Vineet Mehra

Carmen d'Ascendis

Carmen d'Ascendis

Marketing and Technology


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Trendsetters: Brown-Forman's Carmen d'Ascendis Believes that Consumers Want Brands with Meaning

"At the heart of brand meaning is relevance and storytelling," says Carmen d'Ascendis, the Global Brand Director of Finlandia Vodka and Chambord Liqueur. After spending the last year on a Finlandia packaging "renovation" to debut worldwide this spring, he has also experienced how a brand's visual identity can serve as its core narrative and essentially become the "global glue" for a marketer seeking to both influence desire and change beliefs among consumers in all corners of the world.

In the spirits business, which is nationally regulated and often highly restricted in terms of communication, "Shelf out marketing is essential," says d'Ascendis.  "Packaging has to work hard and immediately project many of our brand stories, particularly as the sprawling, fragmented media landscape has significantly changed how we connect with brands."

He adds, "Packaging touches everything—all communications for the brand.  It also provides entry points into a story designed to give a brand meaning.  Today, we also need to add more layers of depth and texture to respond to evolving consumer definitions and standards of premium at a time when craft and the new maker movement matter."  (The maker culture focuses on the artisan spirit and emphasizes craft and shared learning motivated by self-fulfillment and enjoyment.) "The interest in craft means more information, more stories, more layering, which ultimately lead to greater brand authenticity for those interested in exploring its context, history, and lifestyle."

Carmen d'Ascendis also believes that it's a "copout" to assume that young adults and millennials are not interesting in advertising. "Contrary to popular belief, young customers embrace brands and brand messages. The abundant use of brand hash-tags is just one sign of their efforts to associate themselves with that key intersection where a brand's meaning also represents their own values. Also, when someone places a bottle of Finlandia Vodka on a table or when someone calls the brand by name in a bar, it says something about that person. It says that he is a person who follows his own path, preferring to have a life less ordinary."

"Building relationships with consumers is like building relationships with friends," he says.  "The more you get to know someone, the closer to them you grow.  For brand builders, storytelling is the best way to do this.  But a simple, one-way monologue is not enough in the Age of Social; we need to show how our story relates to the consumer and close the gap on why they should care."

Storytelling at its best is also rich, complex and multidimensional.  "What draws someone into a brand is not what keeps them there."  He differentiates "gateway values" that initially attract people to a brand-- particularly through its visual identity, from core "retention values" that build loyalty.  "And you need both messages in the environment to keep consumers interested."   As brand fans learn more and go beyond superficial reactions, they discover new layers that help them grow closer to the brand.

"The most gifted brand builders," he says, "are also great storytellers. Telling the brand's story provides context and meaning, which is something consumers seek. Storytelling is more than a marketing luxury; it is good for the bottom line. Successful storytelling separates brands from commodities; it supports premium pricing and helps brands endure."

Carmen d'Ascendis' deep thinking about contemporary marketing issues and keen instincts about successful global branding combine with a life-long passion for the business.  With more than 25 years in a diversity of roles at Brown-Forman, one of the top 10 global spirits companies, he is a marketing leader who brings wisdom and experience to the profession. 

Carmen d'Ascendis has lived in eight cities on four continents while working in 60 countries on behalf of Brown-Forman. Today, he's based in the company's European headquarters in Amsterdam as the Global Brand Director of Finland Vodka and Chambord Liquor, a role he took on in spring 2013.

In fact, his extraordinary career with Brown-Forman started 25 years ago when he entered the business as a merchandising representative.  Forget statistics that measure the tenure of chief marketing officers in intervals of months, Carmen underscores how curiosity, creativity, adaptability lead to success with longevity. His roles and geographies demonstrate a process of brand experience and thought leadership that few achieve.  Carmen's own roots in are in the US; however, he is unquestionably a true citizen of the world. 

His role prior to his Amsterdam posting was Director of Global Marketing for Jack Daniel's.  This included the highly successful launch of the Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey line extension, the "Barrel Tree" campaign that brings family and friends together, a new responsive-designed web site that adapts to any device from smartphone to tablet to computer, and a doubling of the brand's volume growth rate.