The fine wine marketing mistake

Professional women are beginning to outearn their male colleagues. Felicity Carter asks why the wine trade ignores their spending power.

Kristi Faulkner, president, Womenk!nd
Kristi Faulkner, president, Womenk!nd

One of the world’s most famous advertising slogans was born in 1947 when De Beers launched its “A diamond is forever” campaign. Today, diamonds are synonymous with engagement rings.

In 2003, advertising agency JWT created another success for De Beers with its “Raise your right hand” campaign, which encouraged affluent women to buy their own diamonds. The campaign boosted diamond sales by 15%.

As women become wealthier, makers of luxury products like Porsche and Mercedes are racing to court them. These new, female-focused goods are not cheap – the Bentley Continental GT Cabriolet is priced around $250,000, for example.

But in wine? While the wine industry talks about women and wine, in practice it offers them oceans of cheap rosé, sparkling and Moscato. Fine wines stay locked in the cupboard marked “Men”.

Missed opportunity

“There is still the widespread perception that women buy the cheap stuff and men buy the expensive stuff,” says Kristi Faulkner, president of New York’s Womenk!nd brand agency. “From a marketing perspective, wineries make the same mistake that many brands do – they stereotype their audience, rather than getting a true insight.”

Affluent female consumers are multidimensional, says Faulkner and what a female consumer buys will depend on the context. The fact that she’s buying a simple rosé for a night at home doesn’t mean she won’t buy Burgundy on another occasion.

“We know that over half of wine drinkers are women and we know that half of women prefer wine to every other adult beverage, but the insight stops there.” Faulkner also notes that professional women are beginning to outearn men, so it makes no sense for wineries to be ignoring this group. “It’s an untapped market.”

Faulkner says another mistake the fine wine trade makes is to assume that the men buying their products have a deep interest in wine; in reality, men’s primary motivation in turning up to a fine wine dinner may be the networking opportunity. “The paradox is the women are more interested in the wine, while men are more interested in the boys’ club.” Faulkner, who has been to plenty of New York’s fine wine events, says they can be very alienating for women, particularly as there are so few women present. “I am there to learn about the wine, and the guys are talking about golf.” 

Faulkner suggests running women-only networking events, where only the highest-quality wines are offered.

Jane Thomson, of Australia’s Fabulous Ladies’ Wine Society, which holds women-only wine events, agrees. She says women “don’t even have top-level wines on their radar as potential purchases, because they’ve not just not been marketed to – they’ve been anti-marketed to”. She says fine wine is overtly targeted at wealthy men, with women commonly used as objects of desire in the background. “The focus right now should really be on trying to reverse this long-held perception of wine being a wealthy male product, that the industry itself has generated.”

Collecting behaviour

It is true that women are missing in action when it comes to the auction and collecting scene. But is this because women don’t collect things, or because the doors to fine wine are closed to them?

So far the evidence is anecdotal, but collecting may be more a function of wealth than gender. Some of the most famous art collectors of the 20th century – Peggy Guggenheim, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney – were wealthy women. And in China and Hong Kong, wealthy women are beginning to participate in wine collecting. An analyst from Treasury Wine Estates interviewed for this article said TWE is actively studying the question of whether it’s wealth or gender that determines wine collecting behaviour.

There could be an enormous payoff for wineries that treat professional women like intelligent consumers, rather than as people who can be fobbed off with simple, sweet products. What the wine trade must avoid at all costs is being patronising to wealthy women. As Thomson says, “There’s no way a smart, successful, wealthy woman is going to purchase something that makes her feel like she’s somehow inferior or unworthy.” 

Felicity Carter

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