BRANDING

Tagline Takedown: Too Often, Champagne Marketing is Flat

Fewer holiday revelers are uncorking French champagnes this season. Can tasteful slogans and elegant websites lift lagging brands' spirits?
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Champagne makers are anything but bubbly after posting a second straight year of poor sales. According to industry sources, the French champagne industry is experiencing a perfect storm caused by the poor European economy, declining demand in France (which is responsible for 51 percent of all sales), and Spanish and Italian bubbly that retails for a third of the cost.

In response, say these sources, brands are doubling down on quality, variety, and marketing. But if my brief taste test of the best-known French champagnes' taglines and website experiences are any indication, shoddy, misleading marketing will only make the bubblies even less effervescent.

Bollinger Doesn't Deliver

It wasn't until I'd done some secondary research that Bollinger's total obsession with all things British became apparent to me. On its site, Bollinger celebrates such partnerships as the British Open, The Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race, The Ascot Racecourse, and even James Bond's Aston Martin.

It turns out that after France, Great Britain is the world's second-largest market for French champagne. The United States is third, and Japan a surprising fourth.

So, while I now understand Bollinger's Anglophile ways, its tagline, "Fresh as a rose. Balanced as a Bollinger" made my head spin. There's nothing on the site that explains either freshness or balance.

Dom Pérignon: Je suis formidable

In my opinion, far too many top French brands seem more in love with their own grapes than they are in the passion that their champagne can evoke (and that they could leverage in their marketing).

Dom Pérignon is the perfect example of the "I am great" school of marketing. The fabled champagne's tagline is "The power of creation." That's a fascinating brand promise, which the company defines as: "A sixth sense, the instinct of the psychic, the intuition of a scout, the inspiration of a visionary, the dream of an artist."

Such poetic words made me think the website would celebrate creation by providing tips on how I could create the perfect private New Year's Eve soiree, or even by telling me the company is donating funds to aspiring artists so they, too, can toast their future success with a glass of Dom.

Alas, Dom's sole example of the power of creation focused on artist Jeff Koons, who designed a "Balloon Venus," a bizarre lavender-colored, egg-shaped container that opens up to reveal nothing except a bottle of Dom. That's it? Mais oui, mes amis.

Dom Pérignon needs to either change its tagline to "The Power of Dom," or create a website with content that delivers on the promise of creation.

Moët: Not So Fabulous

Dom Pérignon is made by Moët & Chandon, which also produces an eponymous champagne with its own tagline and website. On its face, Moët's tagline seemed promising after the letdown of Dom's. I can't speak for you, but I was ready to follow the company's advice to "Be Fabulous." I'll admit I have a long way to go, but I figured the website would show me fabulous people, places, and things to set an example.

Instead, Moët's site celebrates only the fabulous world of Moët. The home page alone contains glamorous photography that includes a butler pouring champagne, a lithe tennis player finishing off an opponent on the court, a vineyard, a wine cellar, and a private dock. You get the idea.

The only section that held the least bit of interest was one entitled, "Unique Savoir-Faire." In addition to needing help in becoming fabulous, I thought a primer on increasing my savoir-faire couldn't hurt, so I clicked on the tab. I was quickly introduced to Moët's vine growers, cellar men and vat men (yes, vat men, who, as the title would indicate, ensure Moët's vats are the cleanest and tidiest in the industry).

Such a unique occupation sparked my creative juices, though. How's this for a revised Moet tagline: "Moët…Champagne Vat's Good for You."

Veuve Clicquot Gets it Right

After a lengthy search, I finally found a winner: Veuve Clicquot.

The legendary winemaker's tagline is simple: "Be Clicquot." The website provides variations on the slogan, but never varies from explaining that being Clicquot is a formula for not only living the good life, but doing the right thing.

The brand stages a very cool annual event called Yelloween, named in honor of its bottles' distinctive yellow label. It's a combination of Mardi Gras and Carnival in which the champagne maker celebrates the "luxurious, gorgeous, and elegant." The company also takes time to explain its corporate social responsibility efforts in a section called "Naturally Clicquot." Among other programs, it has held an annual businesswomen's award competition since 1972. In that time, it has honored 340 female entrepreneurs in 29 countries. At long last, a French champagne maker that delivers on its brand promise. I'll drink to that!

Getting Into the Minds of Consumers

Marketing for the sake of marketing is a very poor use of money. While brands such as Moët and Dom Pérignon may be heightening marketplace awareness with their tagline non sequiturs and dismal self-congratulatory websites, they're actually causing more harm than good.

Countless studies prove that today's consumers are becoming increasingly discerning when it comes to their purchasing decisions. They want to buy products and services from companies that demonstrate an understanding of their wants and needs. They also want to do business with a company that does good.

Based upon my findings, Veuve Clicquot is the only brand that gets the new consumer mindset. And, talk about being ahead of its time! I now understand why Rick Blaine, owner of Rick's Café Américain in Casablanca, ordered Veuve Clicquot when Major Strasser, the movie's antagonist, came to pay a visit--the brand reflected Rick's worldview. Pour it again, Sam.

IMAGE: _FXR/Flickr
Last updated: Dec 30, 2013

STEVE CODY | Columnist

I'm a climber, comedian, and dog lover. But not necessarily in that order. I also happen to be co-founder and CEO of Peppercomm, a strategic communications firm headquartered in NYC, with offices in San Francisco and London. I publish RepMan, a daily blog, and have had the opportunity to appear on CNBC, MSNBC, NPR, and a host of other top-tier media over the years. scody@peppercomm.com

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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