Shameless marketing…this is so bad

Just alerted to the following piece of marketing by a post on the UK wine forum over at wine-pages.com. It’s from Laithwaites, and I think it’s pretty appalling. I strongly suspect that Becca Reeves, the wine buyer concerned, didn’t write this, but that it comes directly from the bowels of Laithwaites marketing team. The original is here.

My name is Becca Reeves and I am Laithwaites Chilean wine buyer. I’m writing to you today in reaction to the devastating effects of last Saturday’s earthquake in Chile.

The earthquake struck in the heart of Chile’s winemaking country – an area I know well from many buying trips there.

Like, for example, Luis Felipe Edwards (or Don Cayetano as you may know him better). I managed to speak to him yesterday on a crackly line to find out if he and his family are OK. They are. But their house was destroyed and some of their great wine has disappeared into the ground.

Luis Felipe was remarkably upbeat and at pains to assure me that the harvest (due to start right now in Chile) would still go ahead. He said his vineyards workers and cellar hands were determined to keep working despite the chaos around them.

I was astonished and said so to Luis Felipe. He told me that the best way to rebuild Chile right now is to carry on as normal and keep people in work. Luis Felipe was concerned that people would want to give Chile ‘some space’, hold off ordering and, as a result, the country would lose income it now desperately needs.

So, this month I am asking you to support our winemakers in Chile – their families and the families of their employees. Chilean wines these days are of impeccable quality and the range is staggering – the most varied in the world (OK, I am bit biased!) – there’s plenty to choose from to suit your palate and budget.

In return, Laithwaites will donate 5% of sales of all Chilean wine sold during March to the Chilean Embassy’s Earthquake Appeal Fund.

I hope that when you think about buying your wine this month you will think of our friends in Chile and help raise as much as we can for them – they really need your support right now.

Thanks for reading

Becca

30 comments to Shameless marketing…this is so bad

  • Michael Cox

    Jamie – I’m at a loss to find what you think is so appalling about Becca’s appeal? The Embassy appeal fund is genuine, and I can assure you, the need in Chile is genuine, and it seems to me that the Laithwaites offer of donating 5% of their March Chile sales is a generous and effective way of contribtuting to help Chileans whose lives have been turned upside down by the extraordinary forces of Mother Nature. Do call me if you want to know more about how Chile has been affected by the earthquake. Michael

  • Michael, the Chilean need is real, and it’s great that Laithwaites are giving some cash to the appeal – BUT, it’s the way that this misfortune is used as a marketing opportunity – it seems quite cynical (and I realise this is a value judgement on my part). They could have just announced they were giving 5% and left it at that – instead the marketing machine has ground into action and sent out this tasteless letter to customers – including the horrbible ‘crackling line’ bit.

  • Andrew Halliwell

    Hi Jamie,

    You know I usually agree with you on just about everything, but here I tend to side more with Michael. I’m in Maule right now and 20 of our workers have lost their houses alone. We’ve been clearing up the winery all week and the first grapes come in tomorrow (meanwhile a load of construction guys are working overtime trying to fix the roof).

    I know you, nor nobody in Europe / US doubts the scale of the disaster, nor underestimates the problems caused. As you know, Chile is a well-run, well-organised country that is capable of getting back on its feet on its own. Though with the scale of this disaster put at US$30billion, this will take a long time and set things back a bit. Much of the wine industry is in the region worst hit, (although in many cases the tanks that collapsed and the wine losses are at least covered by insurance).

    I agree with you that natural disasters should not be exploited in a cynical fashion by large corporations to make a fast buck, but in this case it seems to me that buying an extra bit of Chilean wine is a painless way to help the industry and the country here and if Laithwaites feel like handing over 5% of their profits all for the good.

    Anyhow – keep up the good(e) work on the blog, I’m glad to see you continue to be happy to stick your nose out and are not afraid to tackle controversial topics head on.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  • thanks Andrew for your very constructive criticism, and for that useful perspective

  • william beavington

    I’m sorry but 5% is a miniscule amount – if Laithwaites were genuine why make it so small. Tend to side with the critics on this issue – Tony Laithwaite should be better than this – sadly he is not.

  • william beavington

    Michael – how can 5% be construed as being “generous” – it isn’t. This is, in my view, a shameful marketing trick.

  • Alex Lake

    I agree with the “5% is mean” crowd. If people respond and buy lots of Chilean wine from Laithwaites and they make a fat profit out of it (margins on Chilean wines are very high) how would they feel about that?

    Instead of saying 5% of sales, they should say 100% of profits (or maybe 120% of profits)

    I get a sense from those disagreeing with Jamie that they feel he’s belittling the seriousness of the crisis – this isn’t what I’m seeing…

  • I’m with Michael on this one. I would have thought that 5% of sales, and a reason for customers to switch to Chilean Wine thus encouranging more exports from Chile at this time should be commended, and not slated. Anything to help is surely a good thing. If you take this augument further, then maybe no retailer should be involved in Comic Relief,Breast Cancer awareness, Fairtrade etc.. They’ve given a choice to the customer, it’s upto them if they want to take it.

