Why don’t cult wineries embrace social media?
One of the things I’ve been puzzled about is how slow to embrace social media the so-called cult wineries have been in California.
I ask just about every cult proprietor I meet what they’re doing online, and the usual response is a shrug. Sometimes they’re not doing anything. Sometimes they don’t know what they’re doing, because they hired somebody to do it for them and they never even check it out. Maybe they have a web site that hasn’t been refreshed since 2009.
As far as I can tell, too often the proprietor’s attitude toward social media is sort of “I can’t be bothered.” It’s like they feel that going online is a form of peddling — a vulgar hawking of their product, like a late-night infomercial or a cheap clip-out coupon in the Sunday paper.
We now have some insight into this mindset via an article, “Luxury Brands Still Tread Lightly With Social Media,” that appeared in yesterday’s Forbes.com.
The headline telegraphs the main point. I love this quote from a fellow named Jean-Claude Biver, ceo of Hublot, a luxury watch producer (how about $19,500 for the Limited Edition 715.CI.1110.RX for men?). “When you are online,” M. Biver observed, Gallic nose upturned, “you are not exclusive anymore.”
You might wonder why a watch that costs nearly twenty grand wouldn’t be exclusive no matter where you buy it. As it turns out, there’s a reason. It’s provided by a Brit, name of Matt Rhodes, who is described as the social media director for the firm, FreshNetworks London, which advises “high-end travel and fashion companies.” Rhodes explains that people who are going to drop a bundle on a product want more for their money than merely the thing purchased. A lot more. “If you’re going to spend $1,000 on a pair of shoes, you want to have a glass of wine going around, the attention of staff; you want an experience as well…”.
In other words, when the lady is yearning for a pair of Manolo Blahnik Rhinestone Buckle d’Orsays, she doesn’t want to look them up on amazon.com and have them sent in a box through the mail. She wants to walk into Bergdorf’s and be treated right — in an experience that feels “less like [a] sales room and more like [an] intimate venue,” says Rhodes.
Now we get to the nub, not only of why luxury wine producers are reluctant to go online, but why, in fact, people treasure luxury wines in the first place. We need to understand snobbism, or perhaps elitism is a less loaded word. Lots of people who live to show off their cult wines are not…quite…comfortable with the multitudes, who don’t hold their forks correctly and may not have perfectly manicured fingernails. The people who can afford cult wines like to be around other people who can afford cult wines. That implies exclusivity, and what could be less exclusive than social media? Social media lets everybody in, whereas the objective of snobbism is to shut people out. As Rhodes says, pointedly, “[O]n Facebook, you are opening the gates to discussions you don’t [necessarily] want.” Who wants to have a conversation with the underclass? If Rhodes’ fashion designer clients have a new Fall line to present, they’d much rather do it through “[their] own catwalk show where [they] control the invites,” not through some common public platform.
Thus the notions of exclusivity, controlling the environment and maintaining insider status lie at the heart of cult wines. But those notions are inimical to the soul of the Internet. That is why cult wine proprietors are slow to embrace social media. It smashes exclusivity, demolishes the ivory tower, bridges the moat and throws open the gate to anyone who wants in.
So I entirely agree with the reporter who wrote in the Forbes.com article, “…it’s odd that so few resources are invested in reinventing how that product is marketed and delivered on the web…in the luxury sector.” Odd, indeed. And sure to change.