Devil’s Advocate: Wine Prices Are Too Low. Maybe We Could Learn From Barbie

Robert Joseph believes the wine industry could learn from the way successful movies are marketed.

Reading time: 2m 30s

Robert Joseph - the Devil's Advocate
Robert Joseph - the Devil's Advocate

Barbie is, by all accounts, an excellent movie. It has a story whose central character is loved by hundreds of millions of women across the world, along with an award-winning director and top Hollywood stars. Getting free media coverage and interviews would have been a no-brainer.

Rationally, it might seem as though the producers could have launched Barbie without spending a cent on marketing. Thanks to all that media and word of mouth, innumerable small girls would have dragged their parents to the cinema, while countless adult women would have lined up to see what Greta Gerwig had done to their childhood toy.

But it costs a lot of money—$145m—to make a movie like Barbie.

Barbie doubles down

When budgeting a promotional spend, the Hollywood rule of thumb is to allocate a sum that’s roughly equal to half the production cost. For Barbie, the figure would have been an eye-watering $70-75m. But that’s not what was spent. Instead, the producers and distributors dug deep and pulled out no less than $150m. By comparison, No Time to Die, the latest James Bond movie, cost $250m to make, and had a marketing budget of around $100m.

It paid off. In the movie’s first weekend, Barbie grossed $162m in the US and $356m globally.

The results prompt me to repeat my mantra: good products, whether they are movies, books or bottles of wine, don’t sell themselves. If you build a better mousetrap in the woods and fail to tell everyone about it, you will go bankrupt.

Marketing often has a bad name in the wine world, especially among some critics, but also among distributors and producers who should know better. We hear far more about how winemakers should use lighter, simpler packaging—for the best of environmental motives—than about how they should go about finding other ways to attract customers who might previously have gone for the heavy bottle and gift box.

Send out a few samples to critics, tell a good story and do a bit of wine tourism and you should be fine, seems to be the message. That may keep a wine business afloat, but it won’t bring the kind of success that will make it financially secure in uncertain times.

Hard-wired to market

Of course, the difference between a movie and a new spirits brand and most wines is that the former pair have marketing built into their original budget. No one would seriously dream of launching a gin, vodka or tequila brand without expecting to spend 20-25% of the revenues on its promotion, on media, bars, duty free, advertising, sponsorship, sampling and so on. For most of the wine business, apart from Champagne and a few other super premium wines, the equivalent figure is 5-7%, much of which is swallowed up by attending trade shows and schmoozing media in the hope of a good review.

The explanation for this difference is fairly simple. Ambitious marketing isn’t really part of most wine businesses’ DNA. Anyone who doubts this only has to look at the average winery website; most wine margins are too thin to pay for it anyway.

It’s a classic chicken and egg situation. Better marketing would build brand value which would help to make for better margins and higher prices that would, in turn, cover the cost of the marketing. That’s how it works for Champagne and Whispering Angel and Grey Goose Vodka.

For most wine producers, especially ones that are tied into the European AOP/PDO system breaking out of the low margin/weak marketing cycle isn’t easy, but the first step lies in wanting to do it.

In other words, think like a Hollywood producer.

For a few thoughts on how wine companies can adapt to - and afford - a more marketing-focused approach, tune in next week.

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