  • Greg Wilkins

    Dear Jamie
    I think we have reached a strange place in this country when in good faith somebody tries to create some awareness for an issue and donate some money (however much is irrelevent) to a good cause and gets lambasted by yourself for doing so.
    I agree with Michael Cox on this one and I thinks your comments are typical of trying to score intellectual points at the expense of a real issue.
    If you knew Miss Reeves I think you would find her the least “cynical” person you could ever meet.
    Regards
    Greg

  • Can’t really say whether 5% is generous or not, as I have no way of knowing the economics behind Laithwaites’ business, however I think most people are missing Jaimie’s point. His criticism is for the marketing department’s ‘oh so caring’ anecdote, their apparent struggle to get to their so valued suppliers illustrated with ‘crackling line’ and a paragraph dedicated to ensuring we all know these hardy people are carrying on despite severe adversity; demanding our admiration. It’s tasteless.

    I also can’t say where I stand on it really, I agree it’s a bit crude, and 5% is probably not generous, but anything that raises funds and awareness has to be a good thing. Even if Laithwaites benefit too as a knock on effect.

  • Jonathan Palmer

    A tricky one.

    I agree with the sentiment that we should all be trying to help the Chilean wine industry at a time like this, but the letter does read like it was dreamed up by the marketing department – I would be amazed if the buyer wrote this herself.

    It does come across a bit as a thinly-veiled “please come and spend lots of money at Laithwaites” plea.

  • Greg
    – I do know Becca from her time at Asda, and agree that she’s not a cynical person at all – which is why I can’t imagine her writing this

  • PUBLIC DECLARATION:
    EFECTS OF THE EARTHQUAKE ON THE COLCHAGUA VALLEY WINE INDUSTRY. VIÑAS DE COLCHAGUA S.A.

    Colchagua, Chile, March 4, 2010

    The Asociación de Viñas de Colchagua S.A. and the Colchagua Valley Wine Route would like to express their concern and solidarity with respect to the effects of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that occurred on Saturday, February 27 in the central-southern zone of Chile.

    We have now been able to evaluate the consequences of these events on the wine and tourism industries in the Colchagua Valley and determine the losses that affect the volume of wine in storage, production facilities, and the tourism infrastructure of the Associated Wineries.

    The Colchagua Valley has always been known for the tenacity of its people and the enterprising spirit of those who have worked to make it a leader in the national wine industry and a pioneer in the development of wine tourism. It is this same spirit that allows us to guarantee that the production and tourism areas will be functioning normally in the very short term. In fact, many of the wineries are already harvesting, bottling their wines, and reorganizing their tourism projects in order to ensure the excellence that they are known for.

    We would particularly like to emphasize the commitment and dedication displayed by those who work in the wineries. Mutual assistance, order, solidarity, and culture are the pillars upon which the spirit of Colchagua is built and that bind wine to our land.

    In terms of volume, we have estimated the total loss of stock (bulk and bottled wine) in the valley to be approximately 25 million liters, which is the equivalent of 20% of the total national loss. We have no reason to believe that this will prevent us from complying with our current commitments.

    With respect to infrastructure, the wineries have suffered damage to their cellars, although none that will affect the current crush season or production of bottled wine. As the supply of electricity returns to full capacity, vineyard operations such as irrigation will return to normal. The transportation systems are now functioning, although not yet expeditious.

    In sum, although this earthquake has altered the normal operations of the industry, we accept the situation as a new challenge, and we are certain that backed by the spirit and efforts of the Colchagua wineries and their people, in the very short term, winery operations will be completely reestablished and tourism will flourish in our valley once again.

    Mario Pablo Silva
    President
    Viñas de Colchagua-Colchagua Valley Wine Route

  • william beavington

    Greg – I disagreee with you and I think you are exaggerating and missing the point – if Laithwaites REALLY wanted to make a difference why do they not make a cash contribution themselves and then add this promotional offer on top of that. Instead they are using the issue to increase their own sales and using customers to fund it. Obviously it’s 5% to the relief fund and 95% for them….Laithwaites are famous for over-selling and here they seem to be using a terrible situation to their own advantage more than they should.

  • I have read the comments made today with some surprise. This is obviously an emotional subject. I have been misunderstood and I have just posted my thoughts on my blog. I have posted them here as well.

    The responses to what we did for Chile on Friday have been mixed.

    Friday’s blog and email prompted two things; a lot customers switching their orders to Chilean wine – good, and considerable upset about me just doing it as a sales gimmick – not good.

    I can see our gesture could be misinterpreted. But if you are told that a friend’s house (and in this case winery) is now just a pile of rubble what do you do? Ignore it?

    No, you try to help. Both Becca and I had the same idea. We decided to send something to our customers.

    The big thing our Chilean friends wanted was for us not to cancel orders. (Something we were looking at doing). We have instead upped our buying and will some more, if we can. We are committed to our Chilean producers.

