BITE Focus

From festivals to out of home when everyone was at home

How HUN Wine and TBWA pivoted its marketing strategy to bring lightness to lockdown with wine in a can.

Izzy Ashton

Deputy Editor, BITE

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As lockdown spread around the globe, businesses shut their doors, offices migrated to kitchen tables across the country, and marketing plans were thrown out the window. Communications strategies had to be rethought to reflect a consumer ecosystem which had fundamentally shifted.

It was a world which posed an immediate threat to new businesses teetering on the edge of launch, their careful plans pulled together over months and years of preparation suddenly seemingly ineffective in the face of a global crisis. But, as HUN Wine demonstrated, that it was perhaps on paper the worst time ever to launch, was not a barrier to success.

Instead of deciding to postpone their launch, working alongside its agency partner TBWA, the team took the decision to launch anyway with a tongue-in-cheek campaign turned around in two weeks.

The creative partnership, that has only existed since early March of this year, demonstrates the cut-through that a humorous tone of voice can give a brand, as Stephanie Nattu, Creativebrief’s Business Director discovered when she sat down with the team for the latest in the Creativebrief Explores series examining Thriving Creative Partnerships.

Nattu was speaking to Mark Woollard, Co-Founder and Managing Director of HUN Wine alongside TBWA’s Chief Creative Officer Andy Jex and Managing Director Katie Jackson.

Woollard set up HUN Wine in August 2019 with co-founder Tom Landers to fill what they saw as a gap in the UK market. The brand was designed to speak to a millennial audience, to provide them with what they were looking for in a business which is, says Woollard, “a brand with a voice. Not just a label on a can but something behind it.”

So, they partnered with TBWA to bring the HUN brand to life. As Jex said of the creative partnership, “This is a story of knowing who you are and being strong about knowing your brand.”

When we had to flip and work in this worst-case scenario, the work took on a life of its own.

Andy Jex

What’s in a name?

Woollard explained that they took the name HUN from the social media parlance which sees people referring to each other as ‘hun’ as a loose term of endearment or familiarity. It was a style of speech which, says Woollard, the team were keen to use: “We thought if we could change that tone of voice that is already in peoples’ mouths and actually put a brand behind it, we could hopefully do something quite successful.”

One of Woollard’s friends was a creative at TBWA, Harriet Russell-Vick and, after Woollard posted about HUN on his personal Instagram account, she took the idea to Jex and Jackson with the suggestion that it could be right for the agency’s ‘Pirate’ campaign, which they run every year. The team felt HUN were the perfect ‘pirate’ fit as they were disrupting the sector they were entering into and looking to the agency to help them do it.

“When someone walks through your door talking about a new product that they’re going to launch and your first reaction is, why has no one does this before, you’re going to bite their hand off for it because it feels like it’s got a huge amount of legs,” explains Jackson.

As Jex added, the fact that the team already had the brand’s name, “can’t be underestimated.” Because, just with the name alone, says Jex, “it felt like they really knew where they wanted this to go.”

The worst-case scenario

When the partnership kicked off in early March 2020, the team was still talking about the upcoming summer festivals. They thought, says Jex, “What a brilliant time. It’s going to be a long, hot summer. It’s a fun, social brand. It’s got a really interesting edge. It feels different as a product.” 

And then the nationwide lockdown came into play. The team continued to run with the festival idea, unsure, as the rest of the country was, about what would happen next. Unfortunately, the reality slowly started to dawn, as Jex explains: “And then we said, almost in a whisper, what if the festivals don’t happen?”

From that point, the team, says Jex, “worked on the premise of what’s the worst-case scenario.” For them, this would mean all festivals cancelled and no one being outdoors. For a social brand that’s all about enjoying the product together, this felt about as bad as it could get. 

With their worst-case scenario realised, the team worked quickly to use as Jex explains, the obstacle they were faced with and turn it into a positive. Thankfully, the power of the creative idea shone through and the focus became on building a campaign behind the fact that this is the worst time to launch this particular brand. “When we had to flip and work in this worst-case scenario, the work took on a life of its own,” Jex adds.

The brand was in place, but we’d never seen it speak.

Mark Woollard

The power of a tone of voice

Jex praises the creative team of Russell-Vick and Lauren Buggins who, he feels, had a great understanding of what the brand should be and, he adds, “how it should speak.” Nailing the tone of the campaign was, explains Jackson, the biggest challenge that the team faced. Because, adds Woollard, “The brand was in place, but we’d never seen it speak.”

The most important element, says Jex, was ensuring that the tone felt relevant to the character and culture that the brand already came with, embodied in its name. This meant capturing the cheek and self-referential behaviour of the brand, something that Woollard reveals, previous agencies they’d spoken to struggled to get right.

