Wonderfully Enlightening and Stating The Bloody Obvious

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By Robert Davidson

For those of you who read the trade press, you will most likely have seen coverage of the DWCC (Digital Wine Communication Conference) last week.  Amongst the great names there presenting, there were two articles in Harpers that seemed to be both wonderfully enlightening and stating the bloody obvious (this is less condemnatory than it seems at first glance; please bear with me).

First up, Robert Joseph (or ‘Bad-Boy-Bobby-Jo’ as I have it on good authority he likes to be called) praised Lidl for its simplistic yet informative marketing, involving (allegedly) genuine shoppers.  Soundbites such as “The Perfect Gift” and “Bottle to Impress” are the taglines they use at point of sale.  I’m inclined to agree.  I think the Lidl range is very good for the money, and having a friend group composed largely of philistines this is kind of money I’m looking to spend.  I like the labelling system for those who want to buy wine without having to think about it, in fact, I’d like to see this system extended for all sorts of consumer gifts with which I’m not particularly au fait.  How easy would every Christmas, Valentines, Birthday et al be?  Straight into House of Fraser (or a larger branch of Lidl…) and “Perfect Mum Gift”, “The Missus Will Like This” and at the till “You Almost Forgot Uncle Paul”.  I hate having to research subjects that bore me to tears (football, knitting, gardening) and I hate spending unnecessary time in sprawling department stores ferreting around like a hungry squirrel that’s lost his nuts just to find something that’s ‘just so’.

Next came Justin Howard-Sneyd MW (I don’t know if he has a nickname, so let’s say he likes to be called ‘The Punisher’).  He asserts that consumers want ‘dinner-party one-liners’.  I don’t think there can be a truer word spoken.  Anecdotally, the majority of wine I sold when working in retail would be on the back of “this winemaker used to be in the French Rugby team”, or “this was Winston Churchill’s favourite Champagne”.  But isn’t this true of virtually anything?  The whole premise of the film/book ‘Hi-Fidelity’ was geeks swapping tit-bits of info.  Most of my conversations in the pub are one anecdote after another, and as the evening goes on then the exact facts tend to stand somewhat less firmly in the way of the quality of the story.  Only the most dedicated of wine nerds would genuinely want to know the total and free sulphur content of a bottle, the toasting on the oak, exact residual sugar content etc.  However, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be happy to know that Cristal comes in a clear bottle because of Tsar Alexander II’s fear of assassination (a clear bottle would be impossible to hide a bomb – sadly he was assassinated by a bomb in the street only a few years after Cristal was presented to him).  I love stuff like this, and it is the very reason programmes like QI are so successful.  I would happily wager that anything could be sold off the back of a good anecdote.

So back to my original point – wonderfully enlightening and stating the bloody obvious.  Wonderfully enlightening?  Well, I think more wine companies would do well to follow the advice given by ‘Bad-Boy’ and ‘The Punisher’ as such a terrifying amount of the information given is dull.  Stating the obvious?  Isn’t it obvious that people want difficult decisions to be made easy and the things they do in their spare time to be fun?  If you’re really into dry data then knock yourself out, but don’t expect everyone else to be into them too.  Reeling off technical specifications isn’t a conversation; it’s a monologue from Rainman.  Knowing that the then Mayor of Chateauneuf-de-Pape tried to ban UFOs from the area in 1954 makes you a dinner party legend.

But as I say, stating the obvious isn’t always a bad thing.  Telling your partner you love them may well be stating the obvious but it doesn’t make it any less meaningful.  Here’s to some more open engagement with consumers on a subject that’s supposed to be enjoyable.