The Gindenburg: ‘Oh, The Ginanity’

It’s six in the morning and shortly, Hendrick’s Gin wants to get me up inside a giant flying pickle.  Technically, it’s a flying cucumber, but technically again,  a pickle is merely a cucumber that feels like I do at 6 AM.

open shotTo get even more high tech, Hendrick’s wants me to get inside a blimp disguised a cucumber, which it looked like even before Hendrick’s Gin put cucumber-colored decals all over the fuselage. Which is technically called an ‘envelope’, but I’m getting sick of all this tech talk, aren’t you?  Bring on the penis jokes.

And don’t think the phallic connotation is lost on the Hendrick’s Gin crew, though this is something you won’t read about in stories filed by the other journalists who went up in the hovering hockey cocky—they are family-type people who write for family-type publications like the Ann Arbor News and MLive.  My readership family is more like the Mansons or the Duggars, where penis jokes are not only tolerated, they’re compulsory.

poleBut the press sheet given to me at the blimp dock—a big barbershop pole set in the middle of a rural Washtenaw County field—informs that cucumbers were once planted exclusively by naked men, and that the size of the fruit depended on the ‘visible virility’ of the planter.

Alrighty, then.

Size Matters?

At least from a marketing perspective, Hendrick’s Gin is dedicated to the proposition that the world is a big and peculiar place filled with guffaws  and har-de-har-hars, and doing stuff like leasing a 130-foot helium-filled, cucumber-coiffed dirigible and flying it around the country is one of their ways of walking the walk.  Or floating the float.  Another campaign involved creating an entire curiosity shop in Boston with a secret passage, where invitees hobnobbed with a custom limerick writer, a tightrope walker tiptoeing across a row of Hendrick’s bottles, and in a pinch, with each other.

The Mother of Ginvention

Lesley Gracie

Lesley Gracie

The Scotland-based distillery, on the cutting edge of the growing craft cocktail fad, relies on the output of an rare Carter-Head still (with a ‘vapor-driven flavor basket) and the input of Lesley Gracie, a Master Distiller with a botanical obsession.  The particular, unusually recipe which drives Hendrick’s brand loyalty includes a closely-guarded panoply of herbs and spices along with an infusion of cucumber and rose petals.

And it happens to be really delicious.

Shades of Terry Gilliam

Shades of Terry Gilliam

Which is why Hendrick’s is targeting a burgeoning demographic: Hootch-happy hipsters who are rediscovering classic cocktails and inventing new twists on the same. In urban areas, particularly, a lot of these have taken on a Victorian Era aura—suitable, perhaps, to the Golden Age of Cocktails, which began with the 1862 publication of ‘How to Mix Drinks; or, The Bon Vivant’s Companion’ by Professor Jerry Thomas.

Hendrick’s, with their steampunk logo, Monty Python-esque motif and apothecary-sign font, is positioned perfectly to step into the competitive designer liquor fray and wail on some hipster ass.

Inginuous Marketing

But the blimp campaign, I must say, is a PR masterstroke.  The airship—dubbed The Flying Cucumber—tours from city to city across the United States on its own power with a crew of professionals in vans traveling below.  At an average speed of 35 miles an hour, the journey from Texas to Michigan took ten days.  And talk about being a Top Gun, my pilot (Caesar) told me that there only about twenty licensed blimp operators in the country.  In contrast, the Air Force has about three thousand fighter pilots.

stadiumCaesar also informed me that weather conditions on the morning of the flight were such that only one passenger at a time could be airlifted; thus, when my turn came around and the ship did a circuit around Michigan Stadium at around a thousand feet, it was nobody but me and him in the wild maize ‘n’ blue yonder; him revving twin Volkswagen-sized engines (which use less fuel in two weeks than a 747 does taxing down the runway to prepare for takeoff), manipulating foot pedals and a wheelchair-wheel-looking steering mechanism,  with me sitting there doing nothing—serving less purpose than, say, Amelia Earhart’s  Maxi-Pad—except perhaps as resident nitpicker:

'Don't call me a cockpit.'

‘Don’t call me a cockpit.’

Why, when the aforementioned phallic references fly as easily with Hendrick’s Gin as their blimp does above Ann Arbor, does Caesar insist on referring to the gondola as such, and not as a cockpit?

Anyway, the strategy worked on me exactly as intended; I loved it and count myself among the throng of Hendrick’s fans eagerly awaiting all future  PR gimmicks, whatever they may be; although, word to to the wise, this will be a tough act to follow.

Understanding, of course, that as a encore to the Hindenburg, Germany’s next trick was invading Poland.

In any case, it’s interesting to note that the reason that big bloated blimp blew is that it was loaded with highly flammable hydrogen.   The Flying Cucumber gets its buoyancy from helium, which is not only non-flammable, it’s actually a fire retardant, and as an added plus, it makes Paul Robeson sing like Minnie Mouse.

hindenburgHas history every produced a bigger ‘doh!’ moment?  Had the Jerries just gone with the helium option, the entire Hindenburg episode might have turned into a giant, funny-voice, laff-a-minute, transatlantic yuk-fest instead of a disaster. World War II might have been averted and Herbert Morrison’s scream, still echoing through the vaults of eternity, might instead have been, “Oh, the inanity!”

Say, there’s an idea for the Hendrick’s Gin creative team’s drawing-board.  Expand on that, Mad Men; run with it!

Onward and upward, then—literally.

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