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Saturday, 4 July 2020

A Tale of Two Wine Labels

Two distinctive wine labels assessed

Let's start with a bit of marketing background; branding works by making your product slightly more memorable so that consumers are slightly more likely to buy it in preference to other, competing products.

A clear, distinctive brand message is more effective in making your product memorable than a bland or incoherent message. Single messages are better recalled that multiple messages.

A Coke looks different from a Pepsi and, faced with a binary choice, you may decide to pick one over the other. This may be because you perceive a difference; that difference may be intrinsic (you may prefer the taste) or extrinsic (you may prefer the look & feel or the statement the product makes).

If your product looks and feels like every other product in its category, then it will be inherently forgettable - regardless of its intrinsic quality.

Most bottles of wine look pretty similar and there is no real way of knowing what a bottle on the shelf is like before you try it.

The label, then, gives us certain clues as to what the wine will be like - or rather we, consciously or sub-consciously, infer certain attributes about the wine from the packaging. It suggests to us something about the values of the person who made the wine and therefore we expect the wine to live up to the implied promise of the packaging, be it traditional, expressive, conformist, classy or whatever.

On the back of a discussion about a wine label started by Dan Kirby, I was sent a bottle to try; it is La Pelerine Bordeaux Blanc, albeit you have to look pretty hard at the label to find the appellation details.

I will review the wine separately, at this stage, I will just say I liked it a lot.

Here I want to assess the packaging.

The artwork is neat and classy, visually distinctive; to me it suggests a clean, modern and well-made wine, somewhat understated and elegant. It evokes a gastropub colour scheme.

I'm less convinced by the copy - the font size is small and I struggle to read the mass of words swirling before my eyes. Gradually, I make out a few place names, but I have not yet taken the time to read them all or work out the pattern (if there is one).

There is an aphorism in French at the bottom which I find rather pointless and which #1 child (who takes no prisoners on these matters) derides as clichéd.

The back label - again I can't read it, I really need to get some glasses - is where the discussion started. Endless technical details that even the nerdiest of wine-writers would likely find excessive. Is it knowingly ironic like a Haynes manual t-shirt? Or is it signalling the level of thought and care that has gone into the wine-making?

Overall, for me this wine keeps the promise made by the label - as a thought experiment, I decided to make a mental note in advance of opening the bottle of what I thought the wine would taste like and it was spot on.

I imagined restrained and elegant, not hugely aromatic and expressive but clean and modern with flavours of stone fruits and melon with lively acidity and good underpinnings. And that's exactly what I got.

Of course, there is a risk of being distinctive for distinctiveness' sake; elsewhere in the social media forest, Nayan Gowda asked for opinions on a garish label for a a Gevrey-Chambertin that was originally posted by Christer Byklum.

Most, but not all, wine twitter (a self-selective, utterly unrepresentative group, of course) did not like it.

My view is that it is meaninglessly distinctive which is a good start. It is also provocative (as evidenced by the strong reactions). And memorable. So far, so good.

But is there a coherent strategy behind this approach - or is it just someone goofing around with 80s retro-futuristic kitsch?

For me, this sort of in-yer-face style is more suited to a new challenger brand that needs to make a big impact rather than an established classic like Burgundy.

Whereas the Bordeaux label wears its heritage lightly, here the Burgundy seems to be trying too hard and not quite succeeding. Like a dog going after a car, it chases your attention but does not then know what to do with it once it has got it.

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