Robert Joseph about wine and branding at the IPA
I have always enjoyed reading Robert Joseph's irreverent but commercial jottings.
We met up at the home of branding, the Institute of Practitioners in
Advertising, to talk about wine and brands. Robert is researching an
innovative interactive book; for me it was the opportunity to share a mix of personal views and
IPA insights with him.
Robert's starting point is that the Brits have an uneasy relationship with
luxury goods and status symbols - we inherently suspect expensive things to be
no more that cheap things with a fancy label added; walk around the IOD and
you'll see company directors with £200 M&S suits in preference to something costing five times the amount with an Armani label.
We have coined the term label-snob as if to indicate that inverted
snobbery about labels is the only correct way of looking at things and that a
positive, aspirational attitude towards brands is an aberration.
We share this cost-conscious attitude with the Dutch, and Robert attributes
it to us having had a Dutch monarchy in the late 1600s - a tantalising if
We then move on to wine as a signifier - some purists would have us believe
that the only thing that matters is the liquid in the bottle (often the same people, I find,
who embrace other forms of oenological zealotry, such as an enthusiasm
for low-intervention, natural wines).
Back in the real world, we may be happy with a simply-packaged screw-top for
a midweek quaff, but come the weekend when our posh neighbours or boss come
round, we want a heavier bottle with an embossed label and a cork - regardless
of whether the contents are actually any better.
This leads on to the positioning of wine and Behavioural Economics, the idea
that in a world of Spock-like rationality, we would make decisions about wine
on a simple price-quality ratio and an objective assessment of our personal preferences.
In practice, however, emotional factors play at least as large a part if not
more so - do we like the label, what would our choosing of a particular wine
say about us, is it a gift and packaged in a carton (as whisky and Champagne so
often are, yet table wines are not)?
Part of the problem that wine has created for itself is that it's just so
complicated - the various appellations and informal hierarchies of Premier
Cru and Grand Cru all date back to a pre-globalisation age when
wine was not an FMCG product.
New World countries, with less heritage and a more gung-ho attitude, can cut
through the burden of so much history to build brands that are more meaningful
and easily understood with varietal labelling at one end and trendy areas at
the other; Pinot Grigio, suggests Robert, is the Camembert of wine - a
ubiquitous, go-to option - whilst Napa adds a high-end cachet to any bottle to
which its name is appended.
Two factors account for the low margins in winemaking:
- a sense of inferiority that, given the best wines come from a small number
of plots in Bordeaux and Burgundy, nothing else can be priced aspirationally
- a highly-fragmented market, production-side, in which no-one quite dare
raise their prices above regional averages.
The people who in the Old World have most successfully overcome both of
these limitations are the champenois; Champagne is not actually a wine at all
these days but has evolved into a de rigeur synonym for celebrations
of victory or life-events, a gift, a lifestyle we aspire to.
Even if the fizzy liquid in our flutes is actually Prosecco or Cremant, our
universal reference point remains Champagne - and anything else with bubbles is
a mere inferior alternative to the real thing.
So where does this leave the branding of wine? I share some IPA research
findings with Robert:
- short term sales activation drives volumes but the effects fade rapidly
and there is no overall cumulative effect; rational messages work best for
- longer-term brand building drives pricing advantages but needs a sustained
effort over three years; emotional messages work best here.
To balance the competing demands of long-term value creation and short-term
sales requirements, the ideal mix is 40% sales activation and 60% brand
More on branding from the IPA (registration required but free access to the website)
The Long And The Short of It
What is a C21st Brand?
IPA Social Works
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