A remarkable trend in the alcoholic-beverage industry in recent years has been hip-hop's influence on cognac consumption, as well as cognac's influence on the hip-hop lifestyle.
Thanks to the 2002 Busta Rhymes hit "Pass the Courvoisier," Allied Domecq's Courvoisier brand had already achieved major inroads into the urban market, but the spirits company was looking to expand that appeal even further.
"Previously, the brand had targeted a more female demographic, so we needed to reposition it for an urban, African- American male," says Courtney Lukitsch, partner with Gotham Public Relations, the agency of record for Courvoisier.
As Allied began brainstorming with Gotham, the team quickly got input from a well-known source. "We have a relationship with Russell Simmons, who pointed us in the direction of Fonzworth Bentley and said he was somebody we should be working with," says David Karraker, Allied's corporate communications VP.
Bentley had already become a celebrity through his work as Sean "P. Diddy" Combs' personal assistant, so Allied and Gotham decided to leverage his reputation as an arbiter of good taste in a campaign promoting Courvoisier's VSOP as synonymous with the finer things in life.
With Bentley as the inspiration, Gotham created the Courvoisier VSOP Most Exclusive Gentleman's Tour for 11 top markets, including New York, Atlanta, LA, Chicago, Houston, and Washington, DC. The tour combined in-store appearances with media events that featured the impeccably dressed Bentley and an entourage of "Bentley Ladies" outfitted in blue Courvoisier outfits, fedoras, white boots, and logoed umbrellas.
To build interest for the tour, Gotham put most of its early media focus on urban radio. "Not only was it the best way to reach this audience, but it was very effective both in promoting the events and for seasonal feature stories, such as cocktails for the holidays," says Gotham partner Dominic Albanese.
Gotham began reaching out to the media up to two months in advance of an event with a press kit that included a media advisory, as well as backgrounders on Bentley and Courvoisier VSOP. Included in the pitch were details on how residents in each market could enter for a chance to win a Most Exclusive Gentleman's Makeover.
"The combination of Fonzworth and Courvoisier gave us a whole range of journalists we could target," says Albanese. "Our first contact would always be entertainment and music reporters, but we could also go to the fashion editor in many cases because Fonzworth is so well- known for his ... attire."
Karraker adds that one key element was having the right spokesman. "I can't tell you what a pleasure it was to have a celebrity on the upside of his career willing to do the hard work with the media," he says.
The campaign was a huge hit with local urban radio in all 11 markets and also generated national coverage in urban lifestyle magazines, such as King and Upside. Bentley and Courvoisier proved to be a great hook for the general-interest press, as well, resulting in stories in the Chicago Tribune, People, and many other outlets.
Event attendance averaged between 300 and 600 people per club. And Karraker says, "The Courvoisier Gentleman's tour program resulted in a dramatic increase in both in-store sales and consumer awareness in the markets that held events."
Gotham and Allied are already working on a new campaign that will select and train a female sommelier in the Courvoisier XO Imperiale Connoisseur class to educate consumers about including cognac as part of a luxury lifestyle.
PR team: Allied Domecq US (Westport, CT) and Gotham Public Relations (New York)
Campaign: Fonzworth Bentley Courvoisier Gentleman's Tour
Time frame: April to December 2004