But for the creative team at TBWA, the tone of voice “felt immediately right,” says Jex, something that Woollard agrees with. He explains: “It's a very clearly defined tone of voice. We had the idea and a strong belief, but no one had actually verbalised it probably yet.” 

The tone of voice has been a powerful tool for Woollard in progressing the brand as it now carries across everything, social media, PR releases. “While the campaign was outdoor and then social, it’s now expanded across everything we do,” he explains. “It’s not just a creative PR stunt,” he adds. “It’s actually something that has had genuine impact.”

Already in Tesco stores nationwide, he’s in talks with Amazon after the business saw a LinkedIn post, he wrote that demonstrated the power of the tone. As he explains, “people immediately know this is what that brand is and what that brand’s going to do.” “We’re talking to people and to consumers almost like a consumer,” Woollard adds. 

Worst time, worst place

Once the team had settled on a tone of voice, the next thought was, says Jex, “well where is it going to go?” The underlying agreement within the team was that, while they never wanted to not launch the brand, it felt important, says Woollard, to acknowledge that this was the worst time to possibly launch it.

So, says Jex, the team thought, “if this is the worst time to launch a brand, what if [we use] the worst place to put a brand?” Under lockdown, they felt “that would be OOH, in the street, where no one is,” he adds. The budget reserved for festivals was reallocated to key OOH sites that were then plugged on social media. 

With the outdoor activity, says Woollard, “we didn’t want it to be a woe is us scenario because there’s much bigger things happening than just our business.” This meant that, along with getting the tone right, the team had to get the timing right too, something many other brands have fallen foul of over the last few months.

With a situation that has placed the nation in an almost continuous state of flux, the time that the team decided to launch the campaign actually gave the brand its cut through. As the mood of the nation changed with every passing week, HUN’s marketing activity, says Jex, felt refreshing: “The beauty of HUN is it knows its place and it knows its role.”

When you’re launching a new brand, you don’t have the data to tell you what consumers think…what you need to do is listen to your gut and listen to your instinct.

Katie Jackson

A little bit of light

That role, believes Jex, was to bring “a bit of lightness,” to a nation in a perpetual state of uncertainty and anxiety. But, explains Woollard, it was important to gauge public sentiment carefully: “Even though the tone of voice was spot on, we wanted to be mindful of the situation.”

Woollard showed the campaign to his sister who works in the care sector and some of her colleagues to see what impact the message would have. They said to him that, “this is perfect, this is what we need. We need to have a bit of light.” Woollard adds, “that gave me comfort as the face behind the business.”

Jex and Jackson reveal that there were a few last minute concerns about some of the messages, with Jackson revealing that she received a late night call from Jex where he simply said, “do you think we’ve gone too far?”

Jackson reveals that the collaborative nature in which TBWA worked with HUN meant that they had an innate idea of what to do with the brand. She reveals that the power behind the campaign came from a team who know their brand inside out “and know how far they’re prepared to push it.”

Mutual trust

Launching a humorous, cheeky campaign in the middle of an unprecedented global crisis was no mean feat. But, says Jackson, there was “both a challenge and something wondrous about our partnership together…there was a huge shared sense of ambition around what we wanted to do with it.”

While the first campaign was pulled together in a matter of weeks, the second launch came around in just a matter of days. Jackson credits the lean team they operated in as being integral to the campaign’s success: “We’ve allowed ourselves, because of that size, to be very lean, very agile and to be very flexible when we’ve needed to pivot or iterate around the work.” She acknowledges that this is not the way the agency usually operates but that it was a set-up that was essential to maintain to ensure the work could be produced, signed off and put out into the world at speed.

Jex recognises that while working at speed was important, “having the instincts and the gut to make those decisions with confidence,” was also vital. The mutual trust that the brand and agency teams placed in one another was, all three emphasise, the fundamental key to the campaign’s triumph. It meant that the team could trust their gut, something that Jackson believes is vital to a start-up brand’s way of operating.

“When you’re launching a new brand, you don’t have the data to tell you what consumers think about you,” she says. “You don’t have the data to tell you what you should be doing. So, a lot of what you need to do is listen to your gut and listen to your instinct.”

TBWA and HUN Wine are a creative partnership that demonstrates the power of a unified ambition, of a team that is not delineated by brand and agency but rather by the roles each individual is playing in the overall success of both the campaign and the brand itself.

As Jex says, “I’m a big believer in brands knowing their place and when to talk and how to talk, and sometimes they can help and sometimes they can show the way.” By giving HUN Wine a voice, TBWA gave it permission to speak up, to find its place in the market and to be seen by a nation in lockdown.

To watch the full interview, visit the dedicated Creativebrief Explores page

Tune in this Thursday 2nd July at 2pm to find out how British Gas and The&Partnership showed they are ‘Here to Solve’, even during coronavirus