Why are wine ads so boring? – Opinion Analysis

Why are wine ads so boring? – Opinion Analysis – Industry Overview

Tina Caputo

U.S. wineries spent more than $120 million on advertising in 2002, placing wine in 186th place in terms of ad spending, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle. Dozens of wineries ran print ads in national magazines, broadcast messages on local radio stations and ran multi-million dollar TV campaigns. But did they get their money’s worth?

We’ve all seen the glamorized bottle shots (with obligatory quotes from Parker), the passionate winemakers, the scenic vineyards. Open up any issue of Wine Spectator and flip through the pages. Do any of the ads catch your eye? If they do, chances are they’re for luxury cars or spirits. A recent issue revealed the following wine advertising breakdown: 23 bottle shot/scenic vineyard ads, four winemaker ads, and one people-enjoying-wine ad. Nothing much stood out.

Our industry’s product is one of the sexiest, most exciting commodities on the face of the planet–it’s not like we’re selling coat hangers. What we’ve got to offer is nothing less than a source of pure hedonistic pleasure. It makes people happy, it’s glamorous, it’s fun! But take a look at your typical wine ad and the message is just the opposite: clinical, dull and unoriginal. Yawn.

Why is wine advertising so boring? The sad truth is that with anti-alcohol forces looking to pounce on the wine industry at any opportunity, wineries are erring on the side of ultra-conservatism. Sure, bottle shots and vineyard scenes are safe–who could possibly object? Well, I could. While I’ll admit that going the “T&A” route that many spirits and beer companies have chosen would be a bad idea for the wine industry, it wouldn’t hurt to shake things up a bit. If not sex, then why not humor, fun or good ol’ fashioned enjoyment?

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

To illustrate my point, I combed the pages of several consumer wine magazines and flagged the best–and worst–wine ads they had to offer. (By the way, American wineries are by no means the only ones guilty of unexciting ads. There are plenty of imported stinkers out there too!) Before I get to the “worst,” here’s a rundown of my personal favorites.

Tio Pepe: “Food tastes better with a glass of Tio Pepe.” The ad features lots of white space, attractive little photos of tasty-looking nibbles, and an enticing bottle-and-glass shot. Not especially original, but it did make me hungry for tapas, washed down with sherry. That’s what the ad is supposed to do, right?

Mondavi: “He never learned to fly fish.” No vineyards or bottles in sight, not even a photo of Robert Mondavi himself–and this was his birthday tribute ad. Instead there’s simply a black and white photo of a hand holding up a freshly caught fish. This ad really stood out in Wine Spectator, and I couldn’t help reading the small print to find out what it was about.

Jindalee: “Surprisingly good.” This one shows a black and white photo of a June Cleaver type looking hugely and pleasantly surprised (presumably at the wonderfulness of the advertised wines). Beneath the photo is a color shot of the Jindalee bottles. The back side of the ad goes into more detail about the wines, for anyone who cares. A fun ad with a simple message.

EOS: This ad is a stylish illustration depicting a jazz LP cover, a cozy fire, a woman in a slinky dress and a bottle of EOS Zinfandel Port. It’s an attractive image that sets the right mood for port-drinking.

Cockburn’s: “The pleasure is all yours.” Here’s another ad that put me in a port-drinking frame of mind. Only a woman’s hand is shown, with her fingertips caressing the rim of a cut-crystal goblet (filled with port, of course). The tones are rich and warm, and the image is sensual and inviting.

Perrier-Jouet: “Unforgettable.” Yeah, I know, Perrier-Jouet has been using this ad forever, but it’s just so damn attractive. You know the one: a beautiful nude model with the “Fleur” bottle flowers painted on her shoulder crouches against a black background. Pure style.

Mumm Cuvee Napa: “Blame it on the bubbles.” Young, attractive singles drinking bubbly? It could happen! This playful and appealingly goofy ad shows a couple of mischievous bubbles playing footsie with an unsuspecting couple sitting at a cocktail table. The setting is stylish, but not stuffy, and the models are wearing regular clothes (no cocktail dresses or designer suits, thank you very much). If sparkling wine producers want to project a less elitist image and get Americans to drink more bubbles, this is a good way to start. (For more on this subject, see Larry Walker’s feature on page 24 about Korbel and Domaine Chandon’s new print ads.)

The “Boo” List

Here are the ads I’d like to nominate for retirement. Many are baffling, others are ineffective and some are just plain bad.

