Provocative or just inappropriate? Ad campaign takes Hennessy down a rabbit hole.

February 25, 2013

“if you go chasing rabbits…you know you’re going to fall.”

“What’s your wild rabbit?” is the enigmatic question posed in Hennessy’ ad campaign from revered agency Droga5. I’ve seen these ads for some time now on marquee billboards, in national magazines, even as films. And while I admire agency and client for going all-in with a high concept (clients typically insist on showing drinkers drinking) I don’t get it. Not really.

Yes, of course, on a poetic level I know what the copy is saying: that the “wild rabbit” is a metaphor for your passion. And, because liquor ads are never wrong about these things, we’re supposed to find ours. Masculine icons like filmmaker Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull, Taxi Driver) and fighter Manny Pacquiao reveal what their wild rabbits are. In some ads the body copy overtly describes what the “wild rabbit” is: “It’s the voice that keeps you up at night…lurking in the corner.”


Yikes! Given all that lurking who wouldn’t need a drink?

Joking aside, I cannot salute this creative flag. (I want to. For its chutzpa alone.) Yet for me this is a well-hit ball that just goes foul.

Chasing rabbits seems like pipe dreaming. It evokes the notion of big plans gone to seed. Of men sitting in dark corners getting hammered and talking about tomorrow. But tomorrow never comes, does it? Just despair. That’s what I get when I take in these melancholy photographs and the dark prose. Are we not taught to avoid going down rabbit holes?

In the famous movie Harvey, Jimmy Stewart plays an alcoholic with an imaginary rabbit for a friend. He’s found his wild rabbit and it leads to the booby hatch. Some years later Grace Slick warned us about chasing rabbits in her iconic song White Rabbit about a bad acid trip. In the context of booze advertising, don’t rabbits seem wildly inappropriate? In addition, every time I hear the phrase “wild rabbit” I think of Wild Turkey bourbon. That can’t be good for business.

I’ll have what he’s having. -From Harvey

Maybe I’m missing something. After all, Droga5 seldom botches. When I was researching this campaign I found a nifty piece on a blog called Breaking Copy.The author is gung-ho about the campaign but I don’t buy his analysis. He writes the campaign “feels familiar, tapping into a shared cultural memory of Alice In Wonderland and the woodlands of Old Europe. It’s also a little bit sexy — after all, what are rabbits known for?”

The blogger mentions two other well-known references –which are fair. The first being Alice in Wonderland. It’s been a long while since I read the fable but, to my memory, Alice gets into a world of trouble chasing her wild rabbit. I believe the negative phrase “going down a rabbit hole” stems from her massive tribulations down there. Still, Wonderland is ultimately a magical place where creativity, imagination and personal freedoms are celebrated –perhaps to a fault. In any event, I’m willing to concede getting stoned on cognac can be a wonderful experience. Was Droga5 trying to tap into that? As in Lewis Carroll’s story maybe the indirect homage to inebriation is intentional. After all, liquor ads cannot go there directly (that’s why they are so hard to do). But then why the prizefighters and movie directors, this idea of “bringing something into the world?” It’s muddy.

“Can we see some ID?”

His second “a little bit sexy” reference relates to bunny rabbits’ affinity for reproduction. I suppose on one level getting drunk and chasing “tail” is akin to “breeding like rabbits” but I’m very certain this has nothing to do with Hennessy’s message, even on a subliminal level. What do you think?

The blogger ends his discussion by stating the campaign’s intent can be summed up in six words: “Getting white people to drink Hennessy.” He actually may be on to something, albeit possibly racist: that white folks will appreciate the brand’s enigmatic approach more than black people. However, this takes me back to my original concerns about the campaign. Namely that rabbit holes, imaginary drinking pals and the Jefferson Airplane paint pictures most Anglo Saxons would find upsetting. They may be reasons to drink Hennessy but they strike me as the wrong ones.

24 Responses to “Provocative or just inappropriate? Ad campaign takes Hennessy down a rabbit hole.”

  1. Since the point of advertising is to get your attention and trigger your impulses, the ultimate insult (and death) to advertising is to ignore it…on impulse.

    I’ve turned ad avoidance into a sport–I adore the mute button and Adblocker. I gave away my television and stereo years ago and cancelled all subscriptions. I get those entertainments online now and I know how to do it without wading though ads or getting marked for them. Case in point: haven’t had spam in ten years. When you remove yourself from the fray, the fray removes you from it’s mailing list, literally and figuratively.

    And what a peaceful and beautiful world THAT is.

