subscribe: Posts | Comments      Facebook      Email Steve

Using “authenticity” as an inauthentic marketing tool


Those pesky Gen Y’ers continue to fascinate and frustrate wine marketeers, according to this study published yesterday by Graham Holter, an associate director at the London-based wine consulting firm, Wine Intelligence.

The study starts with the inarguable premise that the wine industry, being concerned with selling a consumable product, “is…increasingly interested in ‘younger drinkers’” whom common sense dictates “are required to replace the old” as they (we?) drift off into decrepitude. These “younger drinkers” are identified as “Generation Y,” also known as Millennials — people born from the mid-1970s through the 1990s (of course, in this year 2009, a Millennial would have to have been born prior to 1988 in order to be of legal drinking age in the U.S.).

Holter, quoting his boss (Lulie Halstead), describes Millennials, no matter where they live in the world, as “less divided by cultural and geographic boundaries than ever before” due, of course, to the pervasive influence of the media, especially the Internet. This homogeneity “ought, in theory…make life easier for wine marketers” since multiple messages, and the means to deliver them, do not have to be devised for multiple groups. And what is the central focus, the “overriding factor” of that message? You guessed it. “Authenticity.”

This quality is never quite defined in the study, which leaves us, the readers, having to infer what it means. Immediately after dropping the “A”-word, Holter (again paraphrasing Lulie) analogizes it to the iPod, which “is authentic because it is straightforward, simple and does what it says it’s going to do.”

Holter then describes the digital behavior of Millennials with which we’re all so — too — familiar these days: “They’ll go straight online, to Facebook or start texting and forwarding emails…” (and it’s a wonder that Twitter escapes mention in this Almanach de Gotha). What are Millennials looking for when it comes to wine? “If a wine has a clear set of brand values and a story associated with it, even if it’s very short and straightforward [he might have said especially if it’s short and straightforward], that’s what they’re looking for.” Holter suggests that one such “story” concerns “fair-trade,” another “organic” and a third “companies that respect those who work for them.”

These are all ideal and notable concerns for wine brands, but in the same way I’ve suspected in the past that laudable concepts have been hijacked in the name of marketing, so now does that disturbing thought strike me here. I can’t prove that in California (my bailiwick) “organic”, “fair-trade”, “green” and the like are sometimes used to lure consumers of an environmental bent, and not necessarily because the winery owners truly believe in them; but I suspect it happens more than is generally known. It wouldn’t be the first time somebody with something to sell appealed, somewhat cynically, to the higher instincts of consumers, especially when those consumers are young, idealistic and — let’s be frank — a little naive about how the world really works.

And back to “authenticity.” Why the iPod should be more “authentic” than a tape cassette recorder, boom box or Sony Walkman is beyond my powers to analyze, although there’s little doubt that, in the minds of those who use iPods, that device does represent the ultimate expression of authenticity. It doesn’t, really — that’s ridiculous — but that so many people believe it is a testament to Apple’s marketing genius. Nor is it apparent to me that “go[ing] straight online, to Facebook or start texting” is particularly authentic behavior. In my world, it’s actually less authentic than talking to the person next to you. (I’ve been on crowded BART [subway] cars coming home late at night from San Francisco where every Millennial on the train was pecking away on some personal digital devise, rather than take the truly, authentically existential leap of looking into the eyes of his or her neighbor and actually uttering a few words of communication.)

Don’t get me wrong. Wineries do have to figure out how to sell to Millennials. But it just grates me the wrong way when they (and the consulting firms that advise them) gussy up their [legitimately] commercial motives in the cloak of higher purposes and aspirations. It’s like Chevron reminding us how helpful they are to the rain forest.

  1. Kevin Hamel says:

    HI Steve,

    Here’s an anecdote for you, with absolutely no judgement. It’s just an anecdote.

    A friend of mine invited her sister and her 17-year-old daughter out for a visit during the Thanksgiving weekend. My friend was miffed that her niece would not sit down and have a conversation with her, or anyone else. The niece spent most of her time texting friends back home and occasionally calling them on the phone. My friend’s phone service did not work out on the Sonoma coast, where we were spending the weekend, nor was there internet service, and she was blissfully disconnected. It was not until we returned to “civilization”, where my my friend could get phone service, that she discovered that the way to communicate with her niece was by texting. The two of them sat, in a restaurant, on either side of the sister/mother texting away like mad. A “Eureka!” moment!

