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Pandering or just marketing? Wines aimed at women tread a fine line

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The subject of wines whose marketing campaigns seek to target them to women has been much in the news lately. In this piece, nicely written by Bloomberg’s Elin McCoy, she hits the nail on the head with the requisite amount of barely concealed outrage appropriate for a 21st century woman with a healthy amount of self-respect and a keen eye to penetrating the cynicism that midwifed the birth of these brands.

In this column by the Wall Street Journal’s resident guru, Lettie Teague takes a more restrained approach, as to be expected given the constraint’s of her paper’s editorial style. She doesn’t exactly come out and say she finds the whole womanist thing contemptible, instead crafting her piece in terms of the comparative merits of mens’ and womens’ palates. But various phrases she uses, including calling such wines “a veritable ocean of plonk…produced with the sole purpose of appealing to the supposedly superior female palate,” gives us a glimpse into the answer to the question, What does Ms. Teague really think?

Ms. Teague and Ms. McCoy are, as mentioned, both women. But how does a male view the wine-to-women targeting? In The New York Times, correspondant Austin Considine, in this Grey Lady-esque piece of stylebook journalism (which means finding people on both sides of the fence to quote), calls the wines in question “cheap, cheery wines appealing to conventional notions of contemporary women, à la Carrie Bradshaw,” although he does concede that women’s wines are “enjoying something of a pop culture moment” given, especially, Cupcake’s success.

Six years ago or so, the venerable Wine Institute, headquartered in San Francisco, first took note of the phenomenon, noting that  “A greater marketing awareness toward women consumers is emerging as a trend in the 21st century.” However, this was before the onslaught of silly and often patronizing names that has hit store shelves lately. The Wine Institute welcomed the trend, calling it only rational given that women “purchase 57 percent of the wine consumed in the United States.” Wine Institute also pointed out that “women are less influenced by wine ratings…Although the wine quality is important to women, so are the label design, the bottle shape and the philosophy of the winery.” That put things on a lofty intellectual plane. I particularly like “the philosophy of the winery” as being an integral part of a woman’s decision to buy a bottle of wine. That assumes that the woman in question would be able to infer that philosophy (if indeed one existed) through visual cues picked up from the label. And perhaps many women did select wines that purported to donate a portion of their profits to charity, or were eco-friendly.

Well, what would be the philosophy of a wine called “Cupcake”? Or for that matter of wines called “Girl’s Night Out,” “Middle Sister,” “MommyJuice,” “Flirt,” “Skinnygirl” or the inimitable “Bitch”?

I think we have to realize that a lot has changed in the last six years. Wines that might have targeted women buyers as smart and progressive now seem to be appealing to what the marketers see as every woman’s inner Barbie Doll. Maybe I, as a man, simply can’t understand. But I suspect there are millions more women who wouldn’t touch these wines, under any circumstances, than who would. They know when they’re being pandered to, and they don’t like it.

  1. So you suggest marketing (pandering) to minorities, but think blatantly marketing to women is patronizing?? Am I missing something in you arguments?

  2. Kyle, I don’t mind targeted marketing if it’s tasteful. But pandering just strikes me the wrong way.

  3. I don’t hold that there is much that can be attributed to a difference in race, but I am sure of universal differences between men and women. Just a moment ago I was reading about a study of 1084 heterosexual men and women which found that men liked women who smile versus women who preferred a swaggering or brooding pose to a smile. (They always seem to go for the bad boy, don’t they!)

    So, how would I market to women? Since about 95% of the buyers of high end Napa Cabs are men, I wouldn’t use the same marketing techniques to appeal to women. Similarly, since it is mostly men who buy high end sports cars or cigars, I wouldn’t try to emulate that marketing either. Given my belief that women are less likely to succumb to our manly bullshit, I think they can see through wines that pander to them with catchy names, but fail to deliver.

    If I were to market to women I would make a style of wine that was ready to drink. I wouldn’t count on women buying cases of a product and putting it down in a cellar with the hope of it improving. I would make wines straight forward, clean and dry. Whites would be delicate and fragrant, reds would be soft and accessible. I would put them in a screw cap. I would create a tasteful and colorful label. The back label would be straight talk and clearly state what the wine is like. It’s brand name would not be important, but a little swagger or something broodingly masculine might not hurt.

    I would price it under $20 a bottle, clearly state its varietal and appellation credentials, seek to have it mid shelf in the supermarket, and frequently run price incentives. Women love to buy things on sale. I would encourage liberal return policies. Based on my limited observations, women love to change their minds and return things.

    Of course, if I actually told anyone that I was doing this I would be told I am a chauvinist.

  4. After reading all three articles what is clear is that these types of brands are not carried in America’s top wine shops or restaurants or by well respected wine authorities. That should come as no surprise. There is also a very good chance most customers for these brands don’t read the Times, WSJ, Bloomberg or Wine Enthusiast. Additionally they probably don’t shop at top wine stores much. Still these wines do have a niche somewhere, Why?

    Consumerism, and image styling comes from what advertising or popular culture tells us we should be doing. How to dress, what to drive, what kind of phone, stove, or even type of pet we need. I just heard yesterday a radio report about the San Francisco SPCA having a special drive to adopt Chihuahuas which represent over 40% of the breeds in the shelters. The spokesman explained that it is fashionable (think Brittany Spears, Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie) to purchase this breed as a trendy accessory but many of the owners are not prepared to take care of it.

    Since we are on the subject, Paul Mabray of Vintank recently sent out a Facebook link to this: http://www.winesbywives.com/ Over the top, maybe… The website offers their own unique take on glamour, celebrity and taste which is likely shared by other women who want to connect to that role model. Am I concerned? No.

    Steve, even though you suspect (and I would tend to agree) that there are millions more women who wouldn’t touch these wines under any circumstances than who would, that isn’t the point. For example: In a demographic of 15 million women who don’t drink anything, while 10 million women who do wouldn’t drink these wines (for a variety of reasons) but 100000 women bought six bottles a year that is instantly a 50000 case brand with an empty warehouse. That is what marketers dream about.

  5. Doug Wilder, of course you’re right. These wines make money. So do a lot of other silly, demeaning products and services. That doesn’t make them tasteful or admirable.

  6. Steve, pandering is ubiquitous, and I agree it is not “tasteful or admirable”, but Cupcake bothers you? What about Cakebread? Bitch wines was nicely handled by Fredric Koeppel http://biggerthanyourhead.net/2011/05/20/who-yo-bitch-wine-bitch/

  7. Carlos Toledo says:

    In my market the old idea/conception that rose wines and wines made with pinot noir are gay or girly simply killed the market for many many many potential consumers. Oh gawd, that’s painful to see.

    As a salesman of any and every kind of good wine i suffer when someone with a college degree (my father, for one) says rose wine is “gay”.

    In my ignorance, i wonder why a market as enormous as America should produce this segmentation now (and even increase revenues) to regret later.

    Where are the “general lee, the V12, the dirty track, the hulk, the long and hard, the elk, the brickyard, the jackhammer” wines then?

    As a retail owner and importer i want the same wine to be sold and drunk by all, save teens and jeovah witnesses.

  8. Kurt Burris says:

    Given the influx of outstanding female wine makers over the past couple of decades or so I find these “girly” wines somewhat ironic. I wonder if there are any women on the wine making team?

  9. Sounds like a fun way to take on a boringly marketed industry to me.

    Maybe they should try selling one called ‘Successful,frumpy and dull’ maybe that might make them lots of money!! NOT!!

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