Moët Hennessy USA

Moët Hennessy USA had much to celebrate in 2015 and looks forward to more success with its well-known brands.

It’s been a significant year for Moët Hennessy USA, and nothing was worth celebrating more than the 250th anniversary of Hennessy, the company’s flagship brand. “It’s been an exciting year for Hennessy,” North America President and CEO Jim Clerkin says. “There are not many brands that have been around as long as Hennessy. We wanted to make [the anniversary] memorable.”

Hennessy clearly succeeded in that endeavor. Plans for a noteworthy celebration were two years in the making and included the Hennessy 250 Tour, a multifaceted event that included a traveling exhibition and cultural festival that visited sites on four continents including New York City’s Lincoln Center. The tour also made stops in Guangzhou, China; Moscow, Russia; and Johannesburg, South Africa.

The 250 Tour offered an opportunity for enthusiasts to take part in the Hennessy legacy via the Time Barrel, a global digital installation that let visitors leave a mark on the future by sharing digital messages to be shared with the world, Clerkin says. Additionally, the anniversary celebration featured the release of The Hennessy 250 Collector’s Blend, which the company describes as “a unique anniversary blend, born of select aging in 250 specially constructed casks; a blend crafted to illustrate our enduring pursuit of perfection in cognac.”

‘Never Stop. Never Settle’
Hennessy’s anniversary celebration was a momentous event for the New York City-based company, but it was by no means its sole focus in 2015. Instead, Moët Hennessy continued to look to the future and make the necessary adjustments to remain a market leader. Hennessy continues to enjoy strong performance in the U.S. market, including a 10 percent increase in 2014 sales and continued growth in 2015, Clerkin says. “The brand is doing well all over the world and has performed well in the United States,” he says. There are several reasons for that accomplishment, but none is more significant than Hennessy’s “Never Stop. Never Settle” marketing campaign, which kicked off four years ago, Clerkin says.

Created by the Droga5 advertising agency in New York City, the campaign featured television commercials, print advertisements, online and outdoor ads, promotional radio and a strong presence in social media including Facebook and Twitter. The television portion of the campaign featured world champion boxer Manny Pacquiao and rapper Nas. Hennessy was confident the two celebrities would connect with its growing base of younger consumers, who are striving to realize their personal and professional potential, Clerkin says. “Everyone is trying to improve,” he says. “You don’t know anyone who isn’t trying to improve. It’s what Hennessy has been trying to do for 250 years. It’s certainly working.”

Additionally the campaign succeeded in bringing new consumers to the brand, he says. “Manny Pacquiao is someone we thought would resonate with consumers,” Clerkin says. Similarly, Nas was selected for the campaign to connect with African-Americans, which represent more than half of Hennessy’s customers. Hispanics, meanwhile, comprise the brand’s fastest-growing group of consumers. “The Never Stop. Never Settle campaign spoke to people,” Clerkin says. “It really caught on with our consumers, regardless of age or ethnicity. It was about reaffirming our past and continuing the never ending quest to realize one’s potential.”

But as Hennessy looks ahead, it will need to keep innovating and keep engaging consumers in relevant ways with fresh product offers like the limited edition series for Hennessy V.S that it has done with notable artists such as Shepard Fairey, Futura and, most recently, Ryan McGinness, Clerkin says.

Marketing to Millennials
Millennials have become a significant portion of Hennessy’s base in recent years and a key to Hennessy’s success, Clerkin says. “Millennials are the generation with the most disposable income,” he says. “They are the ones driving the drink trade.” Further, they set many societal trends and rely on social media platforms to inform friends of the hottest clubs, restaurants, foods and beverages. “We’re now appearing on cocktail lists all over the country,” Clerkin says. “The brand is moving the way the population is moving.”

Of course, there are still traditionalists who enjoy Hennessy from a snifter, but the cognac also is being used to make a variety of cocktails, Clerkin notes. “Hennessy is adaptable; it can mix with anything,” he says.

Additionally, Hennessy has benefitted from the resurgent demand for brown spirits. “There is no better crafted spirit than Hennessy,” he says. “The consumer recognizes Hennessy’s world-class quality, and they have high expectations for quality.”

The market for cognacs and other spirits is competitive, but Hennessy’s ongoing marketing initiatives help it remain a leader, Clerkin notes. In fact, Moët Hennessy sponsored or participated in approximately 14,000 events in 2015 including concerts, festivals and tastings. Half of those events involved the Hennessy product line, he says. “2015 was a record year in sales,” he says. “We had a fantastic year.”

Toasting Success
Moët Hennessy USA’s success extends beyond its popular cognac. After all, the company is a leading importer and marketer of luxury wines, spirits and champagnes. Its portfolio includes brands such as Moët & Chandon, Dom Pérignon, Krug, Veuve Clicquot and Ruinart champagnes; Belvedere vodka; Grand Marnier; and Glenmorangie and Ardbeg single-malt Scotch whiskies. Fine wines including Cape Mentelle, Cloudy Bay, Newton Vineyard, Numanthia, Smoke Tree, Terrazas and Domaine Chandon California sparkling and still wines are also part of its family.

“It really looks like this is going to be a record year for champagne,” says Clerkin, who adds that beverage typically “hits its stride” during the holiday season. However, champagne has become increasing popular in recent years and is no longer considered a drink reserved for special occasions, he says. “It’s almost an everyday drink,” he says. “More people are drinking more champagne more often.”

Moët Hennessy USA offers champagnes at a variety of price points including Moët & Chardon and Dom Pérignon. The company has a 70 percent share of the champagne market in the United States, says Clerkin, who adds that it plans to take advantage of the momentum champagne is experiencing to further increase sales.

Additionally, Moët Hennessy USA has had considerable success with Moët Ice Impérial, the first champagne specially created to be served over ice. “It’s just a beautiful drink,” says Clerkin, who explains that the beverage features the aromas of various tropical fruits. The drink is a “recruiting tool” designed to attract younger consumers, many of whom prefer other types of fruity drinks and wines, he says.

‘Quality in Everything’
Moët Hennessy USA also is experiencing success with Belvedere vodka, the third-ranked super-premium vodka in the United States. “It’s been an amazing year for Belvedere vodka,” Clerkin says. Much of that success was the result of the drink’s collaboration with “Spectre,” the recently released James Bond movie, including a wide range of promotional activities leading up to the premier of the film. “It brought Belvedere to a whole new level,” he says. “We never had better visibility in the brand’s history.”

Its Glenmorangie is the fourth-best-selling malt scotch whiskey in the United States and exceeded the 100,000-case mark in 2014, says Clerkin, who describes the product as one the company’s greatest recent successes. Moët Hennessy USA relied on a television marketing campaign and word-of-mouth among millennials to drive Glenmorangie’s success. Moët Hennessy’s portfolio is relatively small, but the company does not measure its success via size. “We believe that quality in everything we do is of the utmost importance,” Clerkin concludes.

Moët Hennessy USA
Location: New York, N.Y.
Employees: 320
Specialty: Importer of wines, spirits and champagnes
Jim Clerkin, president and CEO, Moët Hennessy North America: “You don’t know anyone who isn’t trying to improve. It’s what Hennessy has been trying to do for 250 years.”