The Buyer
Kevin Shaw on waking up to the threat and potential of AI  

Kevin Shaw on waking up to the threat and potential of AI  

“I’d advise everyone to strap in and see how they can make AI a tool before they become a tool of AI…” That’s the stark warning of drinks design legend, Kevin Shaw, founder of Stranger & Stranger, who fears Artificial Intelligence “is going to decimate the industry – I can’t think of anyone who won’t be affected”. From winemakers, importers, wine buyers, sommeliers, label designers, journalists, photographers. You name it AI is coming for you. There is also a huge, unprecedented opportunity to use the power, influence and scale of AI to our advantage. But first we have to understand what it can do and what potential impact for good it can have on the wine, drinks, retail and hospitality sectors. Shaw, in his typically robust style, sets out the challenges facing the industry from AI, but also picks out who is most likely to succeed by using it.

Kevin Shaw
19th June 2023by Kevin Shaw
posted in Insight,

“AI could redesign any one of the crappy clip art private labels in less than the time it takes to pour a glass of the wine it blended itself.” That’s what faces certain sectors of the wine industry if they don’t wake up to the threat and opportunity of Artificial Intelligence, says Stranger & Stranger’s Kevin Shaw.

A lot has changed in the last six months and we are now the preferred agency of Artificial Intelligence.

True story. A new client asked one of the well known AI engines, CHATGPT, who they should use and it referred them to us. Amazing, right? And then it happened again. This must be a thing in the trade now, like all those kids using CHATGPT to write their English homework.

That’s the good news. Well, there is more good news but there is some less good news too.

I’m not talking about AI turning into the Matrix, or Skynet, or one of the engines developing consciousness and deciding that homo sapiens are bad and need to be… corrected. That may happen at some point but not yet. No, I’m talking about our industry being seriously affected by this technology and right soon.

The world’s first AI wine? France’s Aubert & Mathieu asked ChatGPT AI platform to create an “exceptional, fruity vinified organic wine from the Languedoc region with the grape varieties Grenache and Syrah”. This is the result…including what the wine should be called, in which bottle and at what price.

I’m sure you’ve seen in the news recently that AI made a wine blend (, and that AI made a wine label ( AI even wrote a review, but more on that later.

Now I can’t comment on the wine blend, and I presume it tastes like an average of all the other wine blends it scoured to make the AI blend, but I can comment on the label because I do this stuff for a living. And yes, like most AI illustrations, that particular image looks like a student did a little too much acid. Much more fun is the AI generated lager advert.

Click here to watch.

A still from the first AI generated drinks advert

Acid. Again. And now you’ll never be able to unsee that.

Potential of AI

All good fun but have you ever thought about what these engines could do in the hands of people who really knew what they were doing. We have and we really know what we’re doing. We’ve been creating bottles using them and we can tell you that this tech is going to decimate the industry. I can’t think of anyone who won’t be affected but I’ll start with our particular sector: what took two designers a week to do can now be done by one in a day. It’s the most powerful design tool since Apple landed and I was there when that happened and a whole generation of typesetters started looking for other jobs.

Writers? They’re already feeling it. Photographers? They’d better start retraining or focus on weddings and bat mitzvahs because the Sony World Photograph award just went to an AI generated image. Now, the photographer who entered the image was way too embarrassed to accept the award but the damage is done.

This AI created image has recently won a Sony World Photograph competition

As you can see, things have changed up significantly in just the past six months and this thing is a juggernaut barreling forward with no-one slowing it down, or even wanting to. You can, if you really know what you’re doing, dial up anything you like and have a perfect, photorealistic image rendered without having to pay for model releases, travel, props, clothing, makeup or ‘expenses’. And you can have it in two minutes.

Ok, but why stop there? There’s already an AI writing wine reviews without even opening the bottle.

Sommelier is already an app, wait until they throw in some AI. Can a winemaker be AI? It grabs all the lab analysis from your phone and it tells you what to do next. That tech is already here.

How about retail buyer? It indexes every wine it just blended, analyses sales across every sub sector, pops in trends and store demographics and comes up with the perfectly maxed out set of shelves with a set of perfectly average private labels. It does all that in two minutes, updates every three seconds and handles all the logistics better than any human could. Crazy Brave New World stuff, right? No, the engines could do all this NOW! With every retailer. Simultaneously. We’re just missing some data points and a few lines of code.

Mind boggling

The speed! The speed that these engines learn is truly mind boggling. Not only are they learning from our instructions, they’re learning from everyone else at the same time. It’s like that scene in Her when Joaquin Phoenix finds out his love app is cheating on him with 8,316 other people simultaneously. If you ask our AI engine the same question twice, a minute apart, you get a more evolved answer. AI is The Borg.

Now while these things learn they never truly create, they spew out averages of everything they are given or find online, and that’s precisely the issue. Most of the wine business isn’t about being creative. Every glass bottle looks the same, every back label sounds the same, most consumers can’t tell the difference between the wines and AI could redesign any one of the crappy clip art private labels in less than the time it takes to pour a glass of the wine it blended itself.

Your AI-created wine sir?

The big issue right now is intellectual property. Who owns the output? The software owner? The portal owner? No one knows, there’s not been a test case yet. The only thing that is certain about ownership is that YOU don’t own anything because most of this tech is open source at the moment (so watch your confidentiality clauses!) and all the creations go out into the ether for everyone to enjoy as they will. Best guess is that Microsoft, Adobe and Apple will have it written into their softwares and they’ll sell usage licenses. I’ll bet they’re working on it right now. Yep, thought so. (Click here for Microsoft AI and here for what Apple is doing)

Time to strap in

Given how the wine industry, especially in the UK, is a somewhat fragile child and retailers love any opportunity to cuts costs and increase margins – and this is such a huge opportunity for that – I’d advise everyone to strap in and see how they can make AI a tool before they become a tool of AI. It’s only a matter of time before everything is touched by this tech and everything will be perfectly average. And perfectly boring. Want to hear an AI joke? A Machine Learning algorithm walks into a bar. The bartender asks, “What’ll you have?” The algorithm says, “What’s everyone else having?”

Remember Gabriel Moreno? I do. He was the guy in California who opened a valve under a wine tanker and started guzzling. While the tanker was trucking down Highway 99. When the driver noticed the gauge dropping he pulled over and found Mr Moreno, dressed only in his underpants, under the truck doing snow angels while wine poured over him. Snow angels! Absolutely living his best life.

I’d miss wine stories like this. People like this are why I got into this business. Well, not exactly like this but you know what I mean. Characters. AI has no character. Yet.