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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”.

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