Hennessy responds to the loss of its best customer

Say what you want about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, the man liked his Hennessy. For two years in the mid-1990s, he was the world’s largest buyer of Hennessy Paradis cognac, importing up to $800,000 of the stuff a year, both to quaff himself and to give as gifts, and his death has caused ...

Seokyong Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Seokyong Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Seokyong Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Say what you want about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, the man liked his Hennessy. For two years in the mid-1990s, he was the world's largest buyer of Hennessy Paradis cognac, importing up to $800,000 of the stuff a year, both to quaff himself and to give as gifts, and his death has caused a resurgence in discussion and commentary on his expensive cognac habits. So does Hennessy appreciate all of the free advertising provided by the coveted Dear Leader seal of approval?

"There's been no negative feedback, but it hasn't affected sales either," Jennifer Yu, Director of Communications for Hennessy U.S., told FP in a phone interview. On the one hand, Kim's taste for the drink, which the company describes as "Pure Indulgence," and which retails for around $650 dollars a bottle, is unusual. "A lot of A-list musicians and talents enjoy the drink, like Kanye West," Yu says. "I don't usually get someone of his notoriety, in more ways than one."

Yet in many ways, Kim fits the bill of a Hennessy connoisseur. Asked why Kim might prefer her company's drink, Yu responded, "I just know that cognac in general is extremely popular among the Asian community. It's a very large status symbol, and we're one of the premier luxury cognacs in the world, and it's not surprising that he would gravitate towards that."

Say what you want about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, the man liked his Hennessy. For two years in the mid-1990s, he was the world’s largest buyer of Hennessy Paradis cognac, importing up to $800,000 of the stuff a year, both to quaff himself and to give as gifts, and his death has caused a resurgence in discussion and commentary on his expensive cognac habits. So does Hennessy appreciate all of the free advertising provided by the coveted Dear Leader seal of approval?

"There’s been no negative feedback, but it hasn’t affected sales either," Jennifer Yu, Director of Communications for Hennessy U.S., told FP in a phone interview. On the one hand, Kim’s taste for the drink, which the company describes as "Pure Indulgence," and which retails for around $650 dollars a bottle, is unusual. "A lot of A-list musicians and talents enjoy the drink, like Kanye West," Yu says. "I don’t usually get someone of his notoriety, in more ways than one."

Yet in many ways, Kim fits the bill of a Hennessy connoisseur. Asked why Kim might prefer her company’s drink, Yu responded, "I just know that cognac in general is extremely popular among the Asian community. It’s a very large status symbol, and we’re one of the premier luxury cognacs in the world, and it’s not surprising that he would gravitate towards that."

Isaac Stone Fish is a journalist and senior fellow at the Asia Society’s Center on U.S-China Relations. He was formerly the Asia editor at Foreign Policy Magazine. Twitter: @isaacstonefish

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