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Brand Builder – Let Them Drink Fizz

d=”standfirst”>Eugéne Mercier was a marketing maverick who created a democratic Champagne for the people of France. Now that the Brits are finding more excuses to quaff bubbly, the common touch seems to be paying off, says Robyn Lewis

Generally, when we think of drinks brands we think of modern brands and when we think of Champagne we think of luxury. So a brand that is nearly 150 years old is an interesting prospect, and a Champagne that has been conceived and marketed for mass appeal seems a brand story worth talking about. Indeed, both Emmanuel Mercier, brand ambassador, and Laurence Mercier-Bardin, head of PR for the company are always happy to talk about their brand story – the 150-yearold Grand-Marque Champagne aimed at the mass market.

“Champagne Mercier is the third most popular Champagne in France,” says Mercier-Bardin. “It is not seen as a luxury Champagne along the lines of some of the other Champagnes, and neither would we want it to be. It is a regular part of the drinking experience for many French families today, just as it was conceived to be in 1858 when Eugéne Mercier started the company.”

The idea of a democratic Champagne was even more outlandish an idea in 1858 than it seems now, since at that time, with production methods unreliable, time consuming and requiring high levels of labour, Champagne was a luxury confined to the glasses of royalty and the aristocracy. Eugéne Mercier, however, at just 20 years old saw that, with improving technologies there was the opportunity for a Champagne brand that, if built using economies of scale, could ensure Champagne cheap enough for a mass audience to enjoy. So that is exactly  what he did.

Once the infrastructure was in place, however, Eugéne realised he now had to market the product in order to reach a wide enough audience, thus meeting his required volumes. It is from these stories that Eugéne gets his nickname the “Showman” or, more recently, the “Richard Branson” of Champagne.

“Firstly there was the purchasing of a site near the Paris-Strasbourg railroad, which meant that when the train stopped he could offer the waiting passengers a tour around the cellars, the first Champagne house to do so,” explains Mercier-Bardin. “Then there was the building and then transporting of a cask, large enough to hold 200,000 bottles of Champagne to the World Trade Fair in Paris in 1889.” There was also a publicity film, claimed to be one of the first, along with Mercier’s branded vans, trains and hot-air balloons.

Today, of course, Eugéne is not around to mastermind the marketing of the brand but his relatives and successors have kept up the work. There was the train line installed in the vast cellars to transport visitors, then, in 1950, the vast cellars were used for a car rally, generating great publicity both for Renault and Mercier (amazingly, it is said not one single bottle was broken). And more recently, an ultra-modern visitor centre has been opened. All of which ensures that Mercier remains a household name in France even today.

Elsewhere, Mercier is also building its brand image. Germany remains its primary export market but the UK is increasingly important as well. The UK brand manager, Andrew Nottcutt, says the brand is aiming to capitalise on the growth in Champagne consumption here. “The increase in consumption in the UK reflects a slight trend of consumers drinking to make an occasion special rather than for a special occasion,” he comments. “That trend has actually transformed the market considerably and is something we try to capitalise on. We don’t say have this for your birthday or your anniversary, but at lunch with friends or on a picnic.” 

Nottcutt is keen to further promote the idea of Mercier as an accessible Champagne brand, citing its £18.99 price point in the off-trade and its less acidic palate. “Because of those two features it is much less a status-driven brand than some of the other Champagnes,” he says. “What Eugéne did was create a Champagne that was democratic, and we very much want to continue with those values. So, it is an understated brand about value for money and sociability.”

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