Stiller & Meara’s radio wine ad helped sell millions of cases of Blue Nun
In one respect, this 1970s Stiller & Meara radio wine ad for Blue Nun is nothing more than Ed Sullivan show-style stand-up comic corniness, complete with bad puns and worse one-liners. “How did I know you’re a stranger?” asks Anne Meara. Answers Jerry Stiller, not missing a beat despite the fact that the joke is probably as old as jokes get: “That’s right, Elliot Stranger.”
So why does the ad work?
Because it doesn’t make wine something that it’s not, like almost every wine ad we’ve looked at on the blog. It’s not snotty and it’s not about beautiful people being beautiful, the two most common faults of wine advertising. Rather, it focuses on two seemingly ordinary people, one of whom wants to buy wine for a dinner party. So why not buy Blue Nun, “the delicious white wine that’s correct with any dish”?
In the end, isn’t that what we’re all looking for, whether wine-guzzling Baby Boomer or hard seltzer drinking Millennial? Doesn’t everyone want something enjoyable to drink with dinner without any fuss and bother? Instead, we get snobby art openings and double entendre kangaroos.
This 1982 Black Tower TV commercial reminds us that TV wine ads don’t improve with age
Black Tower is a German wine, best known for its black bottle. In the 1970s and 1980s, when U.S. wine drinkers wanted sweet white wine, Black Tower played off Blue Nun’s success to enjoy a bit of popularity before heading to the back shelves of the liquor store. Where it remains, for $8 a bottle, in case you’re curious.
Which brings us to this bizarre Black Tower TV commercial from 1982. The brand’s marketing types probably thought they had to distance it from Blue Nun’s image, so they made it much more manly. A deep, dark voice reminds us the wine comes “in the towering black bottle” while faux Wagner music plays in the background. Frankly, after watching this, it feels like it’s time to conquer Europe.
The catch, of course, is that Black Tower was about as manly as a baby diaper. It was a sweet, soft wine, and the commercial crams that information in even though it doesn’t quite fit the rest of the ad. Plus, there’s a blond woman eating an apple, because all wine commercials have to have blond women (though I’m not quite sure why the apple).
Like I said, bizarre.
So one more example of the sad state of TV wine ads, whether today or 36 years ago. Is it wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?
Blue Nun sold lots of wine, but that didn’t make its advertising any good
In the 1980s, the German company that produced Blue Nun exported 2 million cases of the cheap, sweetish white wine, making it the YellowTail of its day. In this, it was supposed to be the fabled gateway wine — something that would introduce non-wine drinkers to wine. Then, they would progress from Blue Nun to dry wine and eventually turn into smart, sophisticated, and savvy wine drinkers.
That never happened (and, as I discuss in the cheap wine book, probably never will). Blue Nun, like all potential gateway wines, whether white zinfandel or YellowTail, reached its peak, and consumers moved on to something else. Blue Nun is still around and still sells millions of cases, but it’s not what it was.
How big was Blue Nun then? I had dinner at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans in 1982 in the swanky upstairs dining room, and six or eight people at the table next to us were drinking Blue Nun. That they ordered it at one of the world’s great restaurants and which had an equally great wine list speaks to how comfortable it made those diners feel. Because, of course, Blue Nun was the white wine that’s correct with any dish — a brilliant marketing slogan for U.S. wine drinkers hung up on wine and food pairings, and just as true now as then.
Not all of the wine’s marketing was that good, as this TV commercial from 1985, when it was headed downhill, demonstrates (courtesy of xntryk1 at YouTube):