: “While other tequila brands focus on refinement and conformity, Jose Cuervo encourages all to fight the bland, live lively and embrace the now — because tomorrow is overrated.”

Let’s deconstruct this, shall we?

“While other tequila brands focus on refinement and conformity…” You are like Jose Cuervo. You are rebellious and wild.

“Fight the bland.” Life is so bland that you need tequila to make it “lively.” Water is definitely not enough to be alive.

“Embrace the now.” Throw caution to the wind. Live in the moment. There are no consequences. You deserve it.

“Tomorrow is overrated.” It is? That may be the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.

Tomorrow is overrated.

This line stings and burns more than any tequila I’ve ever tasted. And I’ve tasted a lot.

I also bought into the alcohol narrative supported by all kinds of media — advertising, social, legacy publications, new media: That there are absolutely no consequences. That booze is central to every aspect of life. That we can just keep pumping out these images of alcohol without any critical discourse. And more of us are calling BS on this.

Over 66 million Americans report that they binge drink on the regular. The economic impact of alcohol misuse is $249 billion each year (data from Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Heath). Oh, and people die — it’s among the leading causes of preventable deaths.

Tomorrow is overrated? “Excessive alcohol use shortened the lives of those who died by about 30 years”(CDC).

So good thing we’re living in the now and drinking tequila from a water fountain.

I know, I know: I’m the one with the problem. I’m the one who can’t “drink responsibly.” Me and millions of other Americans.

Only this is not true.

Because as I’ve said before and will say again, this is not an “us” and “them” problem. This is a “we” problem.

As I’ve said before: drink, don’t drink — that’s your call. But in the consumption, creation and sharing of images and stories around booze: think. Critically. What’s the story you’re telling? What’s the story we’re telling?

What cultural narrative are we building around what we put in? About what’s “fun?” About tomorrow?

Who is selling you?

And what are you buying?

Erin Shaw Street is a Birmingham, Alabama-based writer, editor and content strategist. With nearly 20 years working in media, she writes about travel, culture, health/wellness, and the modern American South. As a former magazine editor, non-profit leader, and advertising professional — as well as a person in long-term recovery — she’s passionate about re-shaping the narrative around alcohol, addiction, and recovery. Follow her @erinshawstreet.