  2. It is very cynical of you to equate idealism with naivety when demand pushes producers to change their production process to be more just. I do not disagree that some marketing firms or producers have hi-jacked the terms you mentioned but examples like those tend to attract backlash anyway.

    Lastly, to attribute the iPod to a generation’s thoughts on authenticity when it was just an analogy derived from another person’s point of view is just a great disservice. You can dismiss my comments for being part of Gen Y but at the same time, none from my generation actually claim that the iPod is an authentic product. It is JUST a device.

  3. Jason Brumley says:

    I’m not sure (having been born in 1972) into which generational lettering I might be classified; but, I think that the gen X & Y’ers are much more savvy in their wine drinking habits. It only makes sense. The wine industry in the U.S. was fledgling if anything before their generations. They have grown up with tasting rooms, wine dinners and, most importantly, wine education.

    More of the children of these generations have worked, in some facet or another, in the hospitality industry. This exposure, even in the simplest of regards, has offered an education that was not available to prior generations.

    If the marketeers of brands and labels wish to set themselves above the rest, I would suggest to do away with cutesy labels and kitsch, and focus on what’s in the bottle. I would implore them to aim at continued education of wine in general, and what practices, vineyard sites, and varietals make their wines what they are. Kobrand, say whatever else you will about them, has an excellent wine education program for industry and non industry individuals. The more the consumer knows about your product, the more likely they are to purchase it and talk about it while drinking it.

  4. It’s panem et circenses all over again.

  5. Bravo on this one, read the same damn report yesterday and just had to laugh. But I will give them the benefit of the doubt, this appears to be UK research which might explain it all.

  6. Kevin. Hmm. Bizarre. I once saw a sci-fi movie in which the human race had evolved (devolved?) into brains in fluid-filled bell jars, connected to each other by wires. It could be that the aunt and her niece are precursors to that brave new world.

  7. Rob Walker talked about ipod’s success in terms of “multiplicity” in Buying In.

    Authenticity=honesty. Chevron could be honest, but I don’t know wtf Technron is.

    The draw of social media is that it connects people to people. It also connects brands to people, but it’s much more meaningful (authentic?) when a consumers is able to connect to a person.

  8. Wow! In two comments, I am abused:

    Arthur stole my reference to bread and circuses in one of Steve’s earlier and similar technology-oriented posts a month or so back, and Steve talks about a movie concerning a Sci-fi story that I wrote while in Junior High School.

    Authenticity through a technological device? Gimmeabreak.

    Steve, to your final paragraph: reminds me of the Twitter/Cruspad wine that is aimed at the higher purpose of advancing social networking…

  9. Crushpad–can’t be funny if you are making spelling errors.

  10. Thomas, “the Twitter/Crushpad wine that is aimed at the higher purpose of advancing social networking…” Well if the shoe fits…

  11. steve stevens says:

    A friend of mine who works as a social media advisor, mostly I think for public relations and design entities, put it succinctly for me. He said all social media is simply a new way to have conversations, and people use the new communications tools pretty much like they used the old ones. The new ones are just a lot faster.

    I took that to mean that people are people wherever you go, regardless of the technology. And I guess teenagers still prefer to talk with their friends than with their grown up relatives (I know I did!).

  12. “He said all social media is simply a new way to have conversations,”

    It is, but as the other Steve’s post hints, it’s also a way to avoid real contact with real people, and you can say anything you want when there’s no one there to stop your–or punch you.

    I often wonder when evolution will make the larynx equal to the appendix.

  13. I dont see how texting is different in function than any other means of communication.

    When I was growing up, payphones (anyone remember them) were ten cents for three minutes and five cents for additional time. If we wanted to talk to girls in the next city over, and talk for more than a few minutes, it cost more than a gallon of gas or two Starbucks–in other words, real money. So we did not do it very often. And then someone discover a way to beat the system and so we talked to our favorites of the week as long as we wanted.

    The cell-phone has freed us of phone boxes and even of cost. I pay a monthly fee and talk to my brothers in NYC and Boston all the time. When I moved out here for grad school (admittedly before the Gen Xers were born–but in time for the Summer of Love, thank you), long distance calls were a dollar for three minutes. We talked once a month for just a few minutes–and we wrote letters.

    Sure, it sometimes amuses me to see a gaggle of teenagers texting to the world or older folks Tweeting to thousands who are not listening, but it is just communication. I am not sure that teenagers ever talked to adults to begin with. And they did not want to talk to us.

    Hells bells, all those kids tables at Thanksgiving were in the other room. No one really knows how much good is done for producers by paying attention to the new media. But it is where the ears and eyes are, and that has to count for something. Too bad I can’t make it work. I only learned to type a few years ago.

