How to market wine to men

In the rush to bring women into wine, the wine trade has overlooked an important group – young men. But now, reports Felicity Carter, the big companies are paying attention.

Paul Kirkley,  JWT; Caroline Thompson-Hill, TWE
Paul Kirkley, JWT; Caroline Thompson-Hill, TWE

The offices of J Walter Thompson in swanky Knightsbridge in London look like a fun place to work. The famous advertising agency has wooden floors, bright pictures, and a sculpture of confectionary next to the stairs. The work done here is cutting-edge capitalism: to identify trends, work with complex consumer models, and craft messages that will drive consumer behaviour. And, right now, the goal is to convince men to drink more wine. 

JWT has been working with Australia’s Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) on wine brands created to fill a ‘white space’, or gap, in the wine market: wines for the Millennial male. “Kantar research showed there was a £76m ($100m) opportunity,” says Caroline Thompson-Hill, TWE’s head of marketing for the UK and Western Europe. “One brand alone is not going to plug that gap, so we’ve brought two to market.”

The two brands, called 19 Crimes and Gentleman’s Collection, respectively, were originally developed in TWE’s Melbourne office. JWT has brought their strategic and creative power to bear on enhancing the storytelling, to nudge young men into plucking them from the shelf.

Wine men

Until recently, wine was (mostly) the preserve of men.  But the great wine boom of recent decades has brought women into the industry, as critics, buyers, marketers, winemakers and sommeliers. As the trade has realised the spending potential of women, there have been concerted efforts to draw women further into wine, often by creating products whose flavour profiles and packaging are female-oriented.

Men, assumed to be the core of the wine trade, have been left to their own devices. So when a cohort of drinkers – young men – went missing in action, the trade barely noticed. But the craft beer and spirits sector definitely did, and developed sophisticated marketing campaigns to attract them. They have also noticed that the Millennial generation have behavioural characteristics that make them distinct from the men who came before.

First, Millennial males have not only come of age during an economic downturn, but also during the rise of social media. “That changes how they engage with brands,” says Paul Kirkley, global partner at JWT. “What they’re trying to do is build their own personality online and it’s more important to them than face-to-face experiences.” Kirkley says this means brands need to give them interesting stories they can share, which will enhance their own social media standing.

The 19 Crimes story, for example, revolves around the various crimes that could get someone in Britain transported to the penal colony of Australia. TWE have put real convicts on the labels, to add authenticity to the story, and there are crimes listed on each cork. “The corks have become a collector’s item,” says Thompson-Hill.

The accompanying video tells a story about a group of convicts pilfering food from an officer. It’s witty, and masculine, with a less-than-subtle streak of sexuality running through it. “It’s a lighthearted story about banishing convention,” says Kirkley. “They’re not criminals – they just do things differently.”

For the UK launch,  JWT combed social media for stories of “crimes and unconventional behaviour,” explains Kirkley. Someone who boasted of skipping an important dinner would be deemed unconventional, for example. “We were looking for people who were influencers that male Millennials will follow on Twitter. Not necessarily wine influencers.” Once the influencers had been identified, JWT pulled their photos off social media, created personalised labels, and then sent the bottles to the influencers. “We said, ‘we appreciate that you banished convention, here’s your bottle’,” says Kirkley. He notes that TWE didn’t themselves post anything about the mail-out on social media – they left it up to the person themselves to do it. As it turned out, everybody who received one of the bottles posted it themselves. “It’s an easy way to generate social media.”

Gentleman’s Collection taps into a different need: to be seen as a sophisticated urbanite. “It’s about the rise of the barber shop. The ironic gentleman,” says Kirkley. “There isn’t really a wine in this space.”

