Constellation: getting real about social media?
When Walter Cronkite famously stated, in 1968, that he did not believe the Vietnam War could be won, it was said to mark a tipping point. “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America,” LBJ remarked.
Could Rob Sands’ recent statement be a similar turning point? “If anything lends itself to social media, it’s wine,” the Constellation Brands CEO was quoted as telling Bloomberg News last week. So bullish has Constellation become on developing their online profile that the company (America’s second biggest wine producer, after Gallo) doubled its digital marketing budget last year “and is raising it 50 percent this year.”
Up until now, I haven’t been particularly impressed by the social media efforts of the country’s largest wine companies. If anything, they’ve been late to the party, preferring to wait and see what smaller, bolder wineries do before committing their resources.
So what, specifically, is Constellation doing? Well, for one, they hired Karena Breslin away from Gallo to ramp up their digital marketing efforts. It’s not clear, just yet, how she’s doing. Forbes.com reported on May 5 that Constellation is planning “some marketing tricks that are new to it–and to the wine industry” in order “to woo tech-savvy wine drinkers under the age of 35.” These tricks are said to include “a mobile application that will let [Millennials] use their ever-handy iPhones and BlackBerrys to scan bar codes on wine bottles for more information–even video snippets” about the wine. But that doesn’t sound “new to the wine industry” to me. It’s standard QR coding.
I will admit this Constellation ad for Black Box is pretty cute (although it does pander a little to newbies, but that’s okay), and I’d like to see more examples from Constellation. According to the website Market VOX, which recently reported on Constellation’s social media efforts, “The company has seen an increase of click through rates of 150%, increased fans of 75%, and surprisingly a decrease in click through rate cost by 30%.” But Market VOX is mute on some vital information. Where are the click through rates coming from, and what are they resulting in? And 75% increased fans of what? Its Facebook page? Presumably so; the article says Constellation’s “great success” is “based on interest and Facebook ‘likes.’”
However, Constellation’s Facebook page, near as I can tell, has only 195 “Likes,” and its content was lifted straight from Wikipedia. [CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this post, I misstated the number of "Likes" that Robert Mondavi Winery has. It is 8,623.] So, again, I’m not clear where this success is coming from, or what Market VOX’s statements are based on.
Still, progress in social media has to be measured in increments. I give credit to Constellation for making the effort to become active in the digital sphere. If any of the majors are positioned to do it, it’s Constellation. Their stock is at nearly a three-year high, and shipments for January-February were up 17% (Gomberg Fredrikson). In a recent TV interview, Sands told Bloomberg News, “We’re generating a lot of cash flow,” meaning the company has the luxury of seriously investigating the online sphere, not just talking about it. In this sense, Sands may be to social media what Walter Cronkite was to the Vietnam War: in a single statement, he signals the tipping point where the biggest wineries realize the potential of online.