  14. Steve Wrote “Don’t get me wrong. Wineries do have to figure out how to sell to Millennials. But it just grates me the wrong way when they (and the consulting firms that advise them) gussy up their [legitimately] commercial motives in the cloak of higher purposes and aspirations. It’s like Chevron reminding us how helpful they are to the rain forest”

    1) The generation of consumers you are writing about are the sons and daughters of the “Me Gen”, aka the Baby Boomers. These kids saw unadulterated excess beyond what they thought was possible. Being socially and environmentally conscious is a bi-product of wathcing their parents live such a world so please leave pessimism at the door. without aspirations, we are no better than the gopher in my front yard.

    2) If wineries really want to bring the next generation of wine drinkers into their client fold, begin by ditching the scores, medals, puffs, and other simple sound/word bytes that was employed so sucessfully on their parents. It’s actually counter productive and becoming worse for the marketing departments who so proudly display their scores on their site.

    Why don’t writers simply use their words and vocab to convey their opinion on a wine and cut the crap out? Tell us a good story about the winery and maybe some other relavant (non-prestigious) facts.

  15. What’s a pay phone?

  16. Tim Heaton says:

    Wine Intelligence from the country that brought you the scone. Enough said.

  17. Bill, it’s next to the typewriter.

  18. Obviously, everyone is texting and Tweeting so the name of the wine has to be short and appellations need three-letter codes, like airports. When price is less than two digits, that’s a bonus buy-point. If it has a legit, short, green buzz word, great.
    If the wine is actually available in your local store or tonight’s restaurant, it should come with an E ticket along with the location GPS, discount coupon, and winery/wine brief on your Ipod.
    I read the report and it’s similar to the Wine Market Council’s 2009 report. Alternative insights, such as VinTank and Randy Resnick, are out there, too.
    The issue is what we (all of us) will buy, not the technical way we communicate or the marketing strategy or lack thereof.
    It’s an interesting arena and possibly the first time where such a Rubik’s cube of age, gender, location, ethnicity, technology, taste, grape, price etc. have been presented to this industry (IMHO).
    How the industry copes is fodder for the historians among us.

  19. Hey, Randy, if the wine review media did what you are talking about, they would do your PR for you. Getting the message out about you individually is your responsibility. It is not Steve’s or mine or anyone else’s.

    Have you ever read a good tasting note? It does tell the story of the wine in the sense that it talks about what it is to experience the wine. It is not the responsibility of the tasting note, especially not when hundreds of them are done by way of a comprehensive review of a category, to talk about the soil, picking strategy, organic intentions of the winemaker, etc. Let me be clear. Randy, that is your job.

    I (and folks like me) review many wines from the same winery in a year. How many times would you like to hear about Beaulieu, Rutherford dust, clone 4 of Cabernet or Clone 1 through 913 of Pinot Noir? Or to be more accurate, how many times does the general wine buying public want to hear that stuff? Steve and I both taste about 5000 wines per year. I doubt that we would make very interesting reading if we told 5000 elaborate stories per year.

    We specialize in helping people find wines they like among the thousands on the market. Critics are not cheerleaders. We are evaluators and reporters.

    You want something that cannot exist. It matters not whether we are talking about my generation or my children’s generation or the generation that is now entering into wine drinking age. No one comes up to me at tastings and asks me to tell them about your story. They ask me to suggest wines that they will enjoy.

    But, hey, when my book comes out next summer, and it gives all this background info about a thousand CA wineries, I hope you will read it. Because it is in books, and in one-off articles in the slick paper magazines where you will get “stories”. Just don’t look for them in tasting notes. They are not going to be there.

  20. steve stevens says:

    @Thomas-I get what you mean. Technologies like texting can definitely make it easier for people to be rude. Still, in the final analysis, I don’t think it has much to do with it. If people are rude, than they’ll probably be rude whether they have a cell phone or not.

    @Bill,steve-Don’t forget floppy disks.

  21. Steve

    Do you believe the concept of authenticity & wine exists? If so, are you willing to share what your beliefs about authentic wine might be?

    Or because all wine exists – it is authentic?

    Curious to know more about you as a consumer of wine and what your personal beliefs might be.

    I agree it is a word that is easy to latch on to and want to use.

  22. Hi Steve,

    Here’s a bit of a rebuttal to your post about authenticity:


  23. Steve Steven,

    Floppy disc? How ’bout 4 track audio tape? Paper tape? Keypunch? I’ve done them all…

    Yes, rude is likely rude wherever, but it’s only one of the “benefits” of second and third person-like communication.

