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Annals of Marketing
Trademarks, Crittendens, Koppumurra, Wrattonbully and Legal Follies - Part 1
Tuesday, 18th February, 2014  - David Farmer
Crittenden and Co & Crittenden Estate

The often used marketing/advertising remark 'any publicity is good publicity' contains much truth. Even at the extreme edge of naughtiness some celebrities seem to shrug off their appaling behaviour by performing well in front of the media and emerge unscathed while the best gain from the publicity and rise to another level.

So it was that I followed with interest the annoyance the winemaker Garry Crittenden, who sells his wines as Crittenden Estate, feels about another range of wines called Crittenden and Co which are sold exclusively by the Woolworths chain. Garry Crittenden sells premium wines and says he has received many enquiries from those who have purchased the budget supermarket wines.

I would say how lucky is Garry but he sees it differently and has fought long and hard to stop Woolworths from selling these wines. I do not know the case in detail though newspaper reports say the agreement by Woolworths to stop using Crittenden and Co is a 'significant victory' for Crittenden Estate.

All well and good and while I found the newspaper reports balanced they still suggest a great victory by David over Goliath with everyone shaking hands and saying, 'well done, we showed them'.

I have been fortunate to meet Doug Crittenden and his son Brett many times and have no doubt that Crittendens the Toorak wine retailer was one of the great wine merchants, and promoters of wine in Australia. To see Doug in operation on a Saturday morning when the shop was packed was to observe the best at his craft. This Crittenden is a very important Crittenden and if his family name continues as a range of wines called Crittenden and Co, well so be it.

I have also met Garry Crittenden, though I think only once, and have this idea he was balancing on a plank, hand plunging pinot noir, but that may have been the winemaker. Like his Toorak namesake he is also an important figure in lifting our vision of what wine can be.

Doug though was in operation well before Garry and Woolworths having bought the business have every right to continue using that trading name. That they have ceased is a business matter.

I have a very nuanced view about marketing and gaining customers and I believe Garry has made a poor decision. He will find soon enough that the phone stops ringing and and may come to regret that having potential customers sent his way at no cost by a giant is a great way of doing business.

Garry can I give you a hint; 'Morning sir, yes I we are the premium end of the Crittenden empire and only handle the true, original Mornington wines. Oh your father knew Doug. ....Well you have made the correct choice and thanks the case is on its way'. Oh for such a free kick.

We all know of cases where a start-up business takes a name which mirrors or is similar to that of a long established business doing something similar. McDonalds is pestered by fast food joints which think it is smart to use a similar name then later plead ignorance. It is not a good idea when starting a business to copy as there are no free kicks and after years of effort finally the big guy will catch up and you will have to start over with a new name.

A wonderful example, though done in ignorance 20 years ago, was the The Apple Shop, Wroxham Barns, Norfolk, which recently changed its name to The Norfolk Cider Shop as it was being hounded to death about repair work and computer queries.

I would like to illustrate the use of trademarks and branding by relating a few things I have noted in business.

The Story of Koppamurra-Wrattonbully

The memory is uncertain but I think I first purchased the wines of Koppumurra Vineyards (north east of Coonawarra) in the early 1980s. They were very good and as the maker was having trouble with sales the reds were very cheap.

Not long after while on a trip to Coonawarra I drove north to find the Koppumurra vineyards, and it turned out this was the first of many visits. I know this limestone plateau well and its bright red soils are most favourable for vines, so today it's an important source of premium fruit.

The export boom took off in the 1990s and with Coonawarra planted and expansion expensive the search was on for nearby, good, cheap grazing land, with good soils, for vineyards.

The large companies like Mildara amd Yalumba and later vineyard speculators found what they wanted in the gentle rolling country around Joanna and further north; country which circles Koppamurra Vineyards.

They indeed hit the jackpot and while the resulting wine was added to the many existing brands the promise was such that the owners wished to market their discovery known under a new regional name which they could all share.

They chose Koppamurra. I do not know the details but let us say negotiations with Koppumurra broke down and a major court case followed.

Koppumurra Vineyards fought hard to maintain what it saw as an advantage and won, I believe even turning down future royalties. Please note no one was asking them to surrender the name which they would continue to use, rather the rest would also use it under their brands as the regional name; e.g. Mildara Wines, Koppumurra, Cabernet Sauvignon; while the original would continue as Koppumurra Vineyards, Koppumurra, Cabernet Sauvignon.

The original owners of Koppamurra, fought an expensive fight and were exhausted. This is what the new owners of the Koppumurra brand say on their web-site:

"In 1995, our semi-rural tranquillity was rudely jolted when some very large wine companies decided that ‘Koppamurra’ would be a lovely name for the shiny new wine region just north of Coonawarra – at that time still without a name.

This triggered off a trademark fight. Our best advice to one and all is to stay out of trademark fights.

When the dust had settled, Koppamurra had kept its trademark name, but spent a lot of money and really neither won nor lost, although its legal champion did say in a publication later ‘they took on the whole Australian wine industry and won."

Back then I meant to ring the owners, (I actually may have), and explain to them they were viewing this as a threat not as the opportunity it was. Owning a trademark means nothing because if no one has heard of you or your name, which they had not in this case, the name/brand/trademark is worth nothing.

If someone arrives with deep pockets and says, we will promote your trademark for free, or better, grant you a royalty as well, your business gets a free ride. How easy is that? Never overplay your hand as in this case it would have brought recognition to obscurity.

The big moved on and agreed to call the region Wrattonbully.

Garry, to be blunt you should have been paying Woolworths for the leads.

Soon I will return to this marketing story with Part 2.

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