SUMMARY What happens when a nearly 250-year-old brand, in a three-year sales decline in the wake of a bygone era of ostentatiousness, takes an overlooked truth about itself to a place of emotional and creative potency? For Hennessy, the answer is an aggressive and radically different kind of luxury brand campaign that reversed a sales decline and regained cultural credibility.
Once upon a time Hennessy was a brand that made dreams come true: it rode a wave of “bling” to the peak of luxury. But by 2011, aspirations had changed and so did consumers’ dreams.
After the economic crisis, the version of luxury and conspicuous wealth that fueled Hennessy’s growth was no longer appealing. The fad went out of fashion, and Hennessy’s growth went with it.
It was Strategy’s job to elevate Hennessy VS to stand for something enduring and to embody a new version of cultural credibility and captivate a new target.
We went chasing for a new dream. We found a Wild Rabbit. We also surpassed growth goals by 200%.
BACKGROUND: When Bling’s Not In Hennessy is more than just the world’s best-selling cognac. Like many premium spirits, it’s been a symbol of quality, achievement and power for decades.
In the words of Gilles Hennessy, executive Vice President of Moet Hennessy and a direct descendant of the founder Richard Hennessy, “Hennessy is a brand that should make dreams come true.”
In the 1990s, it did. As the economy soared and hip hop stars embraced the brand, sales surged. Hennessy became the embodiment of success during an era defined by “bling”.
But by the mid-2000s economic turmoil and shifting trends in luxury had changed consumers’ perceptions and created new aspirations. The target had graduated from admiring those who flaunted over-the-top signs of wealth to appreciating a balance of life goals and a breadth of tastes. Yet Hennessy’s position had remained the same: a symbol for show, not for substance.
The core business – Hennessy VS – was in decline for three straight years. Sales were down 5% at bars and clubs. New, insurgent premium brands and revitalized heritage spirits were eating away at share of volume – brands like Ciroc, Patron and Jameson had managed to create cultural credibility by tapping into modern status, rebranding Hennessy as obsolete.
Within this dynamic cultural and competitive landscape how could we, as Mr. Hennessy said, once again make dreams come true?
THE CHALLENGE: Chasing Dreams Our task was to identify a new definition of success - one re-interpreted for a new era and rooted in an enduring truth about Hennessy rather than a passing fad.
Our idea would need to work hard for us: reflect modern status, regain cultural credibility, expand our target to a younger and new audience, and be able to be easily activated along the consumer’s path to purchase. And, practically speaking, we needed to excite distributors who stock Hennessy at liquor stores and create demand at bars and clubs.
THE STRATEGY: Looking Away From Our Target and Into Ourselves Over the coming months Strategy interrogated the category, consumer, culture and, of course, the brand - until it confessed.
We formed an online bulletin board made up of our target consumer that allowed us to dive deep into their thoughts on the category and the brand over the period of a month.
We mingled with drinkers at bars and clubs from Harlem to Los Angeles.
We visited “bullet-proof” liquor stores around the country, the types of small, independent Mom and Pop stores that make up 85% of Hennessy’s volume.
And then we went to the source, the same hallowed ground where the world’s finest cognac had been made for 248 years.
Unfortunately for us this meant a trip to the South of France. We visited the Maison Hennessy in Cognac. There, after days of tasting the wines and shaping oak barrels by hand and quietly creeping through row after row of ancient and still-aging spirits in the cellar, we were truly humbled by the staggering substance behind the revered badge.
There were many inimitable and compelling truths – first we were struck by the choicefulness the Maison practiced with everything from selecting the perfect soil in Cognac to picking the right grapes to harvest to the delicate process of choosing the best eau-de-vie to blend. Hennessy’s greatness was the sum of these choices.
Inspiration came again when we delved deeper into the process. We were in awe of the instinct and intuition used to make cognac – it’s made by memory, by feeling and by sensing the qualities that will blend to make the perfect spirit. The master blender had only his own intuition to produce this alchemy.
But it was the master blender Jean Fillioux’s near-telepathic ability to predict the potential of eau-de-vie that was truly magical.
