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Marketing: the medium is the message



With all the talk about marketing wine to a new generation, we seem to have missed a vital crossroads that wine apparently has come to:

Where wine used to be “a chic drink that you sip at,” it now has become “a drink that you serve in large quantities where there is an aim at the party to get drunk.” !!!!

That, at any rate, is the view of somebody called David Halle, referred to in the above article as a “professor of sociology” but not otherwise identified. Which sent me, of course, to the Google machine, where I discovered him to be resident at U.C.L.A., a fine institution with which I have had connections over the years through family members. The prof’s interests are said to be “political sociology, urban…culture and social change,” so I suppose he knows what he’s talking about.

The same article quoted someone I do know, although not well, John Gillespie, president of the Wine Market Council, whose thoroughly-researched data always are examined with great interest by the industry. John adds that “more wineries [are] going after the younger generation” to whom “wine is the new black,” a fanciful allusion to a metaphor, now slightly shopworn, in which an idea or fashion comes suddenly into general popularity, replacing another that by inference is less stylish although not exactly passé. (The phrase “the new black” itself dates back at least to the early 1980s, when the fashion designer, Gianfranco Ferré, is supposed to have first used it, after which it exploded into the popular culture, so that we had Lady Gaga [2011] singing “Jesus is the new black,” a comedian [2009] calling “Black…the new white” and, preserving the structure but losing entirely the original noun references, a blogger asserting that “caffeine is the new alcohol.”)

But I digress. Can it really be true that people under 30 think of wine primarily as a beverage “to get drunk” with? Before we delve into that, let me point out that there’s nothing new about a younger generation using wine for inebriation. I did, although back then yellow tail and Two Buck Chuck weren’t even gleams in anyone’s eyes. But their predecessors–Ripple and Bali Hai and Boone’s Farm–were (like yellow tail) cheap and affordable and contained alcohol, which is all that a stupid young kid like me cared about. Since I’m a firm believer that human nature changes rarely if at all (thanks to our reptilian brains), I can find no reason to think that stupid young kids today don’t want the same thing: a quick cheap buzz. So there’s really no great bulletin when the Prof points out that kids today are drinking wine at parties to get drunk. They/we always did.

What I do find surprising is the assertion, made by another person quoted in the article, Chris Hammond [described as co-founder of Rock ‘n Roll Wine LLC], that “The events [his company sponsors] lack pretension. They don’t make you feel intimidated by a lot of adjectives or what you should like, or what a magazine says you should like.”

Back to the old Google! Here’s the website for Rock ‘n Roll Wine LLC, whose events seem to combine a pop-up club urban zeitgeist with mass tastings (including food) of the sort that magazines routinely sponsor in America’s major cities. The difference seems to be that a Rock ‘n Roll LLC event will feature, not a Dixieland Jazz band or string quartet, but performances from The Gin Blossom or Crash Kings (and if they don’t get you in a mosh pit mood I don’t know what will). But the wines served are familiar enough: Luna Vineyards, Rodney Strong, Banfi, Diageo, proving that these companies wisely understand [pace McLuhan] that the medium is the message.

Still, I cannot accept that wine has permanently crossed some kind of threshold from being “a chic drink you sip” to the latest vehicle that gets you down the “candy is dandy but liquor is quicker” road to Slosh City. Kids grow up, even those who hurl themselves into mosh pits, and when they grow up they look for something, well, more urbane.

Marketing is never a straightforward practice. As in statecraft, one delivers different messages to difference constituencies, depending on the need, the left hand seldom talking to the right; and if these messages conflict, well, that’s all right. It’s the maneuver of diplomacy. If I were a winery I’d be telling 23-year old clubbers, “Don’t worry about anything, just drink our wine, dance your ass off, have fun tonight, and repeat it all tomorrow.” To a 53-year old lawyer or Silicon Valley exec it would be “Sip our chic wine, and to appreciate the fine terroir of our grapes, check out our website, where our winemaker walks you through the vineyard to explain the mysteries of cane pruning grapevines.” The medium is the message. But if you want to know the real message, it’s: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

  1. Exactly.

    Paul Wagner
    author, Wine Marketing & Sales
    Marketing instructor: Napa Valley College

  2. Oh and people in their 40s and 50s don’t use wine for a buzz? Come on now….

  3. Steve, I think you’re missing the main point of that article. The thesis is summed up in this quote: “Wine is being consumed on many more casual everyday occasions than ever before,” and not bythe drunk reference. Wine is more social than it was before and there are many reasons why. Yes, young professionals of today have different traits than those of yesteryear, but also the chances of finding good wine is much greater. And speaking of the medium being the message, social media (more used be the type of consumers highlighted in the article than say your generation) is both a message and a means. The power of social media is not how a winery uses it, but how a winery’s consumers use it…

  4. Steve:
    Virtually every winery marketing department has become afflicted with “millennial-on-the-brain” syndrome. This important group of individuals (ages 21-30)may actually save the wine industry from gentrification someday. On another related note, I’m reminded of the Wine Brats special events during the 1990s. They attempted to turn the ever-popular “beer bust” into a more accessible “wine bust.” The Wine Brats (and Wine X Magazine) were clearly ahead of their time.
    George Rose

  5. Samantha, yeah they do.

  6. Looking back on those many evenings in the sixties, sitting on the floor of the apartment or house with a date, listening to Dylan or the Doors, passing the jug of Hearty Burgundy or Red Mountain. I didn’t realize we were sipping and appreciating the nuances of the wine. The only nuance I remember pondering was whether I was going to get lucky…plus les choses changent plus elles sembles pareilles

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