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Published:  23 July, 2008

Germany, Spain, Portugal, Bordeaux, the Rhne, South Africa - they've all pumped their money into generic advertising, but does it work? Tom Bruce-Gardyne looks at what an ad without a branded product can hope to achieve

A dark-haired woman with a wry smile is sitting in a restaurant with a glass of wine. It sounds like a scene from Sunday night TV - one of those bitter-sweet, romantic comedies designed to soften the impending Monday morning blues. In fact it's an advert for German wines, although the target audience is probably much the same. The woman sits beneath a caption - Not as sweet as she used to be' - and below is some text explaining that just as we all grow up and change, so too has German wine. Like you, they've got a new edge - dry and elegant, with the native Riesling grape rated by many wine experts as the greatest of them all.' Well it may not be the most scintillating copy you have ever read, but it is trying to do a very tough job. The original brief from the German Wine Information Bureau via its PR agency, Phipps PR, was: To disrupt existing prejudice about German wine and to raise the social status of wines from Germany.' The lucky agency to win the account was BANC. Of course, lucky' would not be the word Malcolm Gluck would have chosen. Recalling his days in adland, Malcolm told us in Harpers (23/30 August 2002) that no one particularly welcomed generic campaigns. On the contrary, he claimed, the creative department would scuttle off to the pub to hide. The poor creative team who finally got saddled with the thing would take drugs (or even Bovril) to alleviate their paranoia'. Unfortunately, when I talked to Richard Bean, chairman of BANC, it was on the telephone, so there was no way to tell from his breath whether he was still under the influence of some mind-expanding meat-flavoured drink, or even Marmite. But he did not sound particularly paranoid. On a more serious note, let's turn to Malcolm's main point, that generic advertising is a total waste of money and doesn't work - a point hammered home ad nauseam in his Harpers column of the same name. The argument from planet Gluck, which lies buried deep beneath his florid prose, is simply this. The only way to change any drinker's mind about a drink is to advertise the stuff they can buy. That means actual bottles.' In other words, if you cannot picture the packaging and do not have a brand name in your head it will never translate into a sale. Implicit is the sense that a wine region or country is simply too amorphous to promote through consumer advertising. It's not unlike what they said about George Bush and his war on terrorism - you cannot declare war on an abstract noun. Not surprisingly, Richard Bean dismisses Gluck's main point as rubbish, although he does accept that it would have been better if individual bottles had been shown. The German campaign may in some small way eventually help to improve people's attitude to the category - and make them believe that there really is life beyond Liebfraumilch. In fact, reversing prejudice probably has to be tackled on a generic front, since what brand is going to deal with a negative like that? The campaign may also persuade one or two drinkers to consider Germany as a source of more expensive wines like Riesling, and it may even fulfil the second part of the brief - to encourage guidance to shelf'. The trouble is, if there are no handles to help, what happens next? I do wonder,' says Bean, how many people have got to the German shelves and then couldn't see anything they felt okay with and moved on.' But closing the sale is the job of the brands themselves. Ideally, the generic campaign provides a platform on which individual brands, with their brilliant, hard-hitting advertising, can capitalise. Sadly it hasn't happened - Germany, like much of the Old World, simply does not have the brands. For Bean, what you do need is an angle, or a story to tell. In the case of Germany, it was that the wines have moved on. Luckily the story was true. Certainly in terms of presentation most of those old labels with their terrifying Gothic script have now disappeared. There is a good saying in advertising,' says Bean, that the best way to kill a bad brand is with good advertising - it simply shines a light on all the cracks.'

Let it B But so much for Germany, what of Bordeaux and the CIVB, who are true believers in the power of generic advertising, having spent the equivalent of just over 50 million in the past five years? Tanguy Chtillon, the CIVB's marketing director, felt more was needed to counteract the big-spending brands of the New World. For Britain, he secured 1.7 million in 2003 - a rise of nearly 30% on last year's budget. This may be dwarfed by Gallo and its reputed UK spend of 3 million, but it is still big bucks in the generic stakes and has allowed for some short, 10-second spots on TV. For Chtillon, Bordeaux is as much a brand as Tefal - the company he worked for previously. It acts as a similar umbrella for the individual brands below, be they Sauternes or non-stick saucepans. The current campaign, B Bordeaux - Experience a World of Finesse', was launched at the start of the year. It is, to quote Tanguy, all about style and elegance and aims to capture Bordeaux's unique position within the wine market'. The B', in swirling silver script, is a sort of Kite mark, which the Bordelaise are being encouraged to use on their labels to impose some corporate identity on this disparate region of 57 appellations and 10,000 producers. Critics say the campaign was obviously designed by a committee and therefore lacks any clear message. Gluck goes further, and says it was put together by the degenerate minds of a conglomerate group desperate to fly to the moon using feathers'. This compares with the dung-brained donkeys' behind the South African campaign (Harpers, 28 November) - so at least Bordeaux is in good company. But behind the acid tongue there's a serious point. If successful advertising demands single-mindedness, how can you ever produce an effective campaign while satisfying all the vested interests of a generic body? To shed light on this political and highly sensitive issue, I turned to Andrew Mitchell, managing partner at MPGM, the agency that ran the previous UK campaign - Let the mood take you to Bordeaux'. Mitchell believes the only solution is to listen to the client politely and then ignore him or her or them - in Bordeaux's case the relevant CIVB committee had no fewer than 28 members! He feels that to have any chance of success you have to focus entirely on the consumer and the trade in the particular market. Being in London must have helped MPGM to at least keep the client at arm's length. How much harder for Frierson, Mee & Partners, the Paris-based agency behind B Bordeaux'. The Let the mood' campaign was certainly more risqu than the old bow-tie that Bordeaux had used since the early eighties. According to Mitchell, the campaign was about to do something seriously radical when MPGM got the chop in 2002. The very next year's ads, which had already been agreed, were going to include a labelled bottle in each one. Plus there was going to be a strip down the right-hand side with six more bottles showing where you could get them and for what occasion - this one's for fish, this one's early evening and so on.' Before then, the most they had managed was to get the names of eight or nine wines mentioned along the bottom. Mitchell completely agrees with Malcolm Gluck on the need to show actual product. You've got to give people a handle. It's a daunting area and most people are not knowledgeable about wines.'

