Tag Archives: wine marketing

Coconut chardonnay: One more reason why I worry about the future of the wine business

A company called Fun Friends Wine sees the future of wine, and it involves coconut chardonnay

The commercial at the top of the post is just one part of the marketing campaign for something called Friends Fun Wine, whose flavors include coconut chardonnay. Is it any reason I worry about the future of the wine business?

As near as I can tell, Friends Fun Wine isn’t exactly wine, but more of a wine cooler — what the trade calls an RTD (for ready to drink). It’s low alcohol, costs $6 for a 750 ml bottle and $2 for a 250 ml can. It’s mainly sold in convenience stores and restaurants.

The idea, apparently, is to push the product to younger consumers who normally drink cocktails. The website is even more focused on that, featuring some of the best looking men and women I’ve ever seen in wine marketing. It’s all beaches and bikinis and hanging out, about as far from traditional wine as possible. In fact, these are the kinds of models that appear in fashion magazines, not on websites plugging flavored wine.

And this begs the question of why the product is called Friends Fun Wine, since it goes out of its way to be everything that “real” wine isn’t – younger, very informal, and featuring flavors like coconut chardonnay. My guess? That as beleaguered as the wine category is these days, there is still a certain cachet to it. And the company behind Friends Fun Wine wants to take advantage of that cachet: “Look, here is fun wine you can drink that tastes good but isn’t that old fashioned stuff that your parents like.”

The point here is not that people shouldn’t drink coconut chardonnay wine. The only rule in wine is to drink what you want, but to be willing to try something else. Rather, why isn’t the traditional wine business marketing wine to younger consumers, using the same – but coconut chardonnay-less – approach? That wine can be fun, and that it isn’t necessarily old fashioned.

Video courtesy of Advantis via YouTube, using a Creative Commons license

Follow-up: Paul Tincknell and the woes of wine marketing

More examples showing that wine marketing lacks imagination and doesn’t focus on why people drink wine

Last week’s podcast with Sonoma wine marketing guru Paul Tincknell elicited a fair amount of comment, especially since it ran at the end of the summer when most people have other things to do besides listen to podcasts about the decades-long failure of wine marketing.

As one reader emailed me: “Commercials showing people drinking grocery store wine at swank parties? People get paid for coming up with that stuff?”

Paul received some feedback, too. A colleague shared data with him about a 2009 wine consumption survey: “The results,” Paul emailed me, “are fascinating and confirm that – guess what! – people drink wine with family and friends at meals or in casual situations.” The colleague told Paul that the survey results were given to almost every important wine marketing and trade group in the country, but that, “of course, the industry immediately ignored their work.”

In other words, the business has known for at least a decade how U.S. consumers enjoy wine and the best way to market to them: Show people drinking wine at dinner with their friends and family. That hardly seems like a creative reach. (And we’re not the only ones who have seen this — check out this rant from Paul Mabray, who is generally regarded as one of best wine and consumer experts in the country).

Instead, we get epic silliness like the Kim Crawford “Undo ordinary” commercial, a long-time favorite of blog readers. And, no, it didn’t get an almost unprecedented 33 comments or become one of the blog’s most visited posts because everyone thought it was cutting edge genius.

In fact, Kim Crawford (owned by Big Wine’s Constellation Brands) seems to go out of its way to show up in these kinds of analyses. Paul sent me two especially foolish commercials; the one that made me giggle the most is at the top of this post, called “Make it Amazing.” Who knew I had sway my butt just so to be a cool, sophisticated wine drinker? The other, called “Elevate the Moment,” looks like something from a short-lived 1990s PBS series about rich people.

Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?

Video courtesy of Kim Crawford Wines via YouTube using a Creative Commons license

podcast

Winecast 38: Paul Tincknell and the woes of wine marketing

Paul Tincknell

Paul Tincknell

Wine marketing guru Paul Tincknell says wine marketing lacks imagination and doesn’t focus on why people drink wine. Which is why we get foolishness like Yellow Tail’s Roo

Paul Tincknell, a partner in the Sonoma marketing consultancy of Tincknell & Tincknell, has watched wine market itself every which way but well in his two-plus decades in the business.

