Generic marketing for Champagne courts controversy

The association of grower-winemakers in Champagne have been promoting the fine French fizz through a marketing campaign in Europe – but some believe it may be damaging the upmarket image of the product.

Images from the SGV campaign: does this help or hinder Champagne in the long term?

Using the strapline ‘Reservé à toutes les occasions’, which loosely translates as ‘suitable for any occasion’, the aim is to try and stem the decline in sales of grower-Champagnes in France by attracting a younger generation, according to Maxime Toubart, president of the SGV (Syndicat Général des Vignerons de la Champagne), and co-president of the Comité Champagne.

Speaking to db in Champagne last month, he said, “The market for winegrowers in Champagne has decreased, and so we decided to make a marketing campaign that speaks about Champagne; that shows that it can be drunk with whatever you want, which is why the images feature a range of foods, from eggs to cheese (see pictures above).”

Continuing, he explained that the target for such a promotional push – which sees the images used in outdoor locations, such as bus stops, as well as online – was to attract Millennials, initially in Champagne’s domestic market.

“Young people, 25-45 year olds are the target, because we have done research which shows that young people don’t know about Champagne, they don’t know where it is made, or how we do it,” he told db.

He also said that the images had been deliberately chosen to attract comment, explaining that “today, if you don’t shock, then communication is nothing”.

Having recorded that the younger generation in France know very little about the product, he said that the aim of the campaign was not educational, but “to say that Champagne is wonderful, and you can make an occasion wonderful by drinking Champagne.”

He added that an advertising campaign featuring a map, or the riddling process would not appeal to the target audience, before commenting, “We are not trying to explain the process, but we want to say that Champagne is for all the people, for all the moments, it is not just for ceremonies, but, for example, you can drink it during a picnic, because there are not enough exceptional moments in France – only Christmas and birthdays.”

However, Toubart’s fellow president at the Comité Champagne, Jean-Marie Barillère said that he was not in favour of the message being promulgated by Les Vignerons de Champagne.

He assured db that the négociant brands of Champagne – otherwise known as les maisons – are not currently in support of this campaign, and were very unlikely to ever promote the appellation generically.

“The houses are not part of this, and won’t be I’m sure, because this generic marketing doesn’t help with value creation,” he said.

Going further, he commented, “I think this is desacralisation of the Champagne category.”

Explaining that Champagne’s image was centred on celebratory occasions, he said that changing such a powerful and long-standing association would in fact damage Champagne’s appeal among the next generation.

Concluding, he said, “I see this [campaign] as desacralisation of the Champagne moment and a devaluation of the Champagne category.”

The generic marketing campaign has been wholly funded by the SGV, which has committed €4m per year for three years, having started the promotional work in France last summer.

This year, the message is being extended into other European markets, with the campaign’s images appearing in Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy, according to Toubart.

He said that it wouldn’t be coming to the UK, because the budget wasn’t big enough.

Confirming that the primary aim of the new generic message for grower Champagnes was to “increase the market share”, he told db,  “The market for Champagne growers has been decreasing now for 10 years, and I think we have lost 25m bottles over this time.”

Stressing that certain grower Champagnes had established a strong image and sales internationally, mentioning for example Selosse and De Sousa, he said that the majority of grower Champagnes were reliant on selling directly to domestic consumers.

While this may be “an efficient business”, it is also one that has been in long term decline, according to Toubart.

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