Billy Wayne bung – marketing of alcoholic beverages

A lot of big wheels in the wine business are going around in circles trying to think of some way to get people under 40 to drink wine. You see, all the old guys and dolls who knock back their bottle or two a day are popping off. And nobody is replacing us.

For the Mondavis and Gallos of the world, that’s a scary thought.

So, preferring direct research to focus groups, I took a 20-something guy out to lunch recently. Research. Strictly research. If I had an expense account, it would have gone on it.

Anyway. We went to a Spanish restaurant somewhere in deepest California. Somehow, the subject of porrones came up. Possibly because the restaurant had some. For those of you with limited exposure in bizarre ways to convey wine from a container into your mouth, a porrone is a Catalan invention from the 12th or 13th century, maybe earlier. It’s a glass container with two long spouts extending from a bulb-shaped body. One spout has a large opening, roughly the size of a standard 750ml bottle. You can pour wine into the porrone from that spout, or exit the wine into a glass. The fun and games start at the other spout, which is about pencil sized. The wine exits that spout in a thin steady stream.

But let me break here for a quick quote from Spain’s leading wine and food writer, Xavier Domingo, who wrote in “The Taste of Spain:”

“Spanish drinkers possess two other objects characterized by region and the kind of wine: the porrone and the bota.

“Porrones are Mediterranean, and made of glass. Botas are leather, typical of Castile and the North. Both provide one of the most delightful ways possible for drinking wine, which is pouring it from the height of the extended arm in a thin stream straight into one’s mouth, splashing onto the upper lip and the teeth. This is quite a skill, and one that requires practice and a sense of style, for not a drop must be lost in its elegant execution.

“The porrone is a common feature on the Mediterranean table, whereas the bota is essentially nomadic, a practical invention that enabled shepherds to carry wine from one pasture to another.

“In addition to the style of drinking they impose, they share another point in common: they are utensils for collective use. Both porrones and botas, at table for the first, outdoors or at the bullfight for the latter, are passed from hand to hand to be shared.”

Ah! To be shared. As in, “Let me have another hit, man”

Needless to say, one’s lips or tongue should never touch the pencil-thin spout of the porrone. “Don’t Bogart that joint, my friend.”

My 20s-something lunch companion was immediately delighted with the porrone. And without having read Domingo or discussed this strange wine delivery system, he recognized at once that it was something to be shared among friends.

Without hesitation, he dubbed it a “Wine Bong”.

OK. Hang on a minute. All you people who are saying at this point, “Good Heavens, Bung! We can’t have wine identified with dope. We have an advertising code to live up to.”

Right. That advertising code and $4 will get you a glass of White Zinfandel at the Sacramento Hyatt and good luck to ya, mate. Meanwhile, all the young lads and lassies at the bar are knocking back a variety of drinks containing $8 shots of vodka and weird liqueurs you’ve never heard of, like Avalanche. And, no, I don’t know what it is either.

While the wine industry talks about advertising codes, high-end spirits and artisan brews are having dinner with the under 40s, a group very image conscious and very communal-centered.

That advertising code will be a footnote when future historians write wine’s obit in 30 or 40 years.

The way I see it, the wine biz must face up to the fact that what we are promoting is a form of ethanol. A pretty nice form and a very moderate form, but it’s still ethanol. It’s intended to help people relax, have a good time and get on with life. Yes, it does go well with food and let’s talk about that, by all means, but let’s not forget what it is.

I don’t go along with the Seagram “a drink is a drink is a drink” garbage. It does make a difference what form the drink is in and if food is taken with it. But wine, spirits and beer are all part of a larger thing which, for want of a better word, let’s call “lifestyle.”

An example: you’ve probably heard that the martini is back in style and therefore gin sales are up. That didn’t happen because one morning about 8 million people under 40 woke up and said, “Gee, I think I’d like a martini.”

Last year, Domecq launched a major ad campaign for Beefeater Gin, aimed at the 28 to 35 year old group.

The ads, which broke in November in major trendsetter magazines, including Details, Wired, GQ, Rolling Stone, Marie Claire, Allure and gay publications like Out, are designed to shake up the staid Beefeater image with an appeal to “live a little” and “experience the martini culture in a classic way.”

Beefeater marketing director Gary Clayton said the appeal is frankly aimed at women. “Women see the martini as elegant, and men see it as a symbol of strength. Our objective is to capture the potency and seductiveness that make the martini so appealing while encouraging our target consumers to live life to its fullest.”

The campaign is built around nightclub lifestyle situations, featuring the “Live a Little” theme and feature headings like: “Imagine dying without ever having said, ‘Shaken, not stirred'” and “Tonight’s television shows will eventually be reruns. Your life won’t.”

Martin Jones, president of Domecq Importers, Inc., said the new approach represents the first step in a multi-million dollar marketing commitment that will evolve over the next three years. “This is not only a fresh direction for the brand, but the beginning of a stronger positioning for its long-term growth. We expect this campaign to energize Beef-eater by skillfully capturing the imagination of a select group of younger consumers.”

While you wine marketing execs are out there talking about 98 points from The Wine Spectator and a gold medal from L.A., the gin guys are having lunch with your customers.

Want to talk about Wine Bongs? They could be done in colors. In day glow plastics with designs.

Like my young luncheon companion said, “I never drink wine, but this is so cool. I can’t wait until my friends see it.”

He bought one from the restaurant. He paid $15 for a wine delivery system.

He doesn’t intend for his life to be a rerun.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Hiaring Company

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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