We hijacked Mr. Fillioux, who had never done anything but pass judgment on marketers before, and brought him back to Moet Hennessy’s headquarters in Paris to further investigate that truth of realizing potential and determine what drives it.
What we learned that was most surprising was that the tone of Mr. Fillioux’s pursuit was not that of a civilized French pastime.
Instead it was aggressive and almost maniacal. His relentless chase was for something he could never attain: the perfect blend, the exact moment to uncap every barrel, the taste he has in his mind but can never seem to recreate in a snifter.
It was this value of pushing the limits of potential and the aggressive, fanatic approach to it we discovered in France that we brought to consumer groups across the county to test and refine a positioning.
From here, realizing potential became the core of our strategy. When we overlaid it with the tone of a never-ending chase for success, it resonated deeply.
In our creative brief, we married the role of the brand – to champion those who push the limits of their potential - with the tone of the process and came out with a new emotional and creative space to own: the continuous quest to become greater.
Strategy defined a new space for Hennessy of aggressive luxury. The message we needed to bring to life was one about the continuous quest: a maniacal, compulsive, obsessive conviction shared by those for whom the top is never high enough.
OUR CREATIVE CHALLENGE: The Chase How can we bring to life this strategy that animates a venerable brand with a consumer in a way they can relate to and apply to their own lives?
How do we bring this “Chase” to life creatively?
The creative team responded both literally and laterally.
What they conceived was the Wild Rabbit, a manifestation of the ambition to succeed that can never be satisfied. Those who see the Wild Rabbit never stop chasing it; for them, like Hennessy, the top is never high enough and their work is never done.
The Wild Rabbit became a mysterious, dark and powerful metaphor for the inner drive and ambition to succeed that can never be extinguished.
That dream you can’t give up. The idea that keeps you up at night. The cause that’s just out of reach but worth fighting for. That’s your Wild Rabbit.
Few see it. Even fewer dare to chase it.
This relentless pursuit isn’t just the thing that drives Hennessy, it’s what fuels our innermost dreams and desires.
DEPLOYMENT: The Wild Rabbit The 360 degree integrated campaign manifested itself at all points along the consumer journey – the mantra of “Never Stop, Never Settle” extended to our media behavior.
The Rabbit dashed across on-premise activations in bars and clubs, burrowed through liquor store displays around the country and flashed like a shadow in events in NYC and LA. If you blinked you might have missed it.
To seed the idea of the Wild Rabbit in key markets we began with teaser posters and murals that asked the question “What’s Your Wild Rabbit?” in a smoky, haunting typeface.
To launch the idea of the Wild Rabbit into the cultural consciousness, Hennessy went big: print and outdoor ads featuring Manny Pacquiao, Martin Scorsese and Erykah Badu, a national TV spot featuring Pacquiao and an immersive online experience.
And the chase even extended down a digital rabbit hole, where Neverstopneversettle.com became an immersive online journey to a dreamlike world where the ambitions of Badu, Scorcese and Pacquiao become real inspiration for users to find their own Wild Rabbits.
The campaign even refreshed internal Moet Hennessy communications like email signatures and business cards.
RESULTS The Wild Rabbit campaign not only reversed the dramatic decline in sales that Hennessy VS had suffered for three years but drove growth that exceeded targets by more than 200%.
In less than a year after launching the campaign, Hennessy VS rose in value by 7.5%. This outperformed its competitive set in dollar sales by 21% and even gained one point of market share.
The Wild Rabbit campaign lit up the trade. Distributors, a crucial audience and key stakeholders in the spirits business, were enamored. Ninety nine percent of distributors surveyed when they saw the campaign said they loved the new direction that Hennessy was taking.
The Wild Rabbit messaging created relevance with a new younger target. Awareness, purchase intent and preference all increased by 15%, 33% and 40% respectively. The NeverStopNeverSettle.com digital hub beat expectations with over 222,000 visits since launch, an average time spent at 3:30 minutes and over 400,000 views.
Most importantly, though, was the overwhelming response and renewed excitement from the clients.
“Our breakthrough campaign that inspires consumers to push the limits of their potential is a very powerful message of quality and empowerment. This is the essence of the Wild Rabbit.\" – Rodney Williams, Senior Vice President of Moet Hennessy USA