How Jay Z Helped Infuse D’USSE Into His Hip-Hop Empire
It was billed as the epic event of the year; a ridiculously lofty title that even within the razzle dazzle showbiz universe we live in can come off as pure, eye rolling hype. But even if Tuesday’s (October 20) buzz-heavy, star-studded Tidal X concert at Brooklyn’s Barclay Center—headlined by Jay Z and Beyonce, and backed up by the roaring likes of Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Meek Mill, French Montana, Usher, Nick Jonas, Nas, and Lil Wayne—didn’t have extended set lists by these music mavens (all did one or two songs, yet the consensus is the head-banging, hair whipping Queen Bey stole the show), the sheer star power of it all was still impressive.
Yet for the thousands of fans who were a part of the fast-paced festivities, a chest-beating statement to celebrate 1 million subscribers of the Jay Z owned streaming music service Tidal, the nonprofit charity show featured an omnipresent brand throughout the main stage of the arena home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets as well as behind-the-scenes: D’USSE cognac. Of course, this was by no means some ham-fisted advertising ploy. It was simply the culmination of a groundbreaking three-year partnership between the hip-hop icon, music mogul and ever-evolving business magnate and the French-based, high-end Bacardi produced V.S.O.P. spirit first launched in June of 2012.
Beyond just slipping into the role of spokesperson for D’USSE, Jay has managed to incorporate the brand into nearly every facet of his operation be it his live treks, management company Roc Nation, the 40/40 club or Tidal. There are huge D’USSE banners showcasing the luxury cognac at the event. It’s trademark bottle decoration and logo—the famed Cross of Lorraine, a French symbol that represents honor, courage, and perseverance—is unavoidable backstage at the pop-up D’USSE Lounge, the official D’USSE-sponsored greenroom, so to speak, populated by Tidal artists, industry bigwigs, family members and other assorted VIP’s. There’s a D’USSE VIP riser where a chosen few and contest winners got the chance to see Jay Z and crew rock, rock on.
From its pre-show black (no red required!) carpet to a 40/40 Club after party, D’USSE’s presence is declarative, swaggering, and bold. And according to Berk Communications executive Lauren Menache, who handles press for the D’USSE and other high profile brands, the Tidal event represents a new chapter in the spirit’s union with Jay Z.
“D’USSE has activated around Jay Z’s shows in the past, but this was the first one where we have officially come in as a Tidal sponsor and have the ability to grant media access throughout this exposure to talk about our integration,” said Menache. ”There’s a larger story here about how D’USSE and brands that Jay Z works with are able to integrate with each other to create an exceptional experience.”
Indeed, when VIBE sat down with D’USSE spokesperson Ron Berkowitz and brand director Brian Axelrod, we found the pair to be quite passionate about the rising cognac, its layered union with Jay-Z, it’s mammoth Tidal X show sponsorship and why the hip-hop world has embraced D’USSE. Peep game.
Ron Berkowitz: You can see Jay Z’s imprint here at our D’USSE Lounge. This is like the 400th show that D’USSE has been involved in. Nothing goes pass Jay and his team. They are the ones that put the final stamp on it. The way the black carpet is presented; the curtains; the bottle presentation…everything goes by Jay.
Bran Axelrod: I think D’USSE has become synonymous with Tidal, but also with Jay Z, Roc Nation and his tours. People come to expect that cross promotion like the Code, our main drink that has been around since the beginning of our run with Jay. It’s our staple drink. It’s D’USSE cognac, Disaronno Amaretto, fresh pineapple juice and then you serve it with a garnish of a lime. Now each tour you have something different in terms of specialty drinks. I’ve been a part of the brand for three years, and during those years I’ve been on three tours with Jay and one with Rihanna and Eminem.
How did the pairing of Jay Z and D’USSE come together?
Axlerod: Jay has always been a big fan of the brand. Bacardi reached out to Jay, and since he liked it, we jumped on board and said, “Whatever you need, let’s do it.” We created our first activation for the Jay Z/Justin Timberlake tour, which was a huge hit. It was only an activation for backstage, but it was such a big hit that when we did the On The Run tour [with Jay Z and Beyonce] we did activation not only for the backstage but also for the riser—a VIP viewing area for the actual concert. We also did a huge activation for Jay Z’s Magna Carter tour.
Berkowitz: But this Tidal show is simply the biggest activation D’USSE has ever been a part of.
Axlerod: It really is. We’ve never really done print advertising because we want to do more organic stuff. We are not a marketing gimmick. D’USSE has won a gold medal at the San Francisco Spirits Competition. We really want to promote the liquor first.
How tough of a partner is Jay?
Axlerod: Well anything that he does is premium, so you have to know that when you work with a Jay Z. He deals in luxury. We are taking cognac to a different place. I can’t speak for Jay, but if you look at some of the things that he’s done, whether it be his clothing partnership with Barney’s or some of the other major deals that he has done, it’s not just going in with blinders. We all decided that it was important to not treat D’USSE like your typical cognac.
How much of an impact has the hip-hop community overall had on the success of D’USSE?
Axlerod: The song mentions that D’USSE have gotten over the years have been huge. Lil Wayne has a song called “D’USSE”. He has no affiliation with the brand. When I heard that I just went, and excuse my language, “Holy shit!” [Laughs] My phone was blowing up. Fabolous put us in a song; Drake put us in a song. Most of these artists don’t even have an affiliation with Roc Nation.
Berkowitz: As Brian has said, everything on the marketing side has been very organic. This taps into the way Jay and Roc Nation does business. But that’s because of the demand for the product. At the end of the day, you have to have a product that people like. And D’USSE is a great product that people like. We’ve taken it from, “Okay, here is what people think of cognac,” to “this is what you can do with cognac.”
This is not your old man’s cognac…
Axlerod: Right! But here’s the thing. D’USSE is the perfect floor for the veteran cognac drinker, but you can do so much more with it. It’s not just cognac and coke. I believe we go beyond that. Most people are used to drinking cognac with simple mixers—your cranberry, your sodas. But we try to bring more of a mixology element to it as well. We also do a lot of the classic cocktails such as the Sidecar. It’s almost a different way of drinking cognac. Brown spirits are very hot right now, whether you are talking about bourbon or cognacs. Sometimes we keep it straight on the rocks, which we call the Perfect Pour. We want to integrate D’USSE throughout all kinds of demographics. We don’t want to just market towards one specific audience.
Berkowitz: I would say one of the huge things we’ve seen over the last couple of years is cognac has crossed over to females.
Axlerod: Really, a lot of people find brown spirit a little intimidating. D’USSE is much more approachable.
What was it about the Tidal event that made it so important to pull out all the stops marketing wise?
Axlerod: Well, this event, which featured such amazing artists, there is no better way to highlight D’USSE. We’ve always done the backstage activation stuff with Jay, but we’ve never done a commercial outside of the actual event. So when you log on to Tidal there’s a 30 second spot on D’USSE. We’ve never done that before. And we are about to expand outside the US in Nigeria right around 2016 and in the first quarter in the UK. TIDAL doesn’t just speak to the US…it speaks to everyone all around the world.