The launch lowdown: liquor, leaks and vegan revolt

There’s something in the air. No, it’s not love, nor Christmas cheer, or even the direct result of climate change*. It’s the aftermath of a month packed with launches good, bad and everything in between.

*Remember, it’s a Chinese hoax.

Waitrose rallies behind vegans, its magazine editor decides to kill them

Having just relaunched as Waitrose & Partners, the retailer wasted no time muscling into hostile territory. In an attempt to topple Tesco’s meat-free monopoly, W&P launched the first range under its new ‘Partners’ banner: ‘Free From’. And it made sense. Although Tesco’s ‘Wicked Kitchen’ range caused more buzz when it launched in January, Waitrose was, in fact, the first major UK supermarket to host a dedicated vegan section. So on paper, ‘Free From’ was set to be a winner. 40+ new products, and that’s on top of its veggie Christmas menu and the 29 vegan goodies it launched earlier in October. The future was looking green for Waitrose.

Then William Sitwell happened. The esteemed food writer and Waitrose Food Magazine editor replied to a journalist’s feature pitch for a ‘plant-based meal series’. Waitrose’s veggie and vegan sales have jumped 85% in the past 12 months alone, so the idea of someone suggesting a free-from series for the magazine seemed reasonable. Apparently not - Sitwell replied: “How about a series on killing vegans, one by one. Ways to trap them? How to interrogate them properly? Expose their hypocrisy? Force-feed them meat? Make them eat steak and drink red wine?” Not exactly the smartest move, snubbing a demographic W&P is making real progress with.

Naturally, Sitwell stepped down. Much has been made of whether he should have left. But beyond making an ill-advised joke, this move damaged W&P’s launch into the vegan market. They’re by no means a majority, but vegans’ custom clearly matters to the retailer. The messaging was derailed during the critical launch phase, and W&P’s credentials suffered as a result.

Google’s new phone leaks, but that’s ok because it had a headphone jack

Leaks are synonymous with tech launches now - mobile ones in particular. Apple’s annual drippage is the perfect example of pros and cons: everyone nodded in silent agreement when it came to Animojis, but they were ready to dropkick Tim Cook when the headphone jack was absent from the iPhone 7’s launch two years ago.

And in the run-up to Google’s massive launch event, details of the Pixel 3 had already done the rounds. And oh, yeah - the Pixel 3 XL had already been sold in Hong Kong a few weeks previously. This could be viewed as a launch disaster, but on the other hand: the phone is really, really good. It’s received near-unanimous praise from users and critics alike, and small problems - such as users’ disdain for the massive notch - were addressed almost immediately upon launch. When your launch leaks, it doesn’t mean all is lost - the situation was used to Google’s advantage, giving the company extra time to iron out problems they just didn’t anticipate. Whether the leak was intentional or not is a whole other issue, mind.

Gourmet Burger Kitchen starts #CurryWar, loses

Another whoopsy. To launch its Ruby Murray burger, Gourmet Burger Kitchen decided #CurryWars was a good idea. ‘What is #CurryWars?’, I hear normal, rational people ask. #CurryWars is a video wherein a white man tells an independent curry house owner their food isn’t authentically Indian… right.

How did this happen? Hot on the heels of Jamie Oliver’s jerk rice bumble, it seems like a massive oversight. There’s a difference between being cheeky and offensive, and GBK fell face-first into the latter camp, essentially denouncing Indian culture in favour of a ‘talking point’ launch. You straddle a fine line with humour, and that’s why the strategic planning phase is so important. Naturally, all video evidence has since been deleted. GBK started the war and instantly shot itself in the foot.

Johnnie Walker gets spooky and it all goes off without a hitch

It only seemed right to end on a launch that was all smooth sailing. Earlier this year, Scotch whisky brand Johnnie Walker spread a teaser video across social media. All very hush-hush, pointing to something Game of Thrones-related with the ‘Scotch is coming’ tagline.

Instead, we got White Walker whisky. Inspired by the HBO programme’s White Walkers - for the uninitiated, they’re basically zombies - the drink’s limited edition release preludes the eighth and final Game of Thrones season. Operating via temperature-sensitive technology, the bottle reveals a ‘Winter is here’ message when frozen. It’s a brilliant concept, brilliantly teased, brilliantly executed.

40% of launches fail. In a crowded market, putting legwork into your launch is essential for success.

And zombies help, too.

Alexis Eyre is head of marketing at launch specialist agency Five by Five

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