    Human interaction thrives on inflection, facial expression, overall body language, and context (groups, one-on-one). All of those don’t really exist in the digital world, except ostensibly.


    You make a good point, as long as the texting and such isn’t taken to the absurd extremes like doing it across a train car from one seat to another or texting with the person next to you while walking along the street, each of which I see done regularly these days. I don’t know if the damage can be measured, but that kind of separation from the person right next to you has to have an effect on how you view his or humanity.

  24. Ron, I suppose an “authentic” wine is hand-made in small quantities as opposed to large-production wines. But like you, I agree it’s a word I would not normally use in a wine review.

  25. Steve or Ron,

    In order for something to be authentic it has to be measured against an established and agreed upon “real thing.”

    When you discover what the “real thing” in wine is, please let me know, because after decades of searching for it, I can only come up with a personal opinion that can’t be measured against anything that I know of that is agreed upon universally.

    I suspect it is the same with every opinionated individual who “knows” what is authentic.

  26. Thomas, while “authenticity” is in the eye of the beholder, speaking for myself it’s something I feel. It can’t be measured. But the claims to “authenticity” I wrote about are not mine, they’re made by others. I would reserve the mantle of “authenticity” only to human beings (i.e., not products), while recognizing that people can differ. For example, I do not consider Sarah Palin to be an authentic politician. Somebody else might. We can argue about it.

  27. Tom–

    The instances you cite, in which folks are texting each other while in close proximity, might seem silly and even irrational, but chances are that they already have a pretty good idea about each other’s humanity–and they are also probably about 14 years old and don’t know what the heck you are talking about. :-}

  28. Ron McFarland asks “what is authenticity in wine”.

    I tasted a wine today that had authenticity. How did I know? Well, there was no way that its horrible leesy, cheesy, stinky feet character could have been added artificially. I know of no “stinky feet” chips or “stinky feet” megapurple or “stinky feet’ tannin powder or bag acid or R. O. machine for stinky feet.

    This was the genuine article. An authentic, died-in-the-wool bad wine.

    Now, some may ask what are my standards for making such a judgment, and I will respond by saying that I know stinky feet when I smell them. And some may say that my rating, whether it is 13 or 33 or 53 or 73 is arbitrary and capricious, and I will agree, but it will be authentic. :-}

  29. Steve,

    I am talking about a word that has meaning, not feelings.

    Products can be as authentic as people, provided there’s something against which they can be measured–in fact, the word demands that there is something against which to measure it.

    Authentic: adjective
    1. not false or copied; genuine; real: an authentic antique. 2. having the origin supported by unquestionable evidence; authenticated; verified… 3. conforming to fact and worthy of trust…

    In my view, personalizing words rather than adhering to their definitions does damage to the power of communication.

  30. Thomas, if you are incapable of feeling you ought to get out of the business of reviewing wine.

  31. Steve,

    Where did you get the idea that I’m in the business of reviewing wine?

    In any case, what does that have to do with the meaning of words and communication?

    If “authentic” refers to how one feels about a wine, then the word has no transferable meaning. I’m not sure how that advances anyone else’s understanding.

    The subject of this post is “authenticity” and I happen to have agreed with your take on authenticity as it relates to communication plus its questionable use in marketing, but beyond how you feel about it, I have no idea what you mean by authenticity as it relates to wine.

  32. Morton Leslie says:

    Lulie’s description of Gen Y sounds a lot like a description for my “baby boom” generation. We didn’t trust anyone over 30, remember? We didn’t want to have anything to do with “the Man.” We hitchhiked around Europe, smoked dope around the campfire, and were going to change the world. We were supposedly better educated.

    Authenticity is probably a valuable word, but Holter’s analogy to the ipod is stupid. An ipod is “user friendly”, not authentic.

    I’ll take a big leap here, but my guess is Gen Y is as ignorant, inexperienced with the world, and idealistic as we baby boomers actually were. They will learn, just have to be approached in small, simple steps, beginning with simple language to which that they can understand and relate. I didn’t understand my parents until I got a little older, had to pay the mortgage, pay the doctor, pay the dentist, feed myself, and finally raise a kid myself. Gen Y is surely the same. The will discover that the rain forest in Brazil is being destroyed to feed them, that their ipod isn’t really so environmental, and eating beans and rice and organic broccoli gets tiresome after a while.

Leave a Reply


Recent Comments

Recent Posts