Rise of the Modern Wine Brand

How Casual Personalities Are Challenging Heritage Brands

There was a time, not long ago, that when you brought a wine to market, branding it was almost a formula. You needed a prestigious family name, fantastic ratings, and of course, a cream-colored label, some gold foiling, and an etching of your Château or Estate. As wine consumption in the US has expanded from primarily special occasions to include casual drinking, producers have rushed to meet the demand. Because wines for everyday drinking are a relatively low-involvement purchase ($15 and below), they don’t require the reassurance of a prestigious heritage. As a result, consumers are willing to experiment with the new and unknown.

This trend in everyday drinking has set the stage for brands that rely on a casual personality rather than a traditional heritage story to create their appeal. While heritage brands focus on the guarantee of quality, brands based on a casual personality focus on the impact of the emotional connection.

The following are examples of modern wines that are leveraging the casual personality to create memorable brands:

Metaphor As Personality: Layer Cake Wines

Recently, I was walking down the aisle of my local Trader Joe’s, when a wine stopped me dead in my tracks. It was a Shiraz in a handsome Bordeaux-style bottle, wrapped in a tall, stark white label. In the center, a black and white photo of an iced chocolate cake sat on a pedestal. The image of the cake, so different from anything else on the shelf, begged me to pick it up. The top of the label simply read, “Layer Cake.” But that simple text and image was all it took for the bottle to immediately evoke all of the sensory associations I have with Shiraz: a rich, dark, complex blend of cocoa, spices, and fruits.

On the back label, the winemaker describes how his grandfather made wine for 80 years and that the soil where he grew his grapes was like a layer cake. The winemaker could have decided to do a literal tribute to his grandfather and name the wine after him, maybe even put a photo of him on the label. Instead, he mined a small phrase from the winemaker’s story and created an instant association for anyone who has ever eaten cake. The metaphor of a layer cake not only describes the character of the wine, but it also weaves it to the winemaker’s heritage. And it does all of this almost instantly.

Sensation As Personality: SeaGlass Wines

This Trinchero Family Estates brand features cool-climate white varietals from Santa Barbara and Monterey. And its labels depict-you guessed it-small pieces of multi-colored glass tumbled smooth by the ocean. We’ve all had the experience of picking up a piece of sea glass on the beach. The translucent hues of the sea glass recall the colors we associate white wines (and lighter reds such as a Pinot Noir which they also produce). A visit to SeaGlass’ website treats the viewer to a video montage of people sitting on the beach drinking wine-the ocean breeze tousling everyone’s hair (in a very sexy way, of course). There is no dialogue in the video, just the soothing sound of wind chimes looping in the background. The combination of the name, the label design, and the website re-create a rich sensory experience that is familiar, soothing, and engaging to all of us-even if we’ve never tasted this particular wine.

Lifestyle As Personality: flipflop Wines

Recently, The Wine Group’s flipflop brand grew 600,000 cases in the space of one year. The wines’ labels feature a simple line drawing of a pair of flip-flops that sit atop a Hawaiian floral background. The genius of this brand is that both the character of the wine (style and price point) and our nostalgic feelings for flip-flop sandals are almost perfectly parallel. A $7 bottle of wine, as well as a pair of flip-flops are both casual, whimsical, a celebration of cheap, and perfect for relaxation.

On the label, you won’t find an esoteric discussion of terrior or the generations of family legacy that went into making the wine. There’s no mention of the winemaker or his philosophy–it’s the illustration of the flip flops that does all the heavy lifting. We are comforted by the relaxed familiarity we feel for flip flop sandals, and infer that the experience of drinking the wine will be equally satisfying.

Harnessing the Power of the Casual Personality

The increase in the US demand for wine, driven by everyday drinking has created great opportunities for producers. No longer does a brand need to be tied to a family name, estate or vineyard. Got a surplus of high-quality juice from a less than prestigious appellation? At $15 or less a bottle, the focus can be on creating a brand that jumps off the shelves and is distinctive enough for the consumer to locate again.

Lowering the barriers to entry for producers is only one benefit of the casual personality. Most importantly, they can greatly expand the types of consumers to whom producers can appeal. Casual personalities can be irreverent, clever, nostalgic, fun–they create the emotional connection that gets a consumer to pick up your bottle. As for getting consumers to pick up your bottle again, make sure what’s inside the bottle is just as memorable.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Christopher Hayes is the principal of Forthright Strategic Design– a San Francisco based design studio that specializes in creating personalities for wine & spirits brands.

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