Well, hello there Whether B Bordeaux' will be so bold as to plug individual wines for the greater good remains to be seen. Clearly this is easier for the New World to do because there are far fewer people involved - usually just a handful of key players. In its first generic consumer campaign, Wines of South Africa (WOSA) has spent 500,00 on a series of three ads in the weekend broadsheets and Hello! magazine from September. Running alongside is a reader competition with the chance to win free flights to South Africa. The ads are basically advertorials' by Susy Atkins, and feature some 30 recommended wines and where to buy them. Helen Scott, a partner in TMPD Marketing, the strategic agency involved, points out that this is year one of a 10-year campaign. So if any producer feels short-changed there should be ample opportunity to make amends. WOSA set up a steering committee whose members include Mike Paul, MD of Western Wines. Paul agrees with Malcolm Gluck about the death by committee' side of generic advertising, but says all we're trying to do is explain South African wines over a fiver'. Their average price in the UK is currently 3.60. The ads coincide with in-store offers and involved preliminary talks with all the major buyers. Paul thinks this was crucial because if you haven't got the trade on your side you might as well forget it'. WOSA aims to increase its share of the UK trade by value to 13.5% within two years - a rise of 50%. With the wines on a serious roll right now, they may well do it, but who knows how much will be down to Susy Atkins.

Exploring the endorsement Portugal has taken a different tack. Shunning the use of advertorials or women with wry smiles, it has gone for endorsement. Are you a Portuguese wine explorer?' asked the posters in the London Underground. No? well meet some who are - from author Tony Parsons to chef Jean-Christophe Novelli. There was even football executive Karen Brady, though quite what the connection is between Portugal and Birmingham City FC remains one of life's great mysteries. The ad man responsible, Paul Adrian, explains his thinking. How do you get people to buy into a brand? Well, one way is to use opinion formers. I wanted to go into the lifestyle side of things and not necessarily use celebrities. I wanted to use people who were only in the know to those people who were in the know.' Of course much of the decision was already made. Had Adrian wanted to recruit Elle MacPherson after her hugely successful job promoting Western Australia, his pockets probably wouldn't have been deep enough. His annual budget, funded by the producer's association - viniportugal - was around 3-400,000 at first, and has grown little since. For now, the four-year campaign is over, while Chris Malone and his team at the consultancy group Monitor carry out some serious market research. From what Malone told Harpers (10 October), wine explorers' won't be coming back. No matter what you think of the Portuguese campaign, it was at least a change from the boring old git in a vineyard', to quote Adrian. As Andrew Mitchell says, a lot of brands can be guilty of taking a brief and ending up with generic advertising'. In his view the glasses, bottle, table and couple' school of advertising is totally wasteful crap'. He may well be right, and it may just reflect lack of funds - such generic' shots are nothing if not cheap. Mitchell reckons to make an impact you need around 2-3 million - a figure beyond the wildest dreams of most brands, regions or countries.

What lies beneath Whatever the budget behind the Think Red. Think Ctes du Rhne' campaign, it has certainly been persistent. Cartoonist Robert Thompson's hippo and spiky-haired hedgehog have been camping out on the escalators of the London Underground since 2001. Rod Meeborn-Hubbard of Toybox, the ad agency responsible, explains the original brief. Essentially it was to debunk the whole mystique surrounding French wine, and make it much more accessible and contemporary.' With off-trade sales of Ctes du Rhne up 15% in the eight months to August compared to the same period last year, SOPEXA clearly believes the campaign is working. One thing that every generic body is keen to stress, is the fact that consumer advertising is only the tip of the iceberg, but because it is visible, it receives far more scrutiny than it deserves. According to Nicky Forrest of Phipps PR, the German campaign accounts for 20% of the budget. If advertising is the picture, then sampling, PR and all other marketing activity is the frame, and without that frame the advertising will not work.' Three years ago the Spanish decided to promote their country as a whole rather than as 13 separate regions. To highlight the change there was fairly extensive advertising in the trade and consumer press. But according to Graham Hines of Wines from Spain, generic ads now account for just 5% of the budget and are only used to flag up specific tastings or promotions. Much has been written in the trade press against generic advertising, its design, content and indeed if it is needed at all. But as generic advertising virtually never exists without other supporting activities, we should look at the total package that is being offered before throwing the baby out with the bath water.'