The new male

The term ‘metrosexual’ was first coined in 1994 by journalist Mark Simpson. He developed the concept further in a famous 2002 essay, where he suggested that both sports and advertising were using homoerotic imagery. The term was popularized by Marion Sulzman, then chief strategy officer at Euro RSCG Worldwide advertising agency. “The metrosexual was invented by marketing departments, and supposed to be someone who consumed almost the same way as a woman, or the gay community,” says Mark Tungate, author of Branded Male: Marketing to Men (2008). But, says Tungate, the ‘metrosexual’ has leapt out of glossy advertising supplements and onto the pavement. “He began to exist, partly because advertising made it acceptable for him to exist, back at the beginning of 2000.”

What advertising helped create, advertising is now rushing to service, and they’ve developed insights into how to do it. Some are principles that apply to all men, more or less. “Men as consumers tend to think of themselves as connoisseurs,” says Tungate. “That’s quite a male thing, wanting to seem assured.” Men appreciate humour, he says, particularly humour that lightly satirizes men without making them look stupid. And give men the last laugh. “Men reflexively respond to things that give them status, so something that makes them look better than their peers.” Finally, says Tungate, there’s also a tribal aspect. “In other words, making them feel as though they’re part of an exclusive club, that they share values with their friends.”

Tungate says it’s important to avoid anything that makes a male consumer feel “lonely or aloof”. He points to a 1950s campaign for a brand of cigarettes called Strand, called the biggest advertising failure in UK history. It showed an actor strolling around London at night, smoking. “You’d have thought it would work, but it bombed, because if you’re on your own you’re a loser. Isolation is a no-no.”

Tungate has more advice: avoid anything that makes a male audience feel weak. “A lot of marketing for domestic products gets this wrong. They make the guy look foolish. Men like to feel they’re in control.” You could break down the 19 Crimes video by these principles: the story is about a group of convicts outwitting their captors. “Men appreciate team spirit and esprit de corps,” says Tungate.

Beyond this, social media is driving the rise of male behaviours not seen before.

“What we’re seeing is that men are kind of waking up and gravitating to things women have been doing for a long time,” says Richard Cope, senior trends consultant with market research company Mintel.

“Younger men are more interested in grooming, appearance and shopping. This whole myth that men hate shopping? Young men enjoy the social aspect of shopping.” He adds that young men are more health conscious as well. “Millennials are drinking less and are gravitating more towards the Mediterranean approach: stronger drinks, but less volume.”

But social media is not the only force for change. Within the English-speaking world, student debt is a major problem for Millennials; internationally, Millennials are facing increased housing costs. “It’s always been the norm in countries like Italy and Spain that you live with your parents until you marry,” says Cope, but that lifestyle is spreading elsewhere as well. This means out-of-home leisure is becoming more important. “Pubs are closing and people don’t socialize face-to-face so much any more because of social media, but with more people living at home with their parents, out-of-home venues will become much more important,” he says.

Cope says this has already happened in some Asian markets, such as Korea. “There are lots of initiatives there. You get private karaoke booths, or restuarants that are railway carriages for you and your fellow diners. It’s the idea of giving you privacy away from home that’s going to become more important.” Cope says that’s good news for the wine trade, because he predicts that wine bars will become more important.

Cope emphasizes how important it is for this generation to look good. Social media has forced everyone to act like a celebrity, constantly aware of the image they’re projecting. “People have a lot of pressure to say who they are and what they’re doing,” he says. “I think that’s part of the appeal – to find a drink that suits you. That’s something that’s very promising for wine.” He adds that wine producers looking to attract men need to “accentuate a degree of rebelliousness. It’s a generation that’s looking for ways to be more socially progressive and more ethical. They’re not more active [politically], but they’re more aware of food and drink.” Another strand is health. “Alcohol usage and smoking are really going down,” he notes. “A part of it is that we’re in an ageing society and they can see what’s happened to people who haven’t taken care of themselves.”

Speaking of age, it’s not just Millennial males who have been overlooked, according to a spokesman from Casella Family Brands (CFB), the powerhouse Australian company behind Yellow Tail. CFB have created a wine called Young Brute, a concept that “developed from the macro trend seen within the 25-to-45 male demographic to ‘reclaim masculinity’.” CFB says the wine is aimed at the corporate male, who has self assurance, drive and status, and who sees wine as a status symbol. 

