Share A Coke With, Share A Claret With….

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The cleverest piece of marketing I have seen in years is Coca-Cola’s current ‘Share a Coke with…’ campaign.  When I go to the shop at lunchtime, I can’t get near the fridge because there is a gaggle of schoolchildren all frantically piling into the Cokes trying to find their own name.  And based on the success of the first round of names, they’ve now released another hundred names so even if your name is a little unusual, you might still be able to find a Coke with your name on it.  They even offer multiple spellings of some names like ‘Calum’ and ‘Callum’.  It’s not just children that are falling for it, lots of my friends on Facebook have been posting a picture of them smiling with a Coke indicating they have tracked down their own name.  Oh, and they are nearly always drinking it with a friend, because they saw their name too and bought an additional Coke.  I haven’t managed to find mine yet, although I did procure a Diet Coke that said ‘Stephen’ that I attacked with correcting fluid and a Biro.

There isn’t much to compete with this in the wine industry.  Every country has its own laws surrounding the advertising of alcoholic beverages.  In Russia there is a ban on all alcohol advertising in media outlets, giving its small but recently successful wine industry very little chance of thriving.  The French government has recently been urged to ban all online promotion of wine, leading to protests from outraged winemakers.

Because of laws like these, we don’t often see innovative marketing and advertising campaigns for wines.  But one way to get consumers’ attention is to give your wine a quirky or memorable name.  “Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush” from Cooper’s Creek is one of the best known examples.  Fat Bastard make wines in the Languedoc-Rousillon, and the South African ‘Goats do Roam’ and ‘Goat-Roti’ have been splitting sides for many years now.  In their defence, it’s quite a clever joke and goats genuinely do roam around the estate.  And the wines are not bad at all.

Most people that I know who don’t know a great deal about wines will buy wines for one of two reasons:

  1. It was on offer in the supermarket (and don’t even get me started on that!)
  2. It had a funny name.

I couldn’t even begin to count the times someone has presented me with a wine and said something like “I thought you might like this, look!  It has a picture of a sheep on it.”  Normally I reply “oh how well you know me” and shove it in the fridge to be consumed after what I consider to be the more serious wine that I bought.  But that’s just me – if everyone I know is actively buying wines that have a funny name, then perhaps giving your wine a funny name is a more valuable marketing tool than I first thought.  Maybe we could target these impressionable consumers by removing the funny names from cheap wines, and applying them to slightly more expensive wines?

Would this impressionable consumer group suddenly buy a mid-price White Burgundy or a vintage Port because it was called “The Laughing Cheesecake” or “The Happy Hedgehog”?  If they did, could we offer then a DRC Burgundy called Um Bongo? (They drink it in the Congo, or the Democratic Republic of Congo… DRC, I know, it’s a stretch, but I’m tired.)

Ultimately we don’t want to insult wine buyers’ intelligence, and it is a bit of a leap from buying The Milkman’s Potato for a fiver to buying Um Bongo for several grand.  But we can’t ignore the allure of a wine with an appealing name.  For the average wine buyer, a wine whose name makes them smile is infinitely more attractive than one whose name they can’t pronounce.  And while unfortunately “Share a 2000 Lafite-Rothschild with Steph” would probably result in a substantial lawsuit from Coca Cola, ultimately the message of sharing and friendship that their clever campaign portrays has something in common with the funny-named wines that my friends bring over.  “I saw this and thought of you” is a nice thing to think, isn’t it?  It’s a nice reason to buy someone a gift, that’s for sure.

So we can choose to be snobby and resist these wines, but remember that laws on advertising alcohol are only going to get more restrictive.  Those funny names might be the only way to stand out.  There might come a time when producers that snubbed them are attempting to think of their own humorous gimmick to give their wines a chance of competing with the Grizzly Walrus and the Cantankerous Crab.