    To help a bit more, we decided to give 5% of all sales to the Chilean Embassy Earthquake appeal. So far that’s over £10,000. This seemed the most obvious way to help. Many of our customers have been very positive about this and have changed the wine they’re buying this month. I recognise, in hindsight, that our positioning could have been mis-interpreted, but there was only good intention behind it.

    It’s not something I broadcast but Barbara and I helped set up the Institute of Hazard and Risk at Durham University. There is a laboratory there, bearing our name which assesses landslides and other risks in a variety of places. It was, I know looking at the Maule Valley south of Santiago. Please accept my apologies for any offence caused, it was unintentional.

  • Whilst it may not be entirely shameless marketing on the part of Laithwaites, there’s no escaping the fact that they will profit from an emotive tug at the heart strings of their customers!

    I’m not sure what the right approach is though: the Wine Society have made it clear they will not be making a donation to the redevelopment in Chile, despite calls to do so from their members.

  • Thank you, Tony, for taking the effort to respond in such a thoughtful manner.

  • I work with a number of charities including the Meningitis Research Foundation and times are tough – getting funds is really getting harder for everyone so any inititive to help raise awareness and funds should be applauded particularly from the corporate sector and if there are other benefits thats fine too. Well done Laithwaites!

  • william beavington

    Thanks Tony – one obvious point – if all UK based wine merchants followed your example that would help a lot. Let’s hope you start a trend….

  • Alex Lake

    Tony,

    Thanks for daring to pop your head above the parapet. But a couple of questions:

    1) Will Laithwaites be making a profit from people who buy Chilean wine from them?

    2) You ask about a friend’s house being reduced to rubble. Well, the continuation of that analogy would be that I happen to run a building company and offer them a 5% discount on reconstruction. Cushtie…

    I’m sorry, but I still just don’t buy it. A nice idea ruined?

  • I have no affiliation to Laithwaites but AGAIN I commend them for doing something – I for one have done nothing for Chile so really don’t feel any critisism I make can be valid. I wonder where other contrinuters stand on this..in their virtual glass houses I bet!

  • Ralph

    I am with Jamie on this subject: it may have been done with the right intentions, but it comes across as a heartless marketing ploy. If you feel you have to do something, make a considerable donation (10.000 is better than nothing, but come on…) and shut up about it. Or, if you feel that the entire wine trade should make an effort, send them an e-mail to share your feelings and set an example. But this is, as it is, indeed, appalling.

  • Graham Holter

    Hopefully those who have gone to the trouble of publicly rubbishing Laithwaites for its response to the earthquake are making private gestures of their own to help the Chileans? Cynicism is all well and good on web forums, but it doesn’t rebuild houses.

  • DJE

    There is a big difference between ‘of sales’ and ‘of profits’. I am surprised Laithwaites worded the donation as 5% of Sales as if they had offered x% of profits the perceived value would be far higher and it would have stopped the knee jerk reactions of many who see it as a ‘miniscule amount’. Given the current ecomonic climate, mass redundancies in the trade and many companies facing a very uncertain future the reality is it is in fact a very noble gesture. For an agency business selling the wine at an average price point of say £6, I calculate that the 5% on sales figure equates to c.50% of profits.

  • Ghost writer

    Why dont all of the people complaining about the 5% top it up with a 5% donation of their salary?

  • Alex Lake

    Graham – well said!

  • Jamie,

    Writing from close to ground zero, I cannot but be taken aback by your attitude.

    If only the tsunami victims had been as good as you at taking the high-ground.

    Shameful,

    Derek

  • Jamie-
    I too, am writing from Chile, and frankly, I can’t help but wonder what in the world you were thinking…? This is no time for intellectual soapboxes and diddling with political correctness. It is time for getting things done. Kudos to Laithwaites for taking an initiative. Marketing? Tell me… where did they say, “come buy more products from us?” They simply said, when you buy wine this month, consider buying Chilean. I don’t see where that changes their bottom line… other than that 5% they’re giving away. Tell me who is doing more–and I’ll applaud them too.
    Chilean people are proud and not looking for handouts, but man can they can use a hand right now. So yes. Buy Chilean… be it wine, fruit, vegetables, fish… whatever. Keep people working. Help Chile rebuild. And “Salud”–To your health Becca!

  • Tom

    I came across this debacle whilst recently writing a review of a Don Cayetano Sauvignon from Laithwaite’s. There’s a range of opinion here and, as ever, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

    Whatever one’s views on this, it highlights just how thin the line is between being seen as a force for good and being seen as taking advantage of a natural disaster and the plight of others for shameless self-promotion.

    Better dust off that Corporate Social Responsibility textbook once more …

    Read the full article here: http://cambridgewineblogger.blogspot.com/2010/10/don-cayetano-sauvignon-blanc-2009-chile.html

  • I don’t believe that Becca Reeves wrote this either. It’s definitely the hands of Laithwaites marketing team! This is sad and pathetic…

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