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You might not know Asian superstar Karen Mok, but I do. I used to wake up to her every morning.

Noblige Black Tie reaches out to younger Asian consumers

Noblige Black Tie reaches out to younger Asian consumers

Wait, let me explain.

There was a poster of her in my old apartment in Taipei and, for about a year, it was Mok's face I saw when I first opened my eyes. Mok is an incredibly popular actress and singer across Asia and, back when I lived in Taiwan in the early 2000s, it seemed like she was everywhere, including in my bedroom.

It was disconcerting, then, to see her in the flesh last night at Martell's 300th anniversary party at the Palace of Versailles. (I resisted the temptation to tell her the above story because I was enjoying myself and didn't want her minders to throw me out.)

But, it was not unusual for Mok to be there. In fact, her presence highlights Pernod Ricard's direction with Martell as the Cognac enters its fourth century.

The generation in Asia that, like me, woke up to (and grew up with) Mok are now in their 30s and 40s. And, as the glory days of super-premium high-end Cognac fade in the memory like a wonderful, but all-too-brief, dream, Pernod is targeting these new consumers like never before.

In an interview with just-drinks ahead of last night's celebrations, Philippe Guettat, Martell's CEO & chairman, showed just where he thinks the Cognac brand's sales will come from in the future as we reach the end of what he called "over-the-top luxury".

Guettat talked of the "new needs of the new generation of middle-class Chinese" and "people who have money - and will get even more money". In other words, young professionals who are yet to start their Cognac journey.

Leading the charge at this next generation is Pernod's Martell Noblige brand, which specialises in partnerships with celebrities and artists that appeal to the 30-40 age bracket, such as Taiwanese-Canadian fashion designer Jason Wu.

Noblige is coming up to its fifth anniversary in China - its ninth globally - but, in nine-month figures released in March, Pernod said the brand has a 50% market share in the country, and now accounts for about one-third of the company's Cognac portfolio. It continues to grow in China and, in the same nine-month results, sales were up by double digits.

Meanwhile, Pernod is slowly turning the brand outwards from China and into other Asian markets with large ethnic Chinese communities such as Vietnam and Malaysia. It is no coincidence that last night's 300-year celebrations will have repeat performances in both of these countries, as well as in Indonesia and, of course, in China.

It was also no coincidence that last night's media contingent was made up dozens of journalists and bloggers from across Asia, outnumbering Western media. I spoke to a few lifestyle magazine writers from Shanghai who wanted to know if Martell was popular in Scotland. Not as popular as in China, I told them, and we all laughed knowingly.

The question is, though, are other Cognac brands able to reach Asia's Mok generation as well as Pernod?

The company, compared to its rivals, has always been more willing to let loose Cognac's austere traditions to fit better with China's more informal drinking culture. An example of this, as I found out last night, is the inclusion of a karaoke room in the Martell maison in Cognac.

Other Cognac producers need to do similar to bring on board the new Asian consumer, especially before the consumers slink off to other categories, as was feared during the nadir of the damaging anti-extravagance measures.

That means they need to acquaint themselves with the likes of Karen Mok. And, while they may not need to wake up to the actress as I did, they'd do well to at least think of her before they go to bed at night.


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