Cristal kicks itself

June 29, 2006

The story is everywhere. French champagne snob disses hip-hop’s love of their jewel brand, Cristal. A PR nightmare for Frederic Rouzaud, managing director of Cristal. A PR coup for Jay-Z, the well-spoken senior statesman of the hip-hop community.

In case you missed it here is the recap from USA Today:

Jayz Jay-Z said: "It has come to my attention that Rouzaud views the ‘hip-hop’ culture as ‘unwelcome attention,’. I view his comments as racist and will no longer support any of his products through any of my various brands including the 40/40 Club nor in my personal life."

Cristal_1 Rouzaud did not return a message seeking comment. But actually it was the writer of the article, and not Rouzaud, who used the phrase "unwelcome attention." After Rouzaud’s comments about Dom Perignon and Krug, scribe Gideon Rachman wrote: "Both Dom Perignon and Krug have had their share of unwelcome attention, too."

Call it is the curse of the leader. Leaders get picked on. They are the lightening rod of their industry. “Supersize Me” bit McDonald’s not Burger King. “The Devil Wears Prada,” not Gucci. “Wal-Mart uses illegal workers” What K-Mart doesn’t do the same?

In the Cristal case, hip-hop artists and young celebrity club-hoppers of all kinds have made the ultra-expensive bubbly the drink of choice since the early 90’s.

The job of youth culture is to rebel. And one sure fire way to rebel is to embrace a brand never marketed to you. A brand that stands for almost everything you are not. Cristal stands for rich, old, conservative, white aristocracy.

Club kids drinking Cristal are saying to the world: “We are hip, young, beautiful, rich and we have arrived. We are going to guzzle your expensive champagne and spray it all over us.”

Why did they choose Cristal? Because it tastes better than Dom Perignon or Krug? How can you really judge taste anyway? Taste is only a perception usually determined by price.

Cristal was chosen because it was the most expensive bubbly; it was the leader in ultra-premium champagne. Leaders are powerful icons and hold powerful positions in the mind.

Getting the youth to embrace a stodgy old brand is not easy. Levi’s has tried for years and failed. Why is Cristal trying to fight it? That’s insane to me.

Making champagne a more popular, more frequently consumed beverage among young people would be good for the category and for the brand. The only way to do that is with PR. And the hip-hop and celebrity crowd has done the work for them already. Just ask Cadillac how PR has helped turn that brand around.

Rouzaud should have been more careful. Rouzaud should have already had Jay-Z on his speed dial way before this incident. Never kick a PR gift-horse in the mouth.