by Jeff Siegel*
Want to shed a light on how marketing to consumers works these days? Look no further than the wine business.
In the last decade, the emphasis has been on selling consumers what’s on the bottle, as opposed to what’s in it. This is a revolutionary change in the wine business, where, for literally centuries, the only thing that mattered was the quality of the wine. Yet, today, that is becoming increasingly secondary to the label design, especially for wines aimed at the mass market. These new-style labels may feature a clever name like Smashed Grapes or Marilyn Merlot, a sweet-looking critter (kangaroos and lizards, but also fish, sheep and turtles), or nifty artwork like Red Flyer, Red Truck and Red Tractor. But the goal is the same. Cute labels not only sell wine, but they’re bringing in new customers – especially women, and especially women between 21 and 35 years of age, a demographic that’s all the rage these days.
And it’s just going to get worse. As designer Thomas Reiss of California’s Kraftwerk Design told Wines & Vines magazine: “Most likely you will see more labels with new, edgier, less traditional design. The wine industry is evolving to reflect more and more the styles and themes of popular culture. As generations X and Y become more involved both as consumers and label designers, this process is going to accelerate.”
This does not mean that a cute label means bad wine. What it means is that wine is being marketed like toothpaste or laundry detergent, and that speaks volumes about the changes in the marketing business (as well as its cynicism). In the old days, which probably ended in the mid-1980s, there was an element of education in advertising, something that has all but vanished. Consider: Do most consumers know why one toothpaste or detergent is better than the other? Nope. And no one tries to explain why. Instead, we get babes with dazzling teeth or incredibly cute housewives washing clothes. This doesn’t necessarily mean marketers think consumers are stupid; rather, it means they figure they don’t have to explain anything to sell their product. All they have to do is whip out the razzle-dazzle
It’s the same thing with wine. Why bother selling it on its merits when you can put a kangaroo on the label or call it Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush? One reason that Robert Parker, whose wine criticism drives so many wine writers crazy (including me), is so successful is that his 100-point scoring system complements this kind of marketing. It allows consumers to get their cute label and a quality product, too – assuming they don’t mind substituting their judgment for Parker’s.
Which they apparently don’t.
*When he isn't writing here or for the Advocate magazines in Dallas, Jeff Siegel is the wine columnist for the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram.
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by Jeff Siegel*