The spokesman notes that the insights the company tapped into when developing Young Brute “are very much a global phenomenon”, he says, adding that the company recently held a global conference in the Barossa, at which distributors from 34 countries attended. They were enthusiastic about the potential of such a wine in their own markets. As a result, Young Brute will be available in Belgium and Iceland later this year, and then in Italy, Ireland, Norway and Belgium. “We have worked hard to create a wine that delivers a flavour profile that these gentlemen can appreciate – a young, robust wine.”

It’s all in the taste

Chris Lukehurst is director of The Marketing Clinic in the UK, which does research into what sensory cues prompt what emotional reactions. While he’s clear he’s never done wine research, he knows a lot about gender and flavour preferences. And if you want to appeal to men, he says, then flavour is the key. Take the humble potato chip (or crisp, as the thin ones are known in Britain). “Men are quite focused on flavour in crisps,” he says. “They want flavour.” What they don’t want, necessarily, is robust or hot flavours. “If you look at snacks and crisps, men will talk about hot flavours and high flavours, but in a macho way. They don’t actually eat them, except when their mates are around.”

Women, on the other hand, care a lot about texture. “The way it melts in the mouth, the way it moves through the mouth,” says Lukehurst. “Men are much more likely to chomp their chocolate. They’re much more interested in the hit.” Lukehurst says that when it comes to textural foods like ice cream, women will talk about the ‘melt’, while men will concentrate on additions like chunks and flavours. For that reason, Lukehurst predicts that sparkling wines are more likely to appeal to women. “There would be much more awareness of the size of the bubbles, the texture in the mouth and the way the alcohol moves through the mouth,” he suggests. “My guess is that men would typically be more red wine drinkers.”

Could there be a way to get men more interested in sparkling wine? Lukehurst cautions against creating a Prosecco aimed at men. “You’re better off concentrating on the market that does actually like the product,” he advises, adding the beer industry has tried, unsuccessfully, to create ‘beers for women’. “We’ve seen many attempts at marketing to women and they’re not successful.”

What definitely appeals to both sexes is sugar. “It’s one of the very few natural instincts we have,” says Lukehurst. “We like sweet flavours, we like fat and we dislike bitter.”  To an extent, this overturns received wine- industry wisdom – that women will go for sweet, uncomplicated wines, while men prefer complex, drier wines. Indeed, there is evidence for this in other categories. According to the Center for Disease Control in the US, men are, by far, the biggest consumers of sweet carbonated beverages. Lukehurst adds, however, that taste changes with age. “As a rule we move away from sweeter things and we like bitter things, like coffee and alcohol.” 

When asked what kind of wines he thought younger men would gravitate to, marketing author Tungate said “red, sweet and simple”. So perhaps it’s no surprise to find that many of the wines aimed at men are slightly on the sweeter side. Carnivor, created by US giant Gallo, has a residual sugar level of 8g per L; Young Brute from CFW is 14 g per L; Sledgehammer Zinfandel (TWE) has a residual sugar level of 13 g pr L.

Gender traps

Richard Halstead of Wine Intelligence warns that gender marketing always runs the risk of creating a backlash. “People don’t like to be labelled,” he says, and brings up the Bic pen disaster. The French firm Bic created a line of pens called ‘For Her’, complete with marketing that claimed the pens were ‘designed to fit comfortably in a woman’s hand’. Bic’s Amazon page was soon flooded with derisive reviews.

He also notes that, if anything, there’s be a convergence of taste in wine, particularly in categories like sparkling and rosé, as men and women socialise more frequently together, where the drinks are the common denominator. “In an undifferentiated category like wine, the idea of having targeted products can be a good strategy – but it’s also dangerous, because it’s easy to talk down.”

Back at JWT in London, Kirkley is going through the video advertising that supports Gentleman’s Collection. He says the secret of success when it comes to marketing to men is “to provide a brand that is providing them with interesting stories that make them look good when they post it or share it.”

Felicity Carter



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