Lidl's cut-price prosecco is a genius news story - but should you buy it?

Lidl prosecco sale
Lidl isn't just selling cheap fizz: it's telling a calculated news story Credit: Zoe Barker 

Hats off to Lidl for orchestrating such a successful PR coup with its cut-price bank holiday prosecco. This was a classic of its type. To recap, limited amounts of a £5.79 sparkling wine were put on sale over the bank holiday weekend for £3.33.

The stunt sparked frenzied demand, but the real genius was how it translated into a news story, complete with television reports and satirical pieces that spread across social media, recounting tales of mass brawls in Essex, “like something from The Walking Dead.” Lidl will have taken a hit on the cost of the wine but it’s still pretty cheap advertising.

Lidl is a master of harnessing the power of the news cycle

As with so many things these days, I heard about the story on Twitter. Why is this relevant? Because drinks brands and retailers are increasingly using non-traditional forms of advertising to mould our perceptions and feelings – and they’re doing it so well that sometimes we don’t even notice.

Lidl is a master of harnessing the power of the news cycle. It doesn’t so much as place stories as whip up a frenzy. We first saw it in action a couple of summers ago with its “claret offensive”; now there’s The Great Prosecco Fiasco, and there will be another, I am sure of it. I’m just curious to see what.

You can tell a lot about the aspiration of a drink from the brands it chooses to hang out with. Brand partnerships are a hugely popular way of underscoring certain qualities, and creating pleasing associations. For instance, this summer the non-alcoholic distilled spirit Seedlip created a garden celebrating the apothecary origins of distillation for the Chelsea Flower Show. It hosted a bar at the show, serving its vibrant pea shoot-scented Seedlip Garden to attendees who perched on hay bales, under trees in the sunshine, creating very positive associations.

It’s also very telling that Gusbourne Estate, the sparkling winemaker in Kent, has formed partnerships with Edinburgh silversmith and jeweller Hamilton & Inches; Gieves & Hawkes; and also with Bremont watches. The first vines were planted at Gusbourne only in 2004, but these links speak to a sense of a deeper history as well as a sense of craftsmanship and excellence.

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I also enjoyed the uplifting vibe of Brancott Estate’s recent campaign “Our story of firsts”. The wine brand teamed up with adventurer Alastair Humphreys, Helen McGinn, the author and creator of the Knackered Mothers’ Wine Club blog, and Donal Skehan, the television cook, challenging each of them to try something for the first time.

The adverts, which went out on YouTube and other social media channels, showed Humphreys gliding, McGinn walking a tightwire and flying on a trapeze, while Skehan went on his first Hollywood sunset horse ride. The point here, of course, is that Brancott Estate was a pioneer: it planted the first commercial sauvignon blanc in the New Zealand region of Marlborough. And now look at the place. That’s quite a first.

The wine tastes like a Febreze-scented bag of sherbet dibdabs mixed with watered-down grappa

If you’re an Instagram user you might have seen the current campaign by Jacob’s Creek, the stablemate of Brancott Estate (both are owned by Pernod Ricard). I always feel a bit sorry for Jacob’s Creek because the wine is actually really good, but everyone writes it off as the stuff you buy when you want a bottle of wine sharpish and don’t have time to shop around.

Anyway, remember how Jacob’s Creek used to sponsor the TV show Friends? Now it has picked 30 “influencers” on social media – most of them Instagrammers, the type of people who act like they’re your friends – and paid them an undisclosed amount to promote Jacob’s Creek on their feeds. The wine company says it was looking for “lifestyle, food and mummy bloggers with down-to-earth personalities and a willingness to embrace the outdoors lifestyle” – and that most of their influencers had 5-50,000 followers apiece. The result: a host of Instagrammers sitting in parks and on picnic rugs declaring their love for Jacob’s Creek And the love may well be real, but the hashtag “#ad” on the picture captions tells us that these hedonistic images have been paid for.

If the line between real and paid-for reviews has got harder to see, perhaps that’s our fault. Psychologists love to discuss whether humans are rational decision-makers. It seems pretty obvious that, quite a lot of the time, we’re not – the entire advertising industry is founded on that premise.

Consider the Lidl prosecco promotion. Downsides: firstly, the wine tastes like a Febreze-scented bag of sherbet dibdabs mixed with watered-down grappa. Secondly, to get your hands on it you waste hours of a sunny weekend queuing in a car park. Upside: you save £14.76 on six bottles of a wine that wasn’t very nice in the first place.

And now let’s compare it with another scenario. I don’t have a picnic rug, nor a picture of myself drinking it, but here goes: JACOB’S CREEK MAKES REALLY GOOD WINE. (No one paid me to say that). I’m predicting no riots when this paper hits the shelves. But do yourself a favour some time and try the Classic Collection riesling. And also the chardonnay.

Wines of the week: what to drink now

Valpolicella Ripasso 2015Italy (13.5%, M&S, £10.50)

Valpolicella is a red made in north-east Italy. The ripasso bit means that the wine has been refermented with the skins from the dried grapes used to make amarone wine – it gives a spicy luxuriance. A cosy bear-hug for cooler evenings.  

Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, Goulaine Vieilles Vignes, Bonnet-Huteau 2013 France (12.5%, Tanners, £14.95)

Muscadet is the most honest of whites: stony, with a marine salinity and a lingering air of the outdoors. The most common examples are cheap, but you won’t be sorry to trade up to this complex example, especially if you cook a large bowl of mussels to go with it.

Yalumba Organic Shiraz 2016 Australia (14%, Telegraph Wine from Waitrose, £7.49 down from £9.99 until 11 October)

An easy, satisfying shiraz, made in South Australia but far from a huge, tannic monster: all ripe plums and smooth fruit with a savoury undertow.