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The problem with generics

Published:  18 January, 2007

The story is told of a group of Australian cattle ranchers who, with demand for beef plummeting, called in the help of a Sydney ad agency to help boost sales. The result was so unsatisfying that the ranchers developed a campaign themselves.

A while later the strap line "Eat More Beef You Bastards" leapt out from billboards and t-shirts.

This, possibly apocryphal, tale comes to mind as I contemplate the forthcoming season of generic tastings.

I have always been a staunch advocate of generic promotion, which works for me on a number of levels. It can tie in producers, distributors and retailers to a common vision and strategy, which, if successfully implemented, can create a positive framework within which the trade can operate.

Or it can simply be a vehicle which facilitates effective communication between the UK trade and the producing country. Where in my view generic wine promotion has almost entirely failed is in really engaging the consumer. It is difficult to think of an advertising or PR campaign which has created more than a superficial personality for the wines concerned.

Such consumer campaigns that do appear look to be what they are: the product of committees, risk-averse wallpaper advertising riddled by compromise.

Memorable consumer campaigns tend to be the result of genuine points of difference coupled with creative strokes of genius. Given the difficulty for any generic body to pin down the former, particularly when the product range is so diverse the product itself can not be the "hero", even greater pressure falls on the latter.

The temptation will always be to play safe, to avoid offending even at the cost of being bland.

I hope South Africa does not fall into this trap, having in my view leapt the first hurdle far more convincingly than most. At the other extreme we have Southern France, which desperately needs an identity.

A recent suggestion for a strapline was "Great Wines from Grumpy Old Men ", which I thought was a stroke of genius and hugely campaignable. I somehow doubt, though, that it will ever see a tee-shirt, let alone a billboard.

Michael Paul is managing director of Orbital Wines