Courvoisier Song Reflects Urban Marketing

The scene: Two women dance on top of a bar, as an arm suddenly slides a bottle under their legs and straight into the hands of rapper P. Diddy.

The bottle is unlabeled, but its shape and the reddish-orange liquid inside make it look suspiciously like the high-end French cognac Courvoisier XO Imperial.

And if there's any doubt, repeated images of the bottle and its contents are accompanied by the constant musical refrain: "Pass the Courvoisier."

No, it's not a commercial for Courvoisier, but a music video for Pass the Courvoisier, the latest single from rapper Busta Rhymes featuring P. Diddy. The song, whose lyrics are too racy to be published on a family Web site, has made it to No. 5 on Billboard's Hot Rap Singles charts, while the video is among the ones viewers can vote as their favorite on MTV's Total Request Live.

It's also a by-product of companies like Courvoisier's successful efforts to reach out to hip, urban consumers, a demographic that is growing in number, buying power and influence.

Emerging Market

Spokesmen for Rhymes and the liquor company emphasized that Courvoisier had nothing to do with the recording of the song. Representatives from the rapper's label, J Records, said Rhymes was inspired to make the single simply because he likes the drink.

"While we're flattered that Busta Rhymes recorded "Pass the Courvoisier," we didn't pay him to do it," says Jack Shea, spokesman for Allied Domecq, the London-based spirits and restaurant conglomerate which owns the Courvoisier label.

But having a brand name as part of the title of a very popular song and video is a marketing coup for the cognac maker as it tries to reach an urban demographic, say industry watchers.

The economic force of urban consumers, a multicultural group made up mostly of African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians, has been steadily expanding. Minorities' buying power was estimated at $860.6 billion in 2001, almost twice that of 1990, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga.

What's more, the demographic itself is growing. By 2050, people of Asian, Hispanic and African-American origin are expected to represent 48 percent of the U.S. population, compared to 29 percent in 1999, according to the latest Census Bureau estimates.

"For the most part, marketers have not paid attention to these markets; now it would be economic suicide not to," says Jerome D. Williams, director of the Center for Marketplace Diversity at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Preaching to the Hip

It's not the first time that a brand-name liquor has made it into the lyrics of a rap song.

Rapper Snoop Dogg mentioned Seagram's and Tanqueray in a hit called Gin and Juice back in 1993. And Hennessy, a brand owned by luxury goods group LVMH, is another drink commonly mentioned in songs by artists such as Pink and Ja Rule.

Courvoisier has also figured prominently for the past couple of years in the Saturday Night Live skit and movie The Ladies Man, in which comedian Tim Meadows woos the ladies with scented candles and a snifter of the cognac.

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