The problem, he says, is simple: People drink wine with dinner, but when’s the last time you saw wine sell itself that way? Instead, we get stupid humor or faux sophistication, none of which appeals to the younger consumers who see wine as something that their parents and grandparents drink.

We talked about why this is and how to solve it, as well as how to to market wine in the face of the neo-Prohibitionists. Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 10 minutes long and takes up 3.6 megabytes. The sound quality is almost excellent, despite several problems during the recording (and my inability to remember that the Mexican beer we talk about is Corona).

More about wine marketing:
Wine business: Watch this beer spot to see how TV wine ads should be done
Hendrick’s gin: How to do a TV booze commercial
TV wine ads: Almost 40 years of awful

Winebits 596: Tariffs, wine writing, wine prices

Wine pricingThis week’s wine news: The booze business has discovered it doesn’t want tariffs, either, plus wine writing’s unique demographics and expensive wine doesn’t guarantee quality

No tariffs, please: The Wine Curmudgeon is not the only one who understands that tariffs are a mug’s game. Most of the booze business’ leading trade groups, including the Wine Institute, have asked the federal government to drop plans to tax European Union products. The story, from Shanken News Daily, is a bit convoluted, but the gist is that even people who never agree about anything else agree about this: “Entry level, everyday products are going to be affected just as much as high-end imported products,” said the CEO of the group that represents wine and spirits wholesalers.

An exclusive club: Tom Natan, writing on the First Vine blog, discovers one of the wine business’ underlying truths, “the uniform racial makeup of the wine writing world. … at least the part I experience at meetings and conferences — seems to be populated almost exclusively by White people like me.” He parses some intriguing numbers, including that almost one-quarter of U.S. business owners and bosses are women, but that only 4 percent of wine and spirits businesses are owned or run by women. And only one-fifth of those 4 percent are women of color. This is in marked contrast to food writing, he writes, which is much more diverse. Natan looks for reasons why this is true, but misses something else: Does this lack of diversity explain why the wine business is so obsessed with expensive wines – the kind that are preferred by its older, wealthier demographics?

Not so fast, expensive wine: Dan Berger, writing in the Santa Rosa Pres-Democrat (in the heart of wine country, no less), warns us that “wine buyers willingly accept being fed a diet of misinformation — or no information at all. They continue to buy wines based on marketers’ fictions, accepting lies or faux facts, and believing high prices indicate high quality.” And, just to be sure we understand, Berger asks: “Can you imagine buying a car without first gaining specific details about its specifications, and without taking a test-drive? How about buying furniture off the web that doesn’t give measurements or the material from which it was made?” But, and as been mentioned here many times, wine drinkers do that regularly, because we assume that wine is different than cars or furniture.

Wine status and image, not quality, may matter more to producers

wine status and imageA Northwestern University study says the most successful producers focus on wine status and image, and not necessarily quality

Quality matters to most wine producers. But the status and image of their product may matter more in the U.S. market, says a study by two Northwestern University professors. The report, completed last fall in association with the Wine Market Council, found that the most successful wine companies focused on their products’ status before anything else.

In other words, when you’re staring at the grocery store Great Wall of Wine, the producers aren’t trying to sell you on how good their wine is; they’re trying to sell you on how special it is. This is especially true for wines costing more than $15 – the sweet spot for premiumization.

“We found that the most profitable producers, and those with the biggest margins, for them it’s a status game,” says Ashlee Humphreys, PhD, who co-authored “Status Games: Market Driving Through Social Influence in the U.S. Wine Industry” with Northwestern colleague Gregory S. Carpenter. “They don’t care so much about what consumers think as they want to lead the way, so the consumer will follow.”

In one respect, the study’s findings are not new. Those of us who focus on value and quality have always assumed neither was as important as toasty and oaky when it came to marketing wine. But this may be the first time that someone has actually investigated the question and found it to be true in a peer-reviewed academic journal. My favorite line from the study? “Embracing a wine-as-art approach, winemakers’ choices often contradict market-based logic.”

Producers sell their status message by focusing on wine’s so-called gatekeepers – the critics, sommeliers, and wine magazines that shape public opinion. The producers educate the gatekeepers about what makes their wine special, whether it’s a certain style like ripe fruit or a specific appellation like Napa Valley or a superstar winemaker. The gatekeepers then tell consumers the wine is worth buying because it is special, and that “special-ness” gives it a status that other wines don’t have. The consumer, given how confusing wine is, accepts the gatekeepers’ word as gospel and buys the wine. Call it wine’s trickle down effect.

