The ad man cometh

Advertising guru turned wine producer Sir John Hegarty got tongues wagging and brains working overtime with an incendiary address at the Wine & Spirit Trade Association conference. In these extracts, he tells the trade what it’s doing right – and what it’s getting wrong.

The user is not at the centre of the wine industry. The industry is at the centre of the wine industry. Brands and companies are egotistical about what they do but it’s the people who buy from them who are important. The wine industry does not understand that.

There are no brand leaders. I’ve never come across another marketplace where there are no brand leaders driving it. You need to lose the mystery and keep the magic, but, unfortunately, in wine you’re dealing with people a lot of the time who want to keep the mystery.

There is a paralysis of choice in wine. It’s confusing and impenetrable. Simplicity is one of the great issues we’ve got to get to grips with – it’s the Holy Grail of communication. We have to simplify the buying process so people can go into a store and get better knowledge to buy a better wine. You’ve got to say something profound but simple. The brilliant example of how to do things in wine is Champagne. It’s about celebration – I know exactly when to get it and what to do with it. We need to move from the idea of function to purpose. Coca-Cola has made itself all about happiness, not refreshment.

It’s vitally important to understand the value of fame. Think in terms of reputation rather than brand. We have a celebrity culture but fame is different and more fundamentally important [in marketing] because it shorthands the decision-making process. Innovation, differentiation, quality and access: all these things drive a market – but you should add, on top of that, desire.

The lunatics have taken over the asylum. It’s pathetic that in some places you can’t put the grape variety on the bottle. When you do you can get a conversation going with the consumer. The New World putting grape varieties on bottles helped the market enormously. Sometimes people just buy because they like the look of the label. I can understand that. If there’s no other information available they buy with their heart.

Why isn’t there a wine called Weekend? Some people would say: “Well you can’t do that because people won’t buy it in the week.” But you’ve got to look at the point of view of the user. If someone buys a box of After Eight mints they don’t say: “Oh, it’s only 7.45, we can’t have one.” Too many labels say: “I’m a serious bottle of wine, treat me with respect.” The biggest innovation we’ve offered is the choice between a cork and a screwcap. We’re fond of saying people won’t change but they’re not given a chance to. The car industry looked at what people wanted and made cars to match, so you get the same make of car, but as an estate or a hatchback. In wine, we’re pretty much saying “this is what we make” and expecting people to make their own decision about how to drink it.

They’ve made beer exciting. A brewer such as Camden Town is injecting life, enthusiasm and attractiveness into its labels. Can you make wine exciting rather than reverent, with stuff about how it tastes of liquorice or chocolate or leather or cherries? It’s boring. Why have all the newspapers stopped having wine columns? Because they were so boring people stopped reading them. Top Gear is a great example of engaging with people. When it stopped talking just about cars it transformed the fortunes of the programme. I’m not talking about dumbing down, just doing it a different way.

Stop screwing the producer. It’s not sustainable the way things are. Where I am in the Languedoc nobody is making any money. If I was a retailer I’d be worried about that. Eventually they’ll find more people going direct and cutting out the middle man because they decide the retailer isn’t adding any value. I used to love the old Oddbins and we’ve got to see more of that. They were on my wavelength and talked about wine in a completely different way. Obviously it was a dreadfully run business, which is why it collapsed.

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