Wine marketing only gets criticised for two things: being outdated, conservative and repetitious; or being modern, radical and original.
The consequences of this catch-22 are not easily overcome. The lack of any large global brand rules out the kind of marketing budgets afforded to other sectors such as perfume, spirits or cars. The complicated nature of wine itself is difficult to explain in a simple, effective message. And the story that most wine producers want to put across is invariably the same.
For small-scale producers, that story is about terroir, passion and authenticity and usually involves having some kind of dream. For larger brands, the emphasis is on lifestyle, socialising, aspiration and general life enhancement. This is why the criticism arises that wine marketing lacks innovation.
Take labelling, for example, where there is familiarity and reassurance in the established conventions, even for – perhaps especially for – the majority of consumers who don’t know much about wine. There is an expectation of what Chablis, Rioja and Champagne should look like, because these wines are brands in themselves.
This is perfectly illustrated by supermarket own-label ranges. Whereas other types of product tend to have a similar look – with a prominent logo (Taste the Difference, Finest etc), and using the same colour scheme and fonts – wines in the ranges are all styled very differently, in accordance with the established norms for each region and style.
Two questions arise: how can wine effectively break out of this marketing rut, and is it even necessary to do so? Looking at historical changes to wine marketing can inform our answer to the first question. For example, naming varieties on the label was once unheard of but within a generation it has become fundamental to the wine world. Bag-in-box and foil-sealed plastic glasses have both introduced new packaging options.
These changes seem reasonably subtle, but they are more likely to succeed than overt and extreme measures which appear too unfamiliar to the majority of consumers who already find wine confusing.
Future evolutions in wine marketing will introduce more alternatives to the expensive and weighty 75cl glass bottle. Increasing production in China paves the way for a much larger global wine brand, one which can create much larger volumes than the current market leaders, and which may well de-emphasise both origin and variety in favour of more generic marketing.
On the other hand, certain wine types have no real need to change their marketing approach. Traditional regions have a heritage that is an intrinsic part of their appeal, and undermining that would serve no purpose.
For retailers, the balance to be struck lies between satisfying your customers’ expectations while keeping your range exciting and vibrant. New developments in wine marketing need the support of off-licences to succeed. Being open-minded about innovation doesn’t mean undermining the rest of your range, but it might just give your off-licence a point of interest that sets it apart from your competitors.