Thursday 25 April 2024

Brands-with-a- small -“c"


There are a couple of words in the English language that are often suffixed - in speech - with a small “c”. One of these, catholic-with-a-small-“c”, means “universal, all-embracing, broad-minded, tolerant.” The other one is conservative-with-a-small-“c”. And this means - surprise, surprise - “tending to conserve (keep from harm, decay or loss, with a view to later use), averse to sudden changes".

In 2024, both of these words have a pretty bad rap. Blame the capitalised versions, but which brand today would dare to list “catholic” or “conservative” amongst its values?

No, brands today all want to be “progressive” - as an aside, this probably sounds more palatable than “activist” for some of the more conservative stakeholders. Progressive, advancing forward, open to new ideas, innovating all over the place, righting wrongs, acting with purpose, making agile leaps ...

And that’s fine, particularly for brands in tech, mobility, high fashion - and similar categories.

But I do wonder if, in this swarm of bright and buzzy continuous reinvention, a brand that’s unashamedly conservative stands out?

After all, people do look to brands for stability, reassurance and dependability. Particularly in categories like food and drink, banking and insurance - or even babycare and petfood. This comes from a sense of continuity, hanging on to what works, maintaining a consistent distinctiveness.

It’s well-known that the “modern mainstream” are less enamoured by progressiveness than the marketing community. Movement and change is not always in a positive direction.

And isn’t being conservative, by its very nature, more in line with sustainability? Conservation rather than constant updates, upgrades, pivots, redesigns and relaunches?

But doesn’t this all sound rather undynamic and stuck-in-the-mud? Far from it - after all, a conservatory is what allows tender plants to thrive.

And there’s a wonderful quote, often attributed to Gustav Mahler, Benjamin Franklin or Thomas More, but probably from French Socialist leader Jean Jaurès :

Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation (or passing-on) of fire.

Friday 5 April 2024

My name on it


For all the talking I do about personalisation, it’s only when I receive brand communication deliberately directed at me, and me only, that I realise its potential impact.

It’s six years since I was pleasantly surprised by a direct mail flyer from a local sports store - which, incidentally, I’ve kept to this day. 

My latest encounter happened today. I’ve recently been reviewing my insurance policies (always fun in Germany). Allianz have sent me a couple of little personalised videos about my revised policies.

To be honest, they are only personalised to the extent that my name appears from time to time, as in the screenshot above. And I know only too well now that there’s no magic about this with AI these days. But they’re well put together and quite entertaining (a dummy called “Johnny Crash” demonstrates the Accident Insurance - well, it made me giggle). 

I know this’ll become standard, and quite likely, I won’t notice this sort of communication in future. So why am I blogging about it?

I felt well-disposed towards these films, and there’s a simple reason for that. Context. My insurance representative spent two hours with me last week, in my sitting room, getting to know me and my insurance needs. Yes, he was selling me insurance, but that’s his job. By the time these films arrived, I’d already signed the new contracts and had the feeling that there’s someone working for Allianz who knows what’s necessary about what sort of person I am and what makes me tick. 

Contrast that with some bright agency spark “powered” by AI who decides to “serve” me brand communications out of the blue, featuring a short-sighted old bag with pasty white skin.

There’s personalisation, and there’s putting people in irrelevant boxes.

Tuesday 2 April 2024

RETROWURST: Sekt April 2006


In this uncharacteristically bubbly article from April 2006 (why so many exclamation marks? What had I been drinking? Oh.) I gave a quick slurp-down of the German Sekt market. Its commodity-commonplace nature. Its sweetness and general perception of harmlessness (as recommended to breast-feeding mums). Its alarmingly low prices. And the dominance of the star of the former DDR, Rotkäppchen.


Over Easter we’ve all probably over-indulged, either in chocolate or perhaps in hot-cross buns – or maybe in the subject of this month’s Extrawurst: sparkling wine. 


While sparkling wine still has a bit of a luxury status in the UK, Sekt, (from the Latin for dry) as it is known here, is more of a commodity. On the flimsiest of excuses for celebration, bottles of Sekt seem to appear from nowhere to anstoßen or drink a toast. While Champagne and sparkling wine seem more related to each other in the UK, the two are worlds apart here: real Champagne is drunk only on the most exclusive of occasions whereas Sekt is very much an everyday product.


Sekt has been produced in Germany since 1826 when a Herr Kessler brought back his knowledge of Champagne production to set up Germany’s first Sektkeller. There are various quality levels and descriptions for Sekt in Germany, for example, whether the process includes a Methode Champagnoise-type turning or not, which is all strictly controlled by the E.U these days, as you can imagine.


