Ad mogul gives cutting critique of wine trade

The wine industry is “peculiar, fragmented, confusing and impenetrable”, has done little to further its growth and lacks innovation, according to one of the UK’s foremost figures in advertising.

Sir John Hegarty at the WSTA annual conference yesterday

Sir John Hegarty at the WSTA annual conference yesterday

That is what Sir John Hegarty, the man behind iconic adverts including Johnnie Walker’s “keep walking” campaign and Levi 501’s famed laundrette advert, told delegates at the Wine and Spirit Trade Association’s (WSTA) annual conference yesterday.

Hegarty, whose career in the advertising industry spans six decades, was knighted in 2007 for his services to the industry and holds a close association to the wine industry as the owner of a vineyard in the Languedoc where he produces his Hegarty Chamans wine.

Despite his investment in wine, he admits he has never come across an industry “so appalling” as the wine industry in that it has “no brand leaders” driving the market place and is constantly battling against the fact that 90% of its consumers do not understand quality.

Speaking at the conference yesterday he said: “Most people think paying anything more than £6 a bottle is mad. Most of the industry think anything under £6 is shit. So that’s what we are selling. Shit.”

His answer? “Lose the mystery, keep the magic”.

“The trouble with our industry is that to the average consumer it’s a complete mystery”, he said.

According to Sir John the industry needs to simplify its message, putting the user at the centre of the market, and start talking about people as “audiences” rather than “consumers”.

He said: “That’s an important move because it implies a consumer is waiting to be sold something. Those days are over. People are not sat waiting to be sold something as they were 30 to 40 years ago. It implies respect. It’s an important change. It says this person is going to respond and we have to engage and entertain them because that’s what audiences want. We must move from referring to people as consumers and talk about them as audiences.”

Sir John also said the “middle” is falling out of the market and that any producer sat in the middle is “dead” as it has no future, adding that there is now only “value” and “luxury” positioning.

He also said he felt the word “brand” was often thought of as “dirty” among the industry.

He said: “Brands are what drive the market. To a lot of people in the wine industry if you use the word brand it’s as if Diablo has walked into the room breathing fire and I have a real problem talking to people about that. I’m the devil incarnate that has come to destroy the market. A lot of people see it as a dirty word, but that is a very stupid thing to say. Brands are about trust. I can trust that that brand will deliver a quality product. I try to say to people instead of using the word brand use reputation. What kind of reputation do you want? A distinctive one that people look up to.”


Levi’s 1985 “Laundrette” ad

Looking at the industry as a whole Sir John said the industry was “peculiar, fragmented, confusing and impenetrable” and had done little to achieve any growth.

He said: “They all talk about there being a glut of wine and that there is too much of it, but no one talks about growing the market. That’s what I have been trying to do all my life working in the advertising profession. If we could grow the market we could begin to have a better conversation with our audience. The wine market has grown, but has it grown exponentially? It hasn’t actually grown the way it could have grown if it had been brilliantly marketed and it certainly has not.”

To grow the market, Sir John believes one of the first steps is simplicity of ideas which he described as the “holy grail of communication.”

One concept put forward by Sir John was to brand wine by occasion, much in the some way as Champagne, asking “why don’t we have a ‘weekend wine’?”.

Explaining the concept he said: “You are talking to people from their point of view. I would find that as a consumer helpful. It would help me and once you have someone into the market you then trade them up. All of a sudden you are growing the market and that’s what you are not doing. It seems to me incredible that the last report on beer sales showed they were in overall decline but that craft beer market is going gangbusters, like a rocket.”

Using Camden Town Brewery as an example, Sir John said it was because they had made their brand “exciting”.

Sir John’s own wine produced in the Languedoc is called “Open Now” and features a cork that has “well done” printed on the side.

He said: “It approaches in a different way. Someone said to me, but John it doesn’t revere the wine. I said no it’s making it accessible – it’s talking to a generation and from a different point of view.”

Closing his speech Sir John called on the industry’s marketeers to come up with a “big idea” that puts users at the centre of the wine market.

“Our PR people should be out there coming up with a big idea for wine, and don’t make it about food. You have to have an idea that’s big, then it’s about function and in that way we will possibly grow the market which is what I think this market needs”.

