The mystery of generic campaigns

24 July, 2018

How do you market a region? it’s hard enough getting a message right if you’re a one-man band or family firm processing a single or handful of opinions.

But when you’re dealing with thousands of stakeholders, all with competing – or, in some cases, diametrically opposed – interests, the experience can be, as one PR with years of experience running generic campaigns told me, “like herding cats”.

Perhaps that’s why so much generic regional marketing material errs on the side of bland, with campaigns that deal in windy generalities or vacuous slogans that could be talking about literally anywhere. This, after all, is the problem with all judgements by committee. It’s the safest option, the one that offends the fewest people, that tends to win out, while solutions with personality, those most likely to be memorable, inevitably fall by the wayside in the hunt for compromise.

If you don’t believe me, try matching the following recent or current slogans to a region: 1) “There is so much to discover”; 2) “Pure expression”; 3) “Pure discovery”; 4) “The art of wine. Down to earth”. No Googling, now. The answers can be found at the bottom of the column, although I’d be very surprised if anyone gets more than one right. Frankly, I doubt even the people who made them up can remember what they’re supposed to refer to.

Of course, the reality of dealing with querulous clients isn’t the only reason that coming up with a workable generic message is so difficult. This is a fine art, where success can only really be judged in retrospect. Take, for example, one of the most successful generic wine marketing taglines of the past couple of decades: “Think red, think Côtes du Rhône.” Few observers would deny that it was at the very least a factor in a period of double-digit growth for the Rhône. But had it not succeeded, it would have been accused of the same place-less platitudinous-ness of the above examples. I mean, think red, and you could just as well think Bordeaux, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Tuscany or Barossa.

All of which makes me wary of being too critical of the latest contribution from the Consejo Regulador de Rioja. In this case, blandness certainly isn’t the issue. The body has decided to use a Spanish slogan – “Saber quién eres” – untranslated, in all markets. At the very least, that tells us something about the wine’s origins. It’s also brave. Many people will be wondering what it means (“Knowing who you are”, in case you were wondering). Not just because they don’t speak Spanish, but also because this is quite a big philosophical idea. I imagine tired commuters on the New York subway or London tube attempting to parse the translation and dreamily asking: “Do I really know who I am?” Then: “Do any of us know who we are?” (I like to think a marketing wizard in Paris or Adelaide is working on these two questions for a generic wine campaign as we speak.)

It seems unlikely those commuters will be thinking, as Ricardo Aguiriano, marketing director for the Consejo, said in the launch material, about “how Rioja demonstrates that it rises far above short-lived trends”. But perhaps that’s not the point. They will at least be aware of something – however nebulous – about Rioja. A seed will have been sewn. And isn’t that the best generic marketing can hope for?

Answers: 1. Bordeaux. 2. Alsace. 3. New Zealand. 4. Austria

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