OPINION: Mills on ... Tio Pepe

Like hardy annuals, there are some things that you can set your

calendar by. One is hail or snow at the start of the cricket season; a

second is the nth relaunch of Spam, complete with recipes designed to

make it sound more trendy and the 'this time it'll be really different'

promise; and a third is yet another advertising campaign for sherry

targeting the younger drinker and dressed up as a relaunch. The latter

come in early summer, winter being the time when sherry is promoted as a

Christmas gift for Auntie Flo, usually by vicars or fat men with dark

voices like Orson Welles.

Come to think of it, sherry is the Spam of the drinks market: a product

whose time has apparently been and gone but which, pluckily, refuses to

admit it and keeps coming back for more punishment. Indeed, for many the

products conjure up the same imagery: austerity-riven post-war Britain,

tweed jackets, twitchy suburban curtains and Margaret Rutherford films

on telly.

Not according to Tio Pepe, however, whose latest campaign, worth pounds

2 million, is all over the glossy mags and on posters. In fact, we

couldn't be more wrong. According to the new ads, Tio Pepe (and sherry,

since this is by extension a generic campaign for the sector) is for

young, trendy urban twentysomethings who frequent wine bars. And my,

aren't they having fun, like getting their mates to pay the bill by

pretending to be immersed in a conversation and, in another execution,

sneaking a quick squeeze on their mate's boyfriend's bum.

Now correct me if we haven't see this sort of thing before in sherry

relaunches. Perm any two from the following: serve it chilled, change

the bottle, change the label, change the name to something classy or

exotic, and show cool people having a good time. Harveys relaunched

Bristol Cream in a blue bottle; other Harveys brands renamed themselves

too. There's Harveys Club Classic, Harveys Isis and, I kid you not,

Harveys Dune. What kind of a name is that for sherry? Isn't there an

aftershave called Dune too? (It probably tastes the same.)

None of that worked and looking at this ad it's hard to hold out much

hope for Tio Pepe. Let's start with the people in the ad. I'm

particularly intrigued by the guy on the left with the pencil moustache

and the raised eyebrow. Do you know anyone who looks like that and, if

you did, would you really go out drinking with him?

As for the guy who's paying the bill, observe his jacket. It's tweed;

it's a sports jacket. No wonder the others have landed him with the


Note also his credit card. I'll bet the creative team put a lot of

thought into that. Barclaycard? Too ordinary. Amex? Too suburban.

Platinum? Too posh. Gold? That'll do. I'm surprised they didn't give him

a chunky gold bracelet too. I've seen better work from students.

Meanwhile, just in case we're too stupid to get the message, we have no

less than two product shots: a big one and a small one. Therein lies a

clue as to the authorship of the ads. As you might have guessed, these

have been done by the design agency responsible for the new-look bottle,

which is probably why it's so prominent and the ensemble looks like a

pack shot with an ad stuck on behind.

In fact, as a piece of strategic thinking, the bottle redesign is

exemplary. If the aim is to reposition sherry against white wine - which

is probably the only place it stands a chance - the bottle does the

business. It's green and tapered; the label is clean and modern; it

substitutes the phrase 'Extra Dry' for standard sherry jargon of 'Fino

Muy Seco'; and the word sherry is missing. In short, it looks like a

bottle of New World chardonnay. How much more effective it would have

been just to leave it at that.

Dead cert for a Pencil? For Best New Green Bottle Design.

Will it work? No way, Jose (as they say in Jerez).

What would the chairman's wife say? Where's the Bailey's?

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