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That new Bordeaux ad campaign wants it both ways



There is something fundamentally oxymoronic about the Bordeaux Wine Council’s new advertising and branding campaign, reported on the PRNewswire.

On the one hand, it emphasizes “innovation” through the use of taglines such as “There is so much to discover.” This implies something New Worldy about Bordeaux: it is not old and tired, but youthful and exciting, a place of endless reinvention and creativity. (Actually, I thought that was California’s claim to fame!)

On the other hand the campaign also stresses “maintaining Bordeaux traditions.” This obviously is meant to appeal to the broad stratum of international perception, possibly subliminal, that Bordeaux is all about ancient history and venerability; what Professor Saintsbury called (as Claret) “the queen of natural wines.”

One can spot the internal contradiction immediately: A thing cannot simultaneously be modern as well as traditional. At least, it can’t in reality—that is squaring the circle–but it can be in the magical thinking of a marketing campaign that contains a little bit of something for everyone. Thus the contradictions exist, side by side.

For the last several decades, Bordeaux has struggled with this identity crisis. It knows that a younger generation doesn’t give a hoot about its history and tradition, so it needs to appeal to them by making Bordeaux seem modern. This is the thinking behind the Council’s “Today’s Bordeaux” meme, wherein wines costing $55 or less are recommended as having been tasted by “our Wine Buffs.” Wine Buffs? Professor Saintsbury is turning in his grave at this crime of Franglish—an Americanism that would otherwise be condemned by the French as vulgar. “Wine Buffs” indeed! Good heavens, imagine telling Baron Rothschild he was a Wine Buff!

I certainly don’t blame the Bordeaux Wine Council. They have to market, same as everyone else; they’re just trying to find a formula that works. Why now? This is the ideal time for a re-invented brand identity,” the Council’s president said. It’s ideal because the world is emerging from the Great Economic Slowdown (at least, we hope it is) and people seem a little more willing to spend money on wine. And then too, the Millennials are getting older and they want their wine. But just as important as “Why now?” is the question of “Where?” The seven markets the campaign will focus on are the U.S., France, U.K., Germany, China, Belgium, and Japan—in other words, Bordeaux’s traditional markets, plus China and Japan, which is where the money is in East Asia.

Bordeaux always has been about aspiration, and the Council is betting it still is. For all the talk about Millennials being qualitatively different from Baby Boomers, it turns out that they’re just as conventional as their parents and grandparents. Millennials are ambitious, strive for career success, and they seek a satisfying personal life beyond work. They’re into “personal authenticity” (who isn’t?) and “want to spend time with their families and fulfill career aspirations.” They are, in other words, yet another “wants it all” generation. And part of “having it all” is, of course, the Good Life, which involves good food, good wine and what we here in California think of as a Sunset Magazine lifestyle. That fits in well with the Bordeaux Wine Council’s strategy. It may be a little oxymoronic to mosh traditional and modern together into one big, unwieldy package, as I said; but then, the lives of Millennials, as of us all, are oxymorons. “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” Walt Whitman, who I bet liked to drink, would be 195 years old, if he was still alive.


  1. Steve – Great piece. The Bordelais could be a day late and a dollar short. It is important to note I love Bordeaux wines. I drink wines from Bordeaux that are between $10 and $50 on a weekly basis. Bordeaux has a serious perception problem, especially among wine drinkers who are between the ages of 21 and 34 (a/k/a Millenials). This group perceives that wines from Bordeaux are expensive and cannot be consumed upon release. They are embracing wine and they are flocking to New World wines. They know they can pick up a good bottle for less than $20, and it provides instant gratification. The wines are lively and full of character, the labels easy to understand, and their local grocery or wine stores has an ample supply. These young wines also often carry a certain amount of panache and flair. Bringing a $15 Malbec from Argentina to a dinner party just seems a safer bet compared to a bottle of Bordeaux.

    Where the Bordelais made their mistake was by not doing this marketing campaign when the 2009 and 2010 wines were released. With the quality of the 2009 and 2010 vintages there was a golden opportunity to reposition their brand over the next few years. But to succeed in this rebranding, all market participants (producers, negociants, importers, distributors & merchants) would have to work together to come up with a slick marketing campaign to educate the consumer on the historical significance and exceptional quality of these two vintages. Any marketing campaign should really include tastings to highlight Bordeaux wines across all price points, with an emphasis on those that sell for less than $20, and can be consumed upon release – Cambon La Pelouse, Clement Pichon, Malecasse, Les Allees de Cantemerle and Poitevin to name a few. With a product like these exciting and drinkable 2009 & 2010 wines from Bordeaux, and a wealth of young consumers just beginning their serious wine education, a dynamic, coordinated marketing campaign has a chance to succeed.

    Another big mistake the Bordelais made was that they were greedy and overpriced the 2010s. If you walk into retailers right now, you will see that they are discounting the 2010s. Also, the folks in Bordeaux have to be holding (or will be holding because the wines haven’t been released) a lot of wine from the following vintages: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2013. This is great for consumers because the Bordelais are going to have to severely discount these wines in order to sell them. I guess it is not too late for the Bordelais to try to re-position their brand, and with the recent string of lackluster vintages, the wines should be more approachable at a younger age, and they can sell them at competitive prices.

  2. I agree with Josh the Wine Buff… great piece. It’s Innovator’s Dilemma 101. Trying to pursue a new, unproven model while protecting the other.

    On one hand, they’re *trying* … OTOH, when people are looking for stories, experiences, knowledge of who and where their wine comes from, authenticity (the real kind!), connections … and you just give them a big data dump on a website. That is a big fail.

  3. Steve,

    Waiting in my in-box this invitation:

    Tuesday November 18th 2014

    11am – 12pm: Bordeaux Master Class
    Speaker: Shelby Ledgerwood [Master of Wine candidate]

    12pm – 4pm: Trade & Press Tasting

    W Hollywood Hotel
    Seminar: Studio 3 (2nd Floor)
    Trade & Press: LOFT (Penthouse)
    6250 Hollywood Blvd
    Hollywood, CA 90028

    Bordeaux Wine Council’s signature event, “Bordeaux Under One Roof.” Guests will have the opportunity to taste the very best affordable Bordeaux selections ($10-55) from leading US Importers of Bordeaux wines and will also witness the unveiling of their new creative campaign, “There Is So Much To Discover”…

    2014 marks the 50th Anniversary of the “Sister Cities International” program, a reciprocal year-long celebration to increase awareness of Bordeaux & Los Angeles as artistic and cultural tourist destinations.

    This signature event is the perfect occasion to see why Bordeaux is one of the most acclaimed and extraordinary wine regions in the world.

  4. Postscript.

    The wine wag in me thinks “There Is So Much To Discover” overplays their hand, given the dire 2011 and 2012 and 2013 vintages in Bordeaux.

    Vintages the market has shunned:

  5. Great take on the topic, Steve.

    I addressed some of this as well in my October 23rd blog on the topic

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