  2. Yelena said

    I certainly dislike the connection between chasing dreams and drinking… In my home country, Henessy is a symbol of luxury, sophistication and great taste…It was a bit a surprise for me to find our a bit different perception of this bevarage here…Wheather it’s a bad What an awesome PR for Hennessy rabbit

  3. Yelena said

    I certainly dislike the connection between chasing dreams and drinking… In my home country, Hennessy is a symbol of luxury, sophistication and great taste…It was a bit a surprise for me to find our a different perception of this beverage here…Whether provocative or inappropriate this ad is, it seems to be quite effective! Very interesting post, I will share it on FB!

  4. With regard to Rabbits being sexy, as a woman I am making another connection…. One that you’d be embarrassed about finding in your luggage… Just a thought.

  5. I think this analysis is superb. I, however, also think that the ad series is excellent. While you are right the chasing of a rabbit has many different implications (tail, Alice, getting deeper into trouble) it also has the mystery that they have captured. That is where this campaign comes together, you never know what will happen. Frightening but exciting this campaign is one that I think is cleverly done but on a subconscious level.

  6. This is my first time here and I really enjoyed your post. Congrats on being freshly pressed. Angelia @

  7. I often see commercials that make me think – did someone really get paid to create this? So many awful commercials out there, you wonder how they got through all the levels of review and market testing.

  8. CheriSpeak said

    I worked in media advertising for more than 20 years…it’s a shame what advertisers do when you think about it.

  9. Definitely more Grace than Alice. What is the old image of cognac? Successful, older white guys sitting by a fire in their restricted male only club. What’s the image of Hennessy? Successful younger black guys doing it up in a club surrounded by beautiful women. Perhaps, Hennessy wants to kill two birds with one stone by using the “chasing rabbits” lingo to attract the baby boomer who still enjoys a cognac or two, and the younger, successful single white guy 25 – 40 who will party it up in a club. One is holding on to a dream, the other is chasing one. Make sense? No. Gets you to stop and take a look? Yes. Feed your head. Great thought-provoking post.

  10. Mark said

    Great analysis. If Wild Rabbit was a known phrase for pursuing your passion, this idea could have worked well. The campaign only gets noticed because it cost a fortune–the celebs, the photography, the media budget, etc. Congratulations to Droga5 for continually getting clients to invest in ambitious ideas even if some are forced. They represent the industry well.

  11. Enjoyed reading this post. I second @cherispeak. I worked in advertising for over 15 years and I find it so hilarious how marketers just like to speak to themselves. Meetings after meetings they sit in conferences rooms debating about messaging and creative and often times the campaign misses the mark because its just too lofty.

  12. Storm said

    I like the idea of chase your “wild rabbit” but more in connection to a car advertisement. When I read wild rabbit, I immediately thought Alice in Wonderland, which makes me think adventure, which ties to travel with the freedom to choose your own path, bam, car. Wild rabbit in connection to alcohol, well, that equals prostitutes, police, jail time, not as good….

  13. I find this post enjoyable and I can relate to a marketer’s mishap as I myself have launched advertising campaigns. Congrats on the FP! :=)

  14. awildkristenappeared said

    I appreciate your commentary, but the person from Breaking Copy is correct. As a 21-year-old student studying advertising, I will say that my peers would immediately think of Alice in Wonderland. If this campaign is targeting people my age (not any of you who have been working in the media industry for 15+ years) then it is extremely successful. There’s been a movie remake, there is a young cult following for the original animation, many of my friends have read the book, and Urban Outfitters and the like have been selling AIW merch for years now. Hennessy primarily has an older audience, so I think it’s a great step in expanding their consumer base.

  15. Was it Dylan Thomas who said “When I’m sad, I drink to dull the pain. When I’m happy, I drink to celebrate. When I’m bored, I drink to make something happen.”?

    I think this ad campaign is aimed at that last group – the ones who want something to happen. The wild rabbit, whatever its downsides, at least didn’t leave Alice bored. I would guess Hennesey is targeting people looking for adventure or misadventure – either one is fine.

    My biggest criticism about the ads is that that seems like a pretty narrow group of potential customers.

    • E. said

      I would absolutely agree with that – about targeting an audience who is hoping for something exciting to happen. I, as a woman who drinks cognac about 3 times a year, am certainly not the target audience, but the print ads do intrigue me. I probably won’t go out and buy Hennessy as a result of this campaign, but at least I’m more interested in the brand than I was before.

  16. OyiaBrown said

    Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  17. osherb said

    Cool Work!!

  18. interesting post 🙂

  19. Maybe it’s subversive advertising — mocking its target audience!

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