At the end of October, a mysterious persona calling themselves Vinconnu appeared on facebook and twitter. They teased prominent members of the French wine blogging community with riddles and hints about their secret identity for over a month until unveiling themselves at a big party in Paris.
The big reveal came as quite a shock to me. It was France’s biggest online retailer cdiscount.com — in brief, a company that once struggled with the onus of being a big corporation with a very mercantile brand personality is trying to make themselves more human and show their dedication to putting good wine on their site.
Why is CDiscount a surprise?
I was surprised for lots of reasons. First of all, winemakers normally have to pay big bucks to get meetings with vendors of this size. Either directly through pay to play schemes that put buyers in contact with sellers or indirectly by investing in marketing and promotional materials that make you seem important enough to talk to them. Here we have the biggest online retailer in France contacting me and because a retailer invited me to Paris. Pretty interesting role reversal.
I’m surprised because CDiscount sort of has a reputation for being a big company that might care more about SKUs and logistics than they care about wine selection. But this event is sort of the opposite of that. This event really reached out to people, and it was playful. Playful is the word I’ve been looking for. At first glance, CDiscount doesn’t seem like the kind of company that would value being playful (or even know how to be playful). But that first glance is clearly wrong. I stereotyped this retailer as being just another big business that doesn’t get my generation, but they’re showing a genuine interest in communication.
Bruce Lee prepares to open champagne with swift chopping motion
CDiscount’s Vinconnu Party
The party was great. I feel like I might sound silly stressing this point over and over, but they were all really friendly. I think the ambiance of an event like this is important. Bigger companies can often give off a sort of creepy vibe when they try to buy friends in the online wine community. So it’s rare for events of this nature to actually have a friendly feel to them. Also, big companies can often stumble when it comes to communicating with people online… they can get very clunky and hamfisted. Actually, I recall some shenanigans on the Passion du Vin forums involving this very same company back in 09. It’s good to see that their communication efforts are so much more advanced now. Things felt much more authentic and we got to meet a team that really does feel proud of the wine and spirits they offer on the site. They’re not just peddling Mouton Cadet and Vieux Moulin. They have the big references, but they’re hoping to also sell bottles of wines like Embres & Castelmaure. Warms the cockles.
Quality of wine
I think they expect most of the bloggers who attended to talk about the quality of the wines. Do some tasting notes. Well…that’s not really my style, but I’ll say the wine selection was great. There were a few real knockouts, a lot of solid wines at fair prices, and a couple wines I don’t care for (but I’m sure those have a big market and are some of the best wines on the site, so what do I know?) There were some classics like Embres & Castelmaure being poured and I got to meet Bernard Magrez who had some of his Roussillon on the table too (although I think he’s a little bit prouder of his St Emilion–nobody’s perfect 😉 ).
Successful communication effort?
I think this was a very successful communication effort. Even though I’m totally on board with online sales and great prices (hello, naked wines), I’m not a fan of the corporate “bin end” image that cdiscount cultivated in its early days. An image reinforced by the company’s past indiscretions. And yet they lured me in with a playful mystery and I ended up enjoying myself a lot. They convinced me that there really is a fundamental change in the way they want to be perceived online. I know some of the bloggers who were invited were still smugly disapproving of the company by night’s end (you can’t win everybody every time), but I’m personally very curious about the future of cdiscount. I have high hopes!
I can’t wait to see how it develops. First and foremost on the new blog: La Cave se Rebiffe
Big shout out to Heaven, the communication agency that tantalyzed us so. And Le Comptoir General, venue for the event.