As well as quality variations, there are a wide variety of dryness and sweetness levels, most of which seem impossibly sweet to UK tastes! The range goes from mild to halbtrocken to trocken to extra trocken to brut to extrabrut. I would strongly recommend UK tasters to stick to extra trocken and above!


Sekt is drunk on all manner of occasions and is generally regarded as a “harmless, fun little drink” such that people who don’t normally drink will also take a glass. Sekt is even recommended to breast-feeding mothers to increase milk production. As well as the normal 0.75l bottles, small bottles of Sekt (0.2l, known as Piccolos) are also popular, seen as a reasonable size for someone to drink alone, perhaps in the evening when the other half is having a beer.


Although sparkling wine from other lands is available in Germany – for example, Cava, Prosecco, Crémant or Krimsekt from the Ukraine – home-produced Sekt takes the lion’s share of the market. A recent development on the German market in Hessen where I live is “Pomp” from Kelterei Höhl, which is a mix of Sekt and Apfelwein (the local speciality which tastes like a very tart cider). It does taste better than it sounds!


The popularity of Sekt is not unrelated to its price. Although Kaiser Wilhelm II introduced Sektsteuer or “Sekt Tax” to finance the imperial fleet (which is still continued as far as I know, even though the Kaiser, his fleet and his empire are long-since gone) a bottle or two of Sekt is hardly going to break the bank for most people. While a bottle of a premium brand such as Henkell Trocken will set you back €4.99, Aldi have a Riesling Sekt for €3.49 or a standard Sekt for €2.49, which is well under £2.00! 


Some interesting websites relating to Sekt include , which is a site from a collection of the major producers, plus the individual sites of some of the main brands such as , , and .


However, maybe the most interesting Sekt brand of them all is the one that claims brand leadership: Rotkäppchen.Rotkäppchen means “Little Red Riding-Hood” in German and the brand itself is characterised by the red metallic top on the green bottle. Rotkäppchen is an extraordinary brand as it is one of the very few DDR brands which has not only survived the re-unification of Germany but has also won the heart of the former West German consumer.


Rotkäppchen is a commodity Sekt: the basic wine comes from Italy, France and Spain as well as Germany and there is no fancy turning or bottles here: the wine ferments in big vats with the addition of yeast and sugar. Having said this, the brand does have a history and heritage that long pre-dates the DDR: Rotkäppchen was first produced in 1894 in Freyburg an der Unstrut in Saxony. In the DDR days it was very much seen as a luxury, but a luxury that was affordable now and then even amid extreme socialism. In those days, Rotkäppchen was selling about 15m bottles per year- that’s about a bottle per head per year.


After the Wall fell, so did Rotkäppchen’s popularity to an all-time low of 1.5m bottles per year in the early 1990s. The former East Germans turned their backs on their old friend, demanding “proper” West German Sekt, while the former West Germans turned their re-unified noses up at what was seen as a cheap-and-nasty party fizz for the socialist masses.


Rotkäppchen’s saving grace was a management buy-out in 1993. The management team, led by the current MD, Herr Gunter Heise, really turned the brand around through clever marketing and their inherent faith in the product and brand. While the advertising and the presentation of Rotkäppchen may look a little Ferrero-Ambassador’s party to us cynical Brits, the brand has really caught onto the German middle classes’ yearning for “a little bit of Heimat glamour and luxury”. There is a sense of escapism back to an age of romance and beauty, albeit with a fairy-tale familiarity that is very appealing to a country terrified of an uncertain future. And all of this for a mere €3.99 per bottle!


Rotkäppchen is now Germany’s No. 1 Sekt brand, selling 66m bottles a year. 50% of the sales are accounted for by the halbtrocken variant which says a lot for where it has found its customers: the middle-of-the-road female pillars of German society (of which there are many!) with a sweet tooth and the yearning to play the mysterious lady in the red dress if only in their dreams.


Well, despite a Prosecco surge that must have started not long after I wrote this, and rather more pink fizz around, very little has changed. The prices are still pretty good:

Henkell Trocken 2006 €4.99, 2024 €5.49

Rotkäppchen 2006 €3.99, 2024 €4.99

Aldi’s Riesling Sekt 2006 €3.49, 2024 €4.69

Aldi’s standard Sekt 2006 €2.49, 2024 €2.69 - Aldi also have a Secco Vino frizzante for €1.99 

And Rotkäppchen is still leading, having also branched into non-sparkling wine and the very popular alcohol-free sector.

Perhaps the “harmless” image was a deliberate ploy all along to pave the way for the sober-curious or whatever they’re calling themselves these days.