The Ultimate Brand Ambassador: Champage Charlie

The Ultimate Brand Ambassador: Champage Charlie

I have been fascinated by the concept of the Brand Ambassador ever since I first encountered the concept. This, despite the fact that I have never (here in the AA minor league cocktail market that is Columbus, OH) actually met such a beast in person. My good blog friend, Jacob Grier, has just become a brand ambassador for Bols Genever out in Portland, Oregon, and that’s as close as this stay-at-home blogger has gotten to this point.
A brand ambassador represents his brand in his territory, or even worldwide. His job is to educate about his client, promote his client, and look out for trouble that may be out there for his client. If it’s minor issues, he may fix it himself. How brand ambassadors do all this, I’ve never been clear on.
A day or so ago, Darcy O’Neil wrote a quick post on a short book he helped edit, entitled A Special Relationship. It is by Philip Duff, a successful brand ambassador himself. Special Relationship is a free e-book, and while it is aimed at industry professionals, particularly bar owners and managers, it contains a wealth of information that, ahem, Power Customers like myself will find illuminating.
Of particular interest to me is Duff’s mention of the man he calls the “ultimate brand ambassador”, Charles Heidsieck. Champagne Charlie, as this adventurous entrepreneur was called in America, was one of the first men to seriously attack the US market with french champagne. First, he was lucky in that he recognized that there was a vast, virtually untapped market for champagne in the young United States. Then, he was unlucky in that his success came just as the Civil War broke out. Then he was really unlucky when his yankee importer used wartime laws to refuse to pay him. Adventurer that Heidsieck was, he traveled to New Orleans where he attempted to collect his debt in the only thing his southern customers had of value, cotton. When he tried to run the Union blockade, his luck got worse and both his ships were sunk. When he tried to get back to France himself, he proved that his luck could get even worse. He was caught carrying letters the Union didn’t like and he was imprisoned for seven months in a POW camp. When he got out, he was destitute and in failing health.
At last, his luck changed back. His yankee creditor’s yankee brother had discovered the cheat and endeavored to repay Heidsieck with some real estate. Since the land he was given ended up being about a third of Denver, Colorado, things soon looked up for Champagne Charlie. He was able to re-open his production and make himself one of the premier champagne houses of the day. You can still get Charles Heidsieck champagne today (it’s not the Piper-Heidsieck), and I for one think it’s pretty fine stuff.
I have a fairly strange connection to Champagne Charlie. I was living in Atlanta in the 80s, when a little biopic simply entitled Champagne Charlie was being filmed there. The wrap party was held in my building, and Maggi and I got to go and drink champagne with the glitterati. I can’t remember if the man who played Champagne Charlie, a then little-known actor by the name of Hugh Grant was there. As far as I remember, there was no swooning on Maggi’s part, so perhaps he was not.
For my part, I was far more impressed by the demonstration they had of sabering the bottles of bubbly.

As you can guess, the film took a few liberties with Chucky’s story. When you have Hugh Grant in your cast, you don’t waste a lot of time with Union prison scenes. You show him swaining around New Orleans, up to his eyeballs in Southern Belles, having a great time drinking his champagne and convincing everyone that they needed to too.
In my research for this post, I have come across convincing evidence that the Hugh Grant, sex appeal-laden version of the story is likely overblown….

Hugh Grant

Not exactly Hugh Grant….

Regardless, Champagne Charlie made a hell of a brand ambassador. He promoted his brand, and opened new markets. He was instrumental in getting Americans to drink champagne. And he certainly made herculean efforts to deal with problems besetting his brand. He probably would have been better if he’d looked like Hugh, but certainly sufficient unto the day.


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