8 Responses to “Ad mogul gives cutting critique of wine trade”

  1. Brian George says:

    Couldn’t agree more with Sir John ‘Lose the mystery, but keep the magic’ couldn’t be more appropriate.
    The vast majority of consumers simply don’t have a clue, as can be witnessed by a walk up and down any wine aisle in any mult! Most still buy on deal or by comfort or even worse misplaced perception!
    Certainly there is a great degree of myopia within the wine industry, with far too many thinking its special/different and needs to maintain that position! The analogy with craft beers or specialty ciders is spot-on!
    Occasionality is certainly key but to get there consumers need to at least be able to understand what/why they are buying/consuming, which is something we’ve been pioneering for a while now with and – basic education, linked to occasions is the answer to growing the market!

  2. Sam Plunkett says:

    A terrific article thank you. I particularly like that change from thinking about consumers to thinking about an audience. Cheers, Sam

  3. Steven says:

    Demonstrably wrong surely? Many times I see mention of, or adverts for a ‘Brand Ambassador’ or ‘Brand Manager’ in the wine business

  4. Marlene Kilo says:

    All very well but “Lose The Mystery, Not The Magic” doesn’t really square the circle that, as he rightly says, consumers think wine over £6 is overpriced and producers think wine under £6 is shit. Coming up with a slogan is fine but he hasn’t made any concrete suggestions to back it up.

    After all, Sir John Hegarty isn’t saying anything that we all don’t realise already….

  5. Lou Ares says:

    I have long agreed with this exact philosophy for over 20 years. As a Consumer, buyer and retailer I have fought this battle for a long long time. Wine to some degree is treated like Astrophysics or Organic Chemistry in that it seems only a select handful of black-hooded priests fully understand the depth of its craft. In so doing, the industry as whole has alienated the average consumer with little understanding of Oenology and its sup disciplines; Agriculture, Meteorology and Biology. This is and has long been a mistake and its refreshing that someone with a heard voice has strongly identified this as a problem that desperately needs to be addressed. Like Carl Sagan brought lofty scientific concepts to the lay person in the form of the mini-series Cosmos, so too must this be done with wine appreciation if we are to see reasonable and tangible growth in the middle markets especially in the US and Australian markets.

  6. Liam Young says:

    A great article and reminder of how messed up things are in this business and how ugly it’s going to get. The industry has been very effective at moving production away from the original quality requirements towards mass, commercial wines, all the while sustaining massive premiums. Without a sense of mystery, how else do you keep prices inflated well beyond the cost of the original inputs (at least for commercial producers)? Some of today’s wine judging contests have outrageous pomp and circumstance, all to keep the myth of quality alive while judging and assigning ‘high marks’ for mass produced garbage while small, boutique producers suffocate under the costs of entry fees, marketing, listings with retailers and high legal barriers to entry.

    Consumers remain lost in the dark when it comes to wine because the wine business wants it that way. Why else would wine be the only food product on the planet that is still able to avoid such basic requirements like labeling for nutritional contents and ingredients?

    I agree with Hegarty that the industry is a mess, but I think the idea of a single brand leader is just asking for more commercialization and more attempts to fool the public into thinking that they’re getting high quality from bulk wines.
    Frankly, the spirits and beer businesses have run into the same issue, with so much being made from corn, but marketed as something ‘magical’.

  7. Interesting critique of the industry. However, having followed Sir John Hegarty’s recent foray into the wine world with great interest, I find that his own wine branding endeavours with have been non-eventful, and pretty much status quo with his struggling French wine industry peer group.
    I expected much greater wine marketing oomph from his clever mind. Perhaps Sir John Hegarty is best suited to be a marketing advisor than a client himself?
    C’est dommage.

  8. mmatias says:

    Sir J Hegarty is correct is his assertions, mind it apply in every branch of our so called developed world. The lack of knowledge and cultured people is phenomenal. Our world hurried into mechanization in the 19thC as the great saviour of our way of life, the devastation which is leaving behind is pure bewilderment that nor even privileged minds as SirJohn Hegarty are able to comprehend. We have to make time to live.
    The industry is its worse enemy. The pleasure of tasting a good full body red in the small villages in Portugal, Spain or Chile the splendour of a dry crispy cool white in Saint Tropez at the highs of the summer is unique….that is the image which one should cultivate in people/audience mind…culture values must be shared one cannot ever promote peace and passion alone. What is the use of knowledge if it is not SHARED, tasted, spoken about, demonstrated…explained convey One cannot just take we must give.. it is 50/50.

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