An ad from an Australian winemaker has been banned in the UK for being sexist and degrading toward women. The video version of the ad features a woman in an elegant white dress extolling the virtues of the wine. As she strategically places her wine glass on a table in front of her pelvis, she comments, “Australia practically jumps out of the glass. In fact, some say you can almost taste the bush.” Static ads and social media promoted the hashtag #tastethebush.
I never saw the campaign in the wild. It crossed my radar in a wine marketing news post. I was incredulous. Who could possibly have created such an obviously offensive ad? Who would approve it? What a PR disaster this would be.
I was sure social media would be ablaze with outrage and searched the hashtag on Twitter. The results were shocking. Yes, there were criticisms. But the overwhelming majority of tweets were positive. Some shared in the ribald sense of humor. Others expressed great interest in trying the product, using the hashtag in defining their desire. Many more were simply tickled by an “I can’t believe they did that!” kind of awe.
The brand struck a chord. Irreverence is a successful strategy in wine marketing. Brands use names like Defiant, Fat Bastard, Sassy Bitch and Blasted Church. Zins of sins are numerous. The wine industry is entrenched in its own establishment. The appreciation of wine is often paired with snobbery. The new, playful approach to marketing, and the infiltration of wine commentary by rebel critics with their nose in a glass instead of the air, have broadened the market. There’s a new consumer that enjoys their wine with tongue in cheek. Clever brands get that and seek to appeal to those who consider themselves wine outliers. But in the quest for this conspirative connection, when is it crossing the line?
Was the Taste the Bush campaign a reckless mistake? Rational people would assume so. On reflection, I think not. Consider the size of the wine market. There are millions of consumers. Appealing to a niche demographic can still be very profitable. Thousands of highly engaged customers can move a lot of product. The Bush brand new this, or their advertising agency did. The response was calculated. After the ads were released they became news and were included in news posts because they were shocking. When people complained and the ads were banned, they went viral. What the brand spent on placing the ads originally was a fraction of the value of the free attention they received. Please note I haven’t mentioned the brand name.
Outrage marketing isn’t completely new. Shock value is a way to cut through the barrage of media clutter. Cheeky double entendre can work well in advertising if kept in good taste. Sinking below that is bush league.