When Clicquot lost its Veuve

POSTED ON 27/08/2010

In New Zealand, it’s being called the Great Veuve Clicquot Robbery. It looked like a win-win situation for the centuries-old Champagne house, Veuve Clicquot, and New Zealand’s National Business Review, when, in anticipation of NBR’s 40th birthday celebrations, the two companies joined forces to run a ‘Win Your Weight in Veuve Clicquot’ competition.

Win Your WeightWin Your Weight

Entering involved logging on to the NBR website and writing a paragraph on how you would dispose of so much champagne if you had it. Using the social media to promote it, the companies drew 413 entries and attracted 16,000 votes.

Obviously both Veuve Clicquot and NBR presumed that entrants would be penning lyrical paeans of praise for Veuve’s wonderful bubbles, no doubt recalling Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, the famous champagne Widow herself, who was 27 when her husband died in 1805.

And no doubt most of them did just that. Unfortunately for the organisers, the competition backfired when the entry that won the popular vote, ‘by a margin as large as her arse’, according to one blogger, turned out to be a bit too fruity for both Veuve Clicquot and NBR to swallow.

The entry, by Busted Blonde, that won the popular vote, was as follows: ‘I weigh heaaaps! So on the back of my successful 50th birthday in Wellington where I fed 50 people on lobster and Bluff oysters, I would hold a “Just because you can” kick arse picnic on a pontoon in Frank Kitts Lagoon. However, everyone would have to dress up and pretend to be complete wankers – which shouldn’t be too hard!’

Léon Cogniet’s1859 portrait of the marketing-savvy Barbe-Nicole Clicquot PonsardinLéon Cogniet’s1859 portrait of the marketing-savvy Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin

Busted Blonde does in fact weigh a bulky 100 kilos, or 62 bottles worth of Veuve Clicquot. But it wasn’t just Busted Blonde’s avoirdupois or the naughty words that seem to have steamed up Veuve Clicquot glasses. Above all, it seems, it was the idea of an obese and not terribly style-conscious woman planning a distinctly unstylish blow-out that most offended the glamorous Champagne house’s brand-honed sensibilities.

So Veuve Clicquot and NBR went into emergency session and today declared Michael Havill, a recently engaged business technology manager who was clearly ‘on message’, the winner. The tall Michael Havill weighs 110 kilos, worth 64 bottles of champagne. Meanwhile the organisers were attempting to win Busted Blonde over with a magnum of Veuve Clicquot.

This went down like a glass of flat fizz, both with her and a furious blogging community that had got behind Busted Blonde’s entry. A social media bloodbath has ensued with less than kind words about the Widow posted on the net and talk of the possibility of a nationwide boycott. According to Kiwiblog: ‘They basically conned bloggers and other social media users into promoting their contest for them under false pretences’.

At the same time NBR issued an apology and a statement to the effect that they would ‘personally provide Busted Blonde’s weight in Veuve Clicquot to her to demonstrate that NBR will not allow its integrity, transparency or honesty in its dealings with its readers to be compromised in any way. She received the most online votes in the competition and NBR happily salutes that success’.

When Busted Blonde said she’d ‘have a charity bash on a pontoon in the Wellington Harbour’, they showed that a sense of humour hadn’t quite deserted them, saying ‘We hope her dress code includes life jackets’.

The furore recalls the PR débâcle surrounding Cristal Champagne whose owners Roederer, concerned that Jay-Z and fellow hip-hop rappers were using their precious brand to promote their own bling lifestyle, declared sniffily: ‘what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it’.

It may yet well be a win-win situation though if you believe that all publicity is good publicity (ask Max Clifford). Remember when the champenois sued Yves St Laurent for calling its fragrance Champagne? It may have cost YSL a packet in legal fees, but it was nothing compared to the profits reaped from worldwide sales of Champagne, the fragrance, and publicity for the brand. Could the last laugh belong to the marketing-savvy Widow after all?

Our sponsor