Selling the man behind the Dan Murphy's retail brand

Dan Murphy's, Australia's best-known wine retailer is 70 years old. A new advertising campaign seeks to humanise the brand and set it apart from its competitors. Robert Joseph reports.

Reading Time 3m 10s

From the new Dan Murphy TV advertisement by Thinkerbell
From the new Dan Murphy TV advertisement by Thinkerbell

Ask an Australian where they buy their wine and there’s a high chance they’ll say Liquorland, Vintage Cellars, BWS or Dan’s, the usual abbreviation for Dan Murphy’s. The first pair of these chains belong to the giant supermarket group Coles, while the second is part of their huge rival Woolworths’s.

There are over 600 Liquorland and 1,200 BWS stores, including many ‘drive-thrus’ that speed up the buying process. Dan Murphy’s shops are a little rarer. There are around 250 of these that compete with 80 or so Vintage Cellars outlets. In both of these last two chains, browsing and premium-wine buying is encouraged.

Even so, discounting is major part of their appeal. Readers of Australian newspapers are accustomed to full-page advertisements revealing must-buy bargains to be grabbed over the weekend before their prices bounce back to their previous level.

The name of the founder

Of the four brands, Dan Murphy’s has the obvious distinction of bearing the name of its founder, a Melbourne-based journalist and wine retailer who launched his business in 1952, at a time when wine was far from being a daily beverage in Australia, and much of what was consumed was fortified ‘port’ or ‘sherry’.

From the outset, low prices were a major part of Murphy’s offer, however this was achieved. Indeed in October 1991, the 73-year-old Murphy himself was charged with an AU$2m tax fraud. Seven years later, when there were just five stores, the business was sold to Woolworths who grew it to its present size.

Research by the company in 2016 revealed that outside the founder’s home city of Melbourne, while Dan Murphy’s was a very strong brand, there was little awareness of the man behind it. To address this, a national TV advertising campaign was created in which an actor playing Murphy was seen meeting and shaking hands with people in the 1950s. The message was clear: here was a man to be trusted, and in particular, he could be relied upon to offer low prices.

Telling the story

As Yolanda Uys, Dan Murphy’s head of marketing said at the time “Telling an authentic Australian story and bringing what the brand promise means to life, is a special moment in our brand journey.  Tapping into the promise and showcasing how that has stayed unchanged through the ages was one of our key objectives.”

The campaign had a mixed reception. Nearly six years later, another advertising agency - Thinkerbell - has created a new and rather different version. Once again, the aim is to humanise the brand, but the mood has changed. Today, the emphasis has shifted away from ‘trustworthy’ Dan to depicting him as a rule-breaker who started with an ‘underground wine club’, smuggled wine into Australia in boxes labelled as vegetables, told ‘tall tales’ and flirted with nuns. The mood is decidedly funnier, more transgressive and more disrespectfully Australian.

Dan Murphy’s managing director Alex Freudman told the Financial Review newspaper that “Establishing that price trust was really, really important for people that weren’t familiar with the brand but having established that, the thing that makes Dan Murphy’s really special is the discovery and the trends.”

The new campaign is intended to go beyond marketing on price and ‘personalisation through artificial intelligence’ and to focus on the brand’s mission of delivering ‘discovery, trends, leadership, customer service and education’.

Reinterpreting for a digital economy

“I love the fact that we’re celebrating Daniel Francis Murphy himself because the key to the magic of the brand is exactly what he laid down, it’s just that we need to reinterpret it for the digital economy,” Freudman said.

Veteran Australian wine marketer, Brian Miller who still consults for the industry and, unlike most of the people involved with Dan Murphy's today, remembers meeting the man himself, is not convinced that the new campaign will be more successful than the one in 2016. "My opinion is a personal one and I wish them well if it works - and how would you measure it? But Dan's had been telling us for decades that they are the cheapest, and now they want to project historic credibility and provenance by dressing an actor up in a brown suit?" For Miller, "the ads just look preposterous, unconvincing and irrelevant to the customers." He questions how much interest there will be in the origins of the brand and mischievously asks whether customers of the Woolworths supermarkets would care when that brand was founded, and how.

I have a lot of respect for Miller and his experience of the Australian industry, but I think he might be wrong. Maybe promoting the image of a wine shop owner as a charismatic drinks-industry version of the Greatest Showman might just strike the right note with a generation of consumers who are looking at wine differently to their parents. Whether it will reposition a retail brand, however, is another question.

Latest Articles