Wine communicator, educator and consultant John Downes MW found himself in lockdown with some time on his hands. So he decided to take on a new skill – animation. Within a few weeks it opened up a whole new world for him and a great, innovative and engaging way to tell wine stories and bring wine education to live. He is now producing a regular series of what he is calling Downes in Two – short animated, education videos on different countries, regions and wine issues.
John Downes believes he has opened up wine education to a raft of new people with his easy to follow, understand and remember two minute videos – Downes in Two.
Tell us about your new Downes 2 series that is looking to use video and animation and wine?
I’ve long been frustrated how wine is veiled in mystery. Wine must be the only business where most consumers haven’t a clue what they’re buying. It’s just crazy. I’ve been trying to change how wine is communicated for a long time through speaking, TV, radio, podcasts and articles. It’s a tough shout. Alas, little has changed in decades.
So, during the pandemic I invested in an animation programme in another attempt to get an understanding of wine to the consumer, having seen its success in conference messaging, advertising and marketing.
Why do you think this is the best approach to take to get the key messages across?
I researched both conventional video and animation and then collected global opinion as Din2 developed over a two year period. It’s interesting to see how people connect with a subject through animation. I was particularly taken with these comments: “Animation is friendly and more personal. I learned a lot in no time and it was fun to watch” and “Animation is great because I can pause the video on each scene to make notes”.
Interestingly, comments also suggested that animation has more retentive power than either video or the written word. “I could still remember most of the animation content the next day,” said another.
The conclusions championed animation.
With two minutes you don’t have a lot of time – how do you decide how to prioritise the content and what information you think you need to cover that really captures a region in that time?
(Here is an example of one of Downes in Two videos – this time on Australia)
I live by the adage: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well”. Din2 includes all the important key elements to give the viewer a detailed overview and a good understanding of the subject woven into an entertaining story with relevant pictorial backdrops.
As an example, for wine regions I take the key basics of country, location, climate, soils, grapes, vineyard regions, estates, chateaux, wines etc. and weave them into a story to capture my ‘feel’ of the region built upon my many visits with colourful related photography. Once the basics are in position I can then start to inject peripheral information to add more colour and entertainment to the story. Being restricted to two minutes also helps concentrate the mind.
What have you learnt along the way in terms of what works best and is most useful for viewers?
Throughout my research and as I developed the format, two key contributions from global viewers come to mind.
1. People want to know that the animations are two minutes. As one said:”I know I want to watch because I learn a lot but it also helps to know that it’ll only take 2 minutes out of my schedule”.
So, DOWNES IN TWO is just what it says, a maximum of two minutes. This is also in line with marketing studies on videos which show that viewer interest starts to wane at about 90 seconds.
2. There was overwhelming support for my mission, ‘to keep wine simple’. “I’m just looking for a simple, easy-to-understand message, not members-only. Wine Trade gobbledegook. Downes in Two gives me that,” is how one person put it.
Which regions/countries have you done so far and what approach did you take to capture what they are about?
(Here’s John Downes MW on South African Cabernet)
To date I have produced about 50 animations covering most aspects of the world of wine from countries, regions, wines, their differences, London Trade tastings, my talkTV winerecommendations, to other questions I’m often asked such as storing wine, serving temperatures, organic wine, oak barrels and bottle shapes. You name the wine subject, Din2 has it covered giving the viewer an informed, detailed, colourful, entertaining overview in just two minutes.
Who do you see as the key target audience for these videos?
The initial target audience was the consumer and students but I’m now seeing interest from several facets of the global Wine Trade who are beginning to see how ‘Bespoke Din2’ animation, scripted to their needs, can give a targeted, fun, friendly and accessible link to their customers.
Any thoughts on how you are going to evolve the series and use animation in different ways?
The series will evolve to provide a comprehensive ‘go to’ reference as more and more subjects are added. There’s also a new marketing development within non-wine companies to maintain contact with their customers, and potential customers, through ‘non-associated’ added-value content including e-books, podcasts and videos. In a world where the consumer “wants to know more about wine but is too frightened to ask”, Din2 would fit well into this innovative marketing space.
I’m also hopeful that animation can be used as a ‘new look’ alternative to the written word in reporting events within the world of wine, for example, trade tastings, sponsored profiles, new launches etc. Unlike other industries, the wine trade is slow to change but as they say ‘hope is the last thing to die’.
Are you self taught in animation and what tools do you use to make the videos?
(Here is another video this time on Burgundy)
Yes I’m totally self taught. My early animations will prove that! My tool is a software programme I invested in during the pandemic when I saw my events calendar fall off the cliff. Zoom events kept me busy throughout lockdown but I still had a lot of time to devote to mastering the software and the art of animation.
Are you looking to work commercially with any interested regions/ countries/producers who might want to work with you?
Yes, I am receiving interest from countries/regions/producers as they see Din2 as a consumer friendly, cost effective and efficient marketing tool to introduce their products in a speedy, entertaining way to boost sales and encourage ‘trading up’. With the average UK bottle price still hovering around the £6 mark, boy do we need it!
What else are you up to in terms of writing and consulting?
I enjoy writing and still have a couple of columns but most of my ‘communicating time’ is now is spent on Din2. I don’t do any conventional consulting these days. I do, however, spend a lot of time on the speaking circuit with BEHAVIOURAL WINE TASTING, an event I present around the world with Behavioural Economist Greg Davies PhD., helping people make better business decisions by eliminating Decision Bias with the help of wine. That’s a whole new consulting story.
You also have a podcast with Adrian Chiles in the works – can you tell us about that?
Following Adrian’s very successful BBC2 programme ‘Drinkers Like Me’ we completed the first series of our ‘Drink Better Drink Less’ podcasts just as Covid struck, again, to get an understanding of wine to the consumer. As continuity is the name of the podcast game they’re still on the shelf. Everybody’s busy post-pandemic but we’ll no doubt get back on the horse soon.
Anything else to say?
With wine communication sadly having changed little in decades, it’s good to see The Buyer going from strength to strength. It’s easy to forget that at the time of the online launch it was seen by many as ‘risky and unproven’, ‘a brave move’ and ‘of limited appeal’. Bravo to The Buyerand to new ways of communicating wine. We now need others to follow.