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5 Brands That Abandoned Their Fan Base

Cristal

By 2006, Louis Roederer's Cristal was no longer the aspirational champagne of choice that the world's elite ordered behind closed doors away, from the rabble. It was inextricably linked to hip-hop and its air of elitism intertwined with hip-hop's culture of cool in what appeared to be a symbiotic relationship.

It turned out to be anything but. The makers of the champagne originally produced for Russian Tsar Alexander II in 1876 apparently didn't like seeing New York rappers such as Diddy, Notorious B.I.G., Big L, 50 Cent and Jay-Z flaunting it in videos and -- in Diddy's case -- spitting a nearly $100 swig of it at the camera. When asked about Cristal's place in the "bling lifestyle" by The Economist in 2006, Louis Roederer's managing director Frederic Rouzaud answered an extraordinarily dumb question with some ignorance of his own.

"That's a good question, but what can we do?" he replied. "We can't forbid people from buying it. I'm sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business."

That was only Rouzaud's first mistake. His second was assuming that renaissance man Jay-Z wouldn't read The Economist. Jay-Z, who was selling Cristal for $450 to $600 a bottle at his 40/40 sports clubs, immediately pulled it from his wine lists in favor of Dom Perignon and Krug and proceeded to scorch the earth by issuing the following statement:

"It has come to my attention that the managing director of Cristal, Frederic Rouzaud, views the 'hip-hop' culture as 'unwelcome attention.' I view his comments as racist and will no longer support any of his products through any of my various brands, including the 40/40 Club, nor in my personal life."

Cristal didn't just turn on its loving audience, it spat on it and insulted it so badly that hip-hop's flagbearer basically banished it from the kingdom. When writing about it four years later in his book Decoded, Jay-Z posited that Cristal trapped itself in the belief that its previously obscure luxury brand was elevating the hip-hop community, when perhaps the opposite was true. "With language, rappers have raided the dictionary and written in new entries to every definition -- words with one or two meanings now have 12. The same thing happens with brands -- Cristal meant one thing, but hip-hop gave its definition some new entries. The same goes for other brands: Timberland and Courvoisier, Versace and Maybach. We gave those brands a narrative, which is one of the reasons anyone buys anything: not just to own a product, but to become part of a story."

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham.

>To submit a news tip, send an email to: tips@thestreet.com.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.
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