GLUGGING a Johnnie Walker Black in the Parliament pub the other day after a session on the media tribunal and the wine industry, an MP told me we ain’t seen nothing yet. This after conversation had led to a discussion of the City of Cape Town’s revised liquor legislation aimed at curbing the number of hours per day in which liquor may be sold.
“Forget about the petty bylaws – two years from now, advertising alcohol is going to be a thing of the past,” he said, pointing to a wine advertisement glaring at us from the pages of that day’s Cape Times. “No wine advertising in the media ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ any media ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ or billboards next to the roads.”
He sat back and sipped his whisky noisily. “Fortunately, you are looking at one customer the industry does not have to try and attract.”
Although the industry bodies do not wish to discuss this in-depth, the possibility of a ban on liquor advertising in South Africa has at least been raised, even just in the customary “they are crazy, it will never work” manner.
France, India and Norway have banned liquor advertising outright, and there is no reason why South Africans can’t wake up one morning to find that this is the situation here, too.
Massive social problems, road carnage and debilitating health issues sure do make our society a candidate for such a move, however draconian it may seem and no matter how loud the hollers of “preventing abuse is about education, not advertising”, or the like.
So how will this affect the wine industry?
Not much, some may say. Only Distell and DGB indulge in real advertising spend. Nederburg’s above-the-line alone nudges close on R30m a year, but for a local independent wine estate to spend more than R700,000 annually on advertising is almost unthinkable ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ Four Cousins (Van Loveren) excepted. So why should the industry worry if wine advertising gets the chop?
Well, although Distell’s big brands such as Nederburg and Graca advertise exactly that ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ specific big brands ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ and this print and electronic presence serves to at least give wine a presence in the media space so dominated by spirits and beer. Nederburg and JC le Roux’s television advertisements alone make a major contribution to keeping wine on the consumer radar screen, albeit in a society where per capita consumption is steadily decreasing.
Not having this wine presence in the media arena at all will be a blow to the culture of a wine narrative on the South African landscape. Should all liquor promotion be forced to take a stealth bomb approach and fly under the radar, wine is going to suffer. Spirits, beer and cooler products have been playing the below-the-line game far longer and with far greater success than the wine industry, which still sees value in useless advertorial articles and paid-for covers on industry-read magazines.
Ban or no ban, wine marketers should start looking at alternative strategies through which to promote their brand and product. This entails a bigger ask from PR and below-the-line. A media release bragging about the success of your wine at the Estonian Wine Contest or the fact that it has been adjudged the Best New World Wine in East Luxembourg is really not contributing to anyone. Long-winded boring events launching a new Merlot-Shiraz blend, where PR success is mostly measured on the number of wine writers or VIP’s attending, are a waste of everybody’s time.
This was wine marketing in the 1990s, and the wine industry deserves better thinking here in 2010, especially seeing the current storm clouds on the horizon.
So where to go?
Generic. The point has been discussed at industry level before ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ sans success. But a pool of funds now, more than ever, has to be leveraged with which to tell the story of South African wine in a way that will hit the spot of the Ritalin-generation and reinforce the magic of the product. Communicate the wine culture in a new way. Get creative agencies and out-of-the box thinkers like Jonathan Cherry and Ravi Naidoo involved.
Alas, there is a greater of chance of Portugal winning the next Rugby World Cup than an industry fund for generic wine promotion. When you have the chairman of producers organisation VinPro also driving imports of Gallo wine from America, what are your chances of mustering some sort of cohesive loyalty towards South African wine?
The second important window of opportunity is on-line. The wine industry should be a leader in embracing on-line activity. Not that it is inactive. I think the industry can be proud of the number of commentators and chatters who spend hours a week writing about South African wine purely because of their passion for the product.
But we need to hit the next level by directing more marketing spend and more energy into the on-line arena and creating snappy, sharp and fast vehicles with which to drive wine communication.
This was all discussed in the Parliament bar, and finishing his whisky the MP pulled out his favourite quote as advice to the wine industry, one kept on the desk of media tycoon Ted Turner and using the words: “Lead, follow or get out of the way.”
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