Tommasi: They’ve been using this ad for years, and I never could understand why. It has no tagline or text, just a wine bottle arranged on top of billowy red fabric with a French horn behind it. What does the French horn signify? That they’re blowing their own horn?

Parallele “45”: “An unparalleled wine.” This ad is busier than the wine aisle at Trader Joe’s during a sale on Two-Buck Chuck. Imagine a vineyard shot, with wine labels forming some sort of pipeline going down the middle of the rows. Can’t quite picture it? Let me tell you, it doesn’t get any easier when you have the ad in front of you.

Rutherford Hill: “The taste takes you there.” This ad features one of the least attractive representations of a grape I’ve ever seen. It looks like a black olive, cut in half, with a green olive inside it. There’s also a suspicious-looking puddle under the grape. The ad does make you stop to look at it, if only to wonder: “What the hell is that thing?”

Clos du Bois: “It’s not about oak barrels and chemistry.” Margaret Davenport announced her departure from Clos du Bois just before I came across this ad in a major wine magazine–one of the pit-falls of winemaker-focused advertising. (Boredom is another.)

Opici: “Our passion for wine brings you wines that inspire passion.” Don’t believe it? Why, just look at these passionate photos of a passionate couple passionately kissing! If there’s one word that has been overused in the wine industry to the point of being rendered meaningless, it’s–well, you know the word I mean. Get thee to a thesaurus.

Tosti: “Look for the navel.” Another ad that falls into the “Eeeew!” category. This one features a decapitated woman with a Tosti bottle’s “navel” lined up with her own (or at least where we imagine it to be under her skin-tight dress). Just plain embarrassing.

Champagne Pommery: No tagline on this one, just a woman’s mouth biting into a green grape with her front teeth, causing it to ooze oddly colored blue juice down her chin. Does this make me want to drink Pommery? Nope. Does it make me wonder if that grape she’s biting is radioactive? Yep.

So there you have it: the best and worst print ads our industry has to offer (at least, in my opinion). Let’s face it, there are some real dogs out there. Though I did like some of the ads, none of them really knocked my socks off. The wine industry can do better, and it should do better. If wineries want to woo new customers and wake up the old ones, they’ve got to show them something different, something fresh and perhaps most importantly, something they can relate to. We’ve got an industry full of bright, talented and creative people who are more than up to the task. Why not take a chance and see what happens? Who knows? Maybe American wine drinkers aren’t as traditional and uptight as some people think.

RELATED ARTICLE: Wine Lovers Speak Out About Advertising

It’s all well and good to ask industry experts what they think of wine advertising, but what about the people the ads are targeting? You know, consumers! In search of opinions from “real” people, I posted a query on the wine-specific message board of the Epicurean Web site, egullet.com. The responses were not encouraging. Many respondents expressed an inherent distrust of wine advertising in general, and those who didn’t object to the idea of advertising found the current crop of wine ads to be cliched and elitist. Here are some highlights:

* “I know that if you have enough money to do a big glossy ad in a (magazine), then you are probably making too much wine anyway and I probably will not drink or buy you.”

* “If a wine is advertising, then it is not worth buying or drinking. It is generally the larger corporate entities selling copious quantities of cheap and uninteresting wines.”

* “If you advertise, you need to.”

* “Wine advertisements do absolutely nothing for me.”

* “My biggest problem is the promotion of the California ‘wine-is-a-lifestyle’ themes. You know, in the middle of the country we do not always have access to well manicured patios with palatial ocean views. I look out into an alley. Sometimes I drink out of jelly jars in my pajamas with a big book in my lap, no lipstick and the old spectacles on. I am sick of the well-heeled ladies and their glasses of urine-colored, over-oaked Chardepoo.”

* “I think the wine community as a whole is very stodgy when it comes to advertising. I’m sick of contrived photos of winemakers leaning against barrels, looking through a glass of wine with a ray of sunlight shining through it–yet everyone does it. Winemakers just don’t do that all day.”

* “The wine industry is working to expand itself, yet its largest producers rarely do anything to advertise wine as something ‘ordinary’ people can enjoy. Look at the ads from Gallo, for example. When showing food with their wines, it’s always something rather fancy–never a bucket of chicken, a take-out pizza or a burger. Wine is often presented as something for the elite … For such a ‘wealthy’ industry, the product is poorly promoted.”


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