Close Menu


“standfirst”>Nick Dymoke-Marr of Orbital Wines is reaping the significant rewards of launching his Stormhoek wine brand into cyber-space. Patrick Schmitt reports

Usually wine is accused of being somewhat backward when it comes to marketing. Those products praised for cutting-edge advertising or PR tend to be those with big budgets – usually the spirit and beer sectors. Wine, without the funds, rarely pushes the marketing boundaries, generally relying on classic cues and tried and tested media. But, presently, it is wine which is reaping the rewards of a mostly untapped medium when it comes to brand building. The Stormhoek South African wine brand has turned to blogging to boost recognition. The result – a widespread wave of web-based interest – has certainly surprised brand owner Nick Dymoke-Marr, managing director of Orbital Wines. And all for a cost which, “wouldn’t have paid for a half-page ad in the Wine Spectator”.The idea struck Dymoke Marr when scanning www., a marketing blog run by ex-advertising exec and cartoonist Hugh Macleod. Dymoke-Marr was amazed at how much interest Macleod’s blog about a tailor called The English Cut had attracted and so he approached Macleod to see whether Stormhoek might feature on Gaping Void. The site soon incorporated some information about Stormhoek, including an offer of a free sample of the wine to regular readers of Gaping Void – with, as they say, no strings attached. Initially, about 100 personalised bottles were sent to those who signed up for the offer, followed by another 100 to readers from France and Ireland. Included in the mailed package was a little booklet, devised by Dymoke-Marr and Macleod, featuring the latter’s cartoons and some info about Stormhoek. Noted in the literature was the following: “Thanks for signing up for your free bottle of Stormhoek… maybe a few of you will blog about it. Maybe not. What if, say, not one or two of you end up blogging about it, but a couple of dozen? Will the idea-virus spread far enough that suddenly tens of thousands know about it, and are talking about it? Is that enough to launch a national brand?” The temptation for Gaping Void’s readers obviously proved irresistible, and soon sites all over the world were featuring comments on the wine, as well as pictures of the bottle. See if you don’t believe it (try googling flickr plus Stormhoek). The concept had caught the blogger’s imagination, and an online “conversation” began about the brand and the offer. Stormhoek also started its own website and blog, which is updated almost daily with news about the vineyard in South Africa and comments on anything from the weather to the levels of price promotion in British retailers. In effect, what Stormhoek had started was an online discussion, written, as Dymoke-Marr says, “by ordinary human beings who were fired up by the wine. One guy even missed the offer but bought a bottle from Thresher just to be part of the exchange.” Greatest hitsThe effect has been quite extraordinary. Dymoke-Marr says, “Stormhoek Google hits increased from around 200 to 42,000 a month over a 90-day period. In 120 days, Stormhoek website hits jumped from under 10,000 to 94,000 per month for November. A website called Technorati (www.technorati. com) recorded that a quarter of the online conversation about South African wine was about Stormhoek.”Meanwhile, a link popularity check (the total number of links found for a website) on Marketleap (www.marketleap. com) shows famous wines like Hardys with some 18 links for, and 8,611 links for Stormhoek (01/12/05). Brands like Coke, for example, generate some 35,000 links. These figures are important as any traffic to websites is largely generated by links. Dymoke-Marr points out that the Stormhoek discussion “has gone beyond wine”. On his blog called Scobleizer, Robert Scoble, Microsoft’s own blogger, even insinuated that Microsoft’s real competition is Stormhoek. “Let’s say you have $400 burning a hole in your pocket,” he wrote. “You have a lot of choices where to spend that money. It could go to an Xbox 360. But it could go to a case of wine too. Hey, if you decide Stormhoek is a better investment at least invite me over to drink some!” But what effect has this online reaction had on sales of Stormhoek? Well, Dymoke-Marr believes the experiment “has helped Stormhoek grab a 19% share of the over-£5 South African wine market in the UK.” Certainly major retailers are impressed by the marketing technique, and one multiple is apparently keen to find out more about the approach for its own use. Furthermore, there has been interest in the wine from US-based bloggers, despite the fact that the wine is not yet on sale there. Dymoke-Marr has found a distributor in New York, however, and says there have already been lots of comments online from people desperate to buy the wine. And while Dymoke-Marr does admit that “precise impacts on the business are hard to measure”, he also says, “Stormhoek’s strategy is certainly creating an online buzz. Thanks to blogging and the internet, there is no longer a reason why small businesses like Stormhoek shouldn’t compete for share of the online conversation with the likes of Microsoft. And share of conversation, Stormhoek believes, is an important step towards share of a market.”Of course, for those planning to follow in Stormhoek’s footsteps, it should be noted that the “blogosphere” is a dangerous place to expose your brand. “You cannot control the conversation,” warns Dymoke-Marr. “98% of what people have said has been positive, but you’ve got to have something that’s really good, and if there’s any doubt, it’s likely you will be cut to ribbons.” He recalls a case involving a Kryptonite lock in the US and a blog proclaiming the security devise unbreakable. Apparently, someone picked the lock with a biro and “the product was torn to shreds by blogging – it almost destroyed the company”. Certainly, having searched the web for comments on Stormhoek, one blogger who fears those in marketing “see the blogo-world as just another channel to exploit” described Stormhoek as “crappy”, but it turned out he didn’t drink.Overall, so effective has the technique been “in engaging customers”, as Dymoke-Marr puts it, that he has even asked bloggers to help him redesign the packaging for the brand – “And some good stuff has come out of it.”

Stormhoek may be only a 100,000-case brand, but Dymoke-Marr reckons some half a million people have heard of Stormhoek who hadn’t five months ago.

© db January 2006

It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No