‘The last thing you want is to be boring’: Vaughn Davis on sticking with Paul Henry in the face of controversy

Paul Henry, the man who gave his advice on “titties” during a controversial interview with Canvas magazine has just released a wine with Invivo to huge success.

The Paul Henry Own’s Pinot Noir sold out of Glengarry stores across New Zealand within three hours form when it was released last week. In the first hour of sales, the wine retailer sold 650 bottles. By mid-morning, Glengarry’s server crashed from unprecedented demand. A spokesperson said: “In the history of their company they have never seen such traffic volumes to their website in a short space of time.”

Vaughn Davis, owner and creative director of advertising agency The Goat Farm, worked on the new Invivo campaign, and says he was not concerned about their controversial ambassador in the aftermath of the interview.

He knows Henry is a polarising figure, and he was chosen to appeal to a specific audience. “There will always be a group who don’t back him, and we were never going to sell them any wine anyway,” Davis says.

Knowing that Henry has an “enormous tribe of loyal fans,” Davis was also not surprised at how well the wine sold. 

“This was brought home to me at the launch last week at Glengarry’s where people queued for an hour not just to buy the wine but to meet Paul face to face,” he says. “That included a woman who brought her mother in for a 70th birthday surprise… her reaction at meeting Paul and trying his wine reminded me that there can be a huge difference between the way the media perceive someone and the way the public sees them.”

The media’s framing of a number of ‘scandals’ has caused some brands to pull out at the first sign of struggle, especially with keyboard warriors lambasting potentially offensive videos across social media. Stoppress has previously commented on the social media lynch mob’s worrying sway on recent campaigns. DB’s ‘Jean Paul’ clip for Old Mout Hard Cider, which was removed after various members of the public raised concerns that it portrayed transsexual women as liars, was pulled to quiet the public’s outcry. They are not the only ones. Toyota pulled an ad, featuring animals willing to die for its Hilux, last year and as Paul Catmur of Barnes Catmur & Friends’s opinion piece on this decision attests, bending to social media users, who are overly outraged by everyday happenings, risks advertising budgets and jobs.

Of course, brands always need to do a risk analysis and weigh up whether controversy could irreparably damage the image brand. But placing too much emphasis on what people think—particularly those behind a keyboard—won’t always lead to the best work.  

As an example, the beloved Toyota ‘Bugger’ ad received 120 actual complaints to the ASA at the time of release. These were overturned and it is now an iconic kiwi TVC. Air New Zealand has also recently opted to keep their adverts including Aaron Smith running after his airport scandal. 

“Anything involving humans comes with risk,” says Davis. “Musicians, actors, rugby players, and of course controversial broadcasters. We love them in part because they’re interesting, and with that comes surprises sometimes.”

Glengarry called the Invivo project the “most successful launch of an individual wine ever”. Staying with a controversial ambassador clearly paid of. With Invivo having already worked with cheeky British TV host Graham Norton, we wonder what figure will be choosen for the next wine blend.

“It’s like wine, right?,” says Davis. “The last thing you want is to be boring.”

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