In earlier times, the way rulers and aristocrats dressed, ate, drank and behaved became a model for those lucky citizens with the means to emulate them. It is no accident that anyone studying French wine soon learns about Corton Charlemagne and the villages whose wines were favoured by King Henri IV or Napoleon. Today’s celebrity Champagnes may be James Bond’s Bollinger or Lady Gaga’s Dom Perignon.
But this is not a new as we might think. Already 75 years ago Pol Roger benefited from being Winston Churchill’s favourite, and half a century before that, Roederer Cristal profited from the preferences of Tsar Alexander II. Tokaji, of course, was always touted as ‘the wine of kings’.
With or without the exchange of cash, these are all celebrity wines, just as Coco Chanel was a consummate producer of celebrity couture.
The only difference between the celebrity products of today and the ones of the past is scale. The number of people who could enjoy the same wines as Henri IV were probably have numbered in the thousands. Today, singer like Kylie Minogue and Snoop Dogg can sell bottles by the million.
Advertising in the age of social media
The difference, of course is that where in earlier centuries, aristocrats would seek to buy from the same merchants as the monarch, since the late 19th century, press advertising and posters, coupled with broader spending power, has increasingly democratised the process.
In the 20th century, radio and then television gave brands the ability to talk to wider numbers of people, thus allowing Hollywood stars like Orson Welles to promote wine brands.
Then came social media which changed everything again. Recognisable individuals can now, within moments, use their phones to tell tens of millions of followers about products with which they are associated. As these stories are often considered as personal recommendations by the social media star, their value is much higher than a classical advertisement – especially given the personal connection fans often feel with their idols.
Unlike those ads, the nature of social media also allows fans to share the information with their friends and family, further extending the reach.
Better still, brand-owners can monitor the effectiveness of this messaging in real time (in terms of online chatter and purchasing), rather than wait for days or weeks to see if an ad has prompted sales.
Finding the right partner… and new target groups
Wine producers will continue to associate themselves with celebrities and organisations with high consumer recognition and/or large numbers of social media followers. The choice of celebrity by a brand-owner, however, is highly important. Everything depends on who they believe is going to buy the wine. As Stephanie Gallo, vice-president of marketing at her family’s business told Meininger’s in an October 2017 interview. “We launch each brand with a target audience and consumer need in mind. Brands like Apothic, Dark Horse, Gallo Family Vineyards and Barefoot are all meeting specific desires or usage occasions in the marketplace.”
Two years earlier, Gallo’s rival, Treasury applied the same thinking when it launched 19 Crimes with a clear target of ‘millennial men aged 18-34’. The disruptive brand, with augmented reality labels that featured talking 19th century convicts, was thought ideal for this demographic segment of whom, according to Kantar research, only a third drank wine as often as once a month. Given that information, it is unsurprising that Snoop Dogg who spent time in prison on narcotics charges before becoming a superstar with 70m Instagram followers, was thought an appropriate partner for the brand.
By the same token, few eyebrows will have been raised at the Sex in the City star Sarah Jessica Parker and the Australian singer Kylie Minogue both having partnered with companies producing rosé. And one can imagine the the jubilation in Germany when the internationally popular local songstress, Pink raved about German Riesling…
When reality kicks in
But like living creatures, brands don’t always behave as one might expect. Gallo acknowledged that despite highly sophisticated research, “sometimes we discover that the audience we intended to reach is not the group that is actually buying our wine. It is a great reminder to stop and listen, and shift overall strategy if needed. We have a talented consumer product and insights team whom we utilise to learn and evolve with our consumers.”
In the case of 19 Crimes, however, it appears as though it is not so much a brand and product not hitting its initial target, but of it hitting a broader range of bull’s eyes than was initially expected. There is a parallel with automobiles. The Range Rover was originally created to give rural drivers who needed to drive across difficult terrain a more comfortable experience than the bumpy old Land Rover. No one imagined how many New Yorkers or Londoners would one day be buying these big, all-terrain vehicles for their daily commute into the city. Nor did Porsche’s designers ever foresee the best-selling car bearing their badge ever being an SUV.
Today,19 Crimes is one of the most successful brands in the US, appealing to both men and women across a wide range of ages. So, it’s wholly logical for its marketers to have launched a new wine called Martha’s Chard, in partnership with TV personality Martha Stewart.
At first glance, the glamorous 80 year-old who made her name demonstrating cooking and home decor might seem to have little in common with 19 Crimes or Snoop, a rapper three decades her junior. But the two celebrities are friends who both have spent time behind bars (Stewart’s was a five-month stretch in a light-security establishment) for conspiracy and making false statements to investigators).
Stewart brings a different kind of disruptive appeal to an evolving wine brand. Anyone interested in 21st century marketing would do well to take an interest in the impact her contribution makes to its success.