Advertising wine: elite or common?
I’m not sure that an audience comprised of Masters of Wine was the right venue for an advertising man to call for a simpler, more consumer-friendly approach to marketing our favorite beverage. After all, there’s no wine club on Earth more elite than the MWs.
But it was at an MW event in Bordeaux that Sir John Hegarty told the crowd, “The [wine] industry fails hopelessly on accessibility. This market…goes out of its way to confuse the consumer. You’ve seen it – the way people in restaurants nervously pass round a wine list. It’s fear. You as an industry have encouraged that fear. The wine industry is the most fragmented market I’ve seen. Fragmented, confusing, impenetrable.”
It’s true, isn’t it? You and I, who know something about wine, go our merry little ways, making tasting notes, debating about Burgundy vs. New World Pinot Noir and speculating on the future of social media. But the average consumer, on whose shoulders the industry rests, indeed is totally confused and fearful.
Hegarty is creative director of an ad firm, Bartle Bootle Hegarty, which has worked on campaigns ranging from Kentucky Fried Chicken’s Finger Lickin Good to Levi’s Flatbeat TV ads that included a yellow puppet
to Johnnie’s Walker’s “Keep Walking” commercials,
which were credited with helping to revive that whiskey brand’s fortunes. I don’t think a single ad campaign is going to be wine’s salvation — and with per capita continuing to rise in America, things aren’t quite as bad as perhaps Mr. Hagarty painted them to be. But everybody knows that millions of adult Americans are scared to death about wine, or have negative attitudes toward it, or both, and we need to do something about it.
The snobbism factor is the main problem. I know people who are perfectly happy to get snookered on beer or cocktails, but when it comes to wine, they shrug their shoulders and say, with an embarrassed little smile, “Oh, I’m not really an expert,” as if you have to be an expert to like wine but not beer or liquor. The wine industry itself created this myth, although it did so unwittingly, in an era when the industry’s most creative minds thought that the way to sell more wine was to create an aura of aspiration.
For example, I remember a wine TV commercial from years ago that, I think, was from Gallo. As I recall, it showed a wedding couple, she in a white gown, he in a tuxedo, and they were riding in one of Boston Commons’ famous swan boats,
toasting each other with a glass of bubbly. I remember thinking then, and it’s even truer today, “OMG, the concept this ad is delivering is that the only time you’re permitted to drink sparkling wine is on your wedding day, on a swan boat in Boston Common.”
And then there was Orson Welles’ creative but fatuous “We will sell no wine before its time” commercials for Paul Masson,
as if Paul Masson’s wines needed to be aged. Those ads were pretty classy, but did they sell wine? I don’t think so. They just proved once again, to the average guy, that wine is too complicated to deal with.
Compare that with the Bud Lite TV commercials of the same era,
in which regular dudes had fun with each other, often with scantily-clad bosomy beauties. (Not defending that, no ma’am. No sexism at steveheimoff.com. Just sayin’.) That sold bottles of beer, by the billions.
Hegarty didn’t come up with any specific ideas for marketing wine, although the article did suggest he said something interesting: His “solution [according to the reporter] was to redress wine’s image as an accompaniment to food – which he suggested was a drawback – instead promoting it to stand alone with the slogan ‘wine flavours our life’.”
Wow. For years, we’ve championed the idea of promoting “wine with food” as wine’s greatest strength. Hell, even the beer people started copying us on that one. Now here comes one of the industry’s greatest brains saying “wine with food” has been a drawback! I’m not sure what to make of that, but I do agree with Hegarty that “Today’s market is a younger, more experimental audience. Invest in the future. Youth is the future.” Having just come back from the Bloggers Conference, I saw the future. It is indeed young and it is indeed experimental. However, it is also extremely interested in food, so I’d say that, rather than being a drawback, the “wine with food” message is only a part of the package. I do like the “Wine flavours our life” thing, although in this country, they better drop the “u” and spell it “flavors.”
Here’s the link for my keynote speech at the Wine Bloggers Conference. The audio is a little choppy.