Hence the foolishness in so much wine writing

Which explains the pretentious adjectives in wine reviews, which are so pretentious that they aren’t adjectives but “descriptors;” the schmaltzy travel writing that gushes over wine regions, regardless of what they are; and the snotty restaurant wine lists, which don’t explain as much as they intimidate.

Note that this isn’t exactly fibbing. Napa Valley is a top-notch appellation. Rather, says Humphreys, the idea of status comes from “creating a difference for their wine that sets it apart from everyone else’s wine, and then selling that difference to the gatekeepers. They tell the gatekeepers, ‘We craft a beautiful wine,” and that’s what the gatekeepers report.”

This approach isn’t common for wines costing less than $15, where the reverse is mostly true, says the study. Producers hold focus groups to find out what consumers want, and then make the wines according to those results. Cheap grocery store wine is smooth and boring because that’s what the focus groups say they want. (Whether we actually want smooth and boring, or it’s a failing of the focus groups, is a discussion for another day).

So what’s a wine drinker to do who wants value and quality? Humphreys, who was a casual wine drinker before the study and is more serious now, laughed when I asked her. “I’ve never really thought about that,” she says. “Wine is a social experience, isn’t it? So shouldn’t you ask your friends what they like, and go from there?”

Perhaps. It couldn’t be any less effective than depending on the gatekeepers, could it?

Have we reached the end of wine criticism?

wine criticism

“I’m tired of toasty and oaky. Where’s that damned thesaurus?”

Wine drinkers have little use for wine criticism. Do they know something the wine business doesn’t?

The Internet was supposed to revolutionize wine criticism, making it more accessible, more open, and more democratic. So what has happened in the 11 years I’ve been writing the blog, as we celebrate Birthday week 2018?

Just the opposite – wine criticism has become more button down than ever, a continually increasing jumble of scores and winespeak where every wine, regardless of quality, seems to get 88 or 90 points. Which raises the question: Have we reached the end of wine criticism?

More, after the jump: Continue reading

cooper's hawk

Back label wine descriptions: What the jumble and winespeak on the back label really means

Back label wine descriptionsBack label wine descriptions can be as confusing as anything written by wine critics

The recent post about wine critics and their almost indecipherable wine descriptions reminded me that they aren’t the only ones whose goal is confusion and obfuscation. We also have back label wine descriptions for that.

In fact, back label wine descriptions may be more annoying, since their job is to help sell the wine. Who wants to buy a wine where the back label promises something that isn’t there? I’m not the only one flustered by this; a marketing official for one of the largest wine companies in the world told me it bothers good marketers, too. But many of the biggest producers contract the back label writing to third parties, so they’re stuck with what they get.

The other annoying thing? Yes, many of the worst examples come from cheap wine, but many also come from wine costing as much as $25. And what does that say about the $25 wine?

The following are taken from actual back label wine descriptions, with my explanation of what they really mean:

• Silky mouth feel: “We’ve removed the acidity and tannins and added sugar to cover up anything remotely resembling either, just in case any is still in the wine.”

• Unusual fruits like lychee nut and guava: Most wine drinkers probably haven’t tasted those, so the description does two things – first, shows that even a $6 bottle of wine can be exotic. Second, that the wine is deep and complex, even when it only costs $6. So shut up and buy it already. But then there is the other side of the descriptor.

• An alluring hint. … : “The flavor isn’t actually there, but if we suggest it, you’ll probably taste it and think the wine is better than it is.”

• Robust, with intense, dark fruits: “We’ve added as much Mega Purple as humanly possible.”

• A mocha finish with lingering oak: Regular readers here know what that is without any help from me – scorching amounts of fake oak, and then even more. And maybe even a little bit more just to be on the safe side.

• Freshly picked peaches (or apricots or even red fruit like cherries): “You’re damn right it’s sweet. But we’re not going to say that, are we?”

• A long, stony finish: “We couldn’t get rid of that odd, bitter taste in the wine, and we didn’t want to add any more sugar. So we want you to think that the bitterness is a good thing.”