Promotional Packaging

Limited edition packaging gone wrong?

By Mark Stubbington
By Mark Stubbington

Hennessy have recently commissioned the artist Felipe Pantone to design limited edition packaging for their VSOP Cognac. A brief any branding agency would relish. Artist embellished ‘special’ packaging isn’t new, brands like Coca Cola have been doing it for years, the same goes for other drinks brands.

Hennessy have tried to go cool with this. A premium, traditional drinks brand going edgy and they haven’t held back. This is a brave and bold move and high risk but presumably a calculated one. Aligning with a particular artist shows intent from the brand.

The promotional video on the Hennessy website talks about the artist’s values and their own coming together to push boundaries. With Pantone learning from what has gone previously i.e. the history of Hennessy. They’ve tried hard to make this all very succinct, but I’m not buying it – there’s a lot of retro-fitting here. If indeed Pantone had studied the Hennessy archive his solution would not have been this, although I do understand the small nod to the three stars from the original VSOP label.

After a bit of thought my mind turns to the consumer – would any cognac drinker understand this? Furthermore, does it align with the person who drinks cognac and its occasion? I doubt it very much does. A cognac is a premium, luxury offering to be enjoyed after dinner. Normally you’d expect to pay £50 for a 70cl bottle of this product.

It might be good art (depending on your taste) but it’s not good design, and that’s the risk here. None of the traditional drink cues have been retained at all. If it wasn’t for the standard Hennessy bottle you wouldn’t have a clue what this was. It’s clunky, unattractive and off-brand. This reminds me of the off-air TV still screen from the 80s or being trapped inside the worst hangover I’ve ever had. Everything in my design fibre is also screaming not to distort the branding – the one key equity that has remained, but surprisingly even this wasn’t off limits to Pantone.

I can’t help but think a decent packaging consultancy could have delivered the same impact but retained some truth to the brand and its consumers. Johnny Walker have also recently released beautiful special edition packaging which is much more on brand and in a design language consumerscan digest, and still delivers shelf stand-out.

I admire bravery in design, doing something different from the competition is always a positive thing. It can’t hurt Hennessy too much to trial this sort of design for a limited time as a one off to see if it takes off with a younger cognac drinker who perhaps is drinking cognac in cocktails.

We’ll soon see if it’s been worth the punt even if the art of branding and packaging design has been lost.