“Why doesn’t this ____________print ad [ or website, billboard, commercial, direct mail postcard, sales pitch, etc.] work anymore?”

While the answer to this loaded question is complex, the underlying basics that govern the answer are pretty straightforward: We’re a rather change-able species!

  1. We like new. We like to be trendy! Ad visuals and messages get stale.
  2. As we learn, old messages and buying triggers just don’t do the trick anymore.
  3. We assume new things should be better than old things.

Of course, we know that change is always constant. From employment to retirement, from being a kid to raising one, the ‘way it used to be’ is not how it will be in the future. The same goes for marketing and advertising: Don’t let your message get tired – really tired.

Effective Marketing Messages Reflect the Times

Decades ago Cadillac wouldn’t have dreamed about offering an Eminem commercial depicting the truly gritty side of Detroit. But it does reflect our times now. When we see ‘vintage’ TV commercials or print ads we scoff at the forced delivery, the fake smiles, and we wonder how everyone could have possibly bought into the messages of yesteryear’s advertising. Try out this undated commercial for Gallo Grenache Rosé:

[Oops! Sorry. They pulled the commercial from YouTube. Expected response code 200, got 403 Private video]

Not only have wine tastes and styles changed dramatically over the past 40-odd years (I’m guessing from the fashions shown), but the portrayal of an ‘exciting’ cocktail party has also changed dramatically. (You’ll note the Gallo family doesn’t even make a Grenache Rosé anymore. And I bet viewers didn’t find those smiles fake or hokey at that time.)

Drink (and Advertise) Wine Responsibly on TV

The viability of advertising wine to the masses via TV commercials has a long, and generally rocky history (which we won’t delve into since other wine-centric blogs have covered the details for some time). Recently the TV ads have been primarily from the Aussies (who have delved into prime-time TV advertising with their Yellowtail products).

There are but a very few wine brands with the mass distribution and sales for which TV advertising has seemed even remotely viable to explore as a marketing channel. Production is expensive and wide-scale spot-buys on prime-time TV can be through the roof price-wise. While it’s true that on a local cable basis, the cost of TV advertising has come down dramatically, delivering a message that resonates well-enough with consumers to reflect a significant bump up in their purchases has been quite elusive. The return on investment (ROI) simply hasn’t been there.

Abraham Lincoln on Wine Advertising

No, I don’t really know if The Great Emancipator knew his wine, but he did have an understanding of the American public (in a really tricky period of history). Just like Abe said, “You can’t please all the people all of the time.” This is doubly true in advertising: If your message and buying appeals are so broad to encompass everyone, you won’t connect with anyone.

One of the impediments to mass-marketing wine has been crafting a great experience or story that resonates strongly with a wide array of wine drinkers. Beer manufacturers have solved this problem with their client base by latching on to sports games and backyard barbecues. (Remember, just as in the wine industry, there are only a few major beer manufacturers using TV advertising while there are thousands of craft beer makers in the industry. And amongst them on TV, we still don’t see those draft horses galloping through the snow or down the lane with great regularity throughout the calendar year.)

What Do Americans Want?

The Holy Grail in advertising is always figuring out in advance what the buyers’ hot buttons are. The trick is to trigger an emotional reaction in your advertisement that results in the consumer wanting and buying your product. In the late 1970s, Soave forayed into this field with their own emotional message:

Bolla Valpolicella Wine 1978 TV ad

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While the earlier Gallo commercial specifically reminded the viewer that it was a great dinner party and picnic wine “so refreshing” (a very academic approach), the late 1970’s Italian import wine made no attempt to instruct the viewer when to drink it. They went straight for the appeal of love and sex. Wouldn’t every American want what was in the commercial (including the wine!)?

…To Be Like the French?

No discussion of TV advertising of wine would be complete without a modest nod to a certain celebrity’s stature (in more ways than one) and his effect on wine advertising. In 1980, Orson Welles had been busy pushing Paul Masson wines for some time (slogan pun intended!) A number of his commercials for the Paul Masson brand are available on YouTube along with outtakes that are quite entertaining. Paul Masson’s advertisers had decided upon a marketing strategy that educated the wine buyer.

Orson Welles Speaking for Paul Masson Wine

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This commercial put heavy emphasis on California wines being as good as French wines. The soundtrack used what sounded like a quartet playing classical “French” music. The script included references to bottle fermentation and vintage dating – ‘just like a good French champagne!’ (Remember this commercial ran but a few years after the groundbreaking Judgment in Paris wine tasting in which the California – and particularly Napa Valley-based – wines beat the French wines in a blind tasting.)

The move was on to get Americans to drink more wine. To that effort, they were going to make sure consumers knew that California wines were as good as their French counterparts across the Pond. But did Americans really buy that pitch?

Who Cares About the French!

No. While Americans have learned over the subsequent decades that American wine is as good as or equal to the finest French wines, they tired of the dumbing down approach to sell them California wine from the Paul Masson advertising campaigns. American products were just dandy, thank you, as Yankee Doodle.

By 1983, import brands looked for ways to appear as American as apple pie.

Riunite Picnic

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You’ll note that they were now aggressively going after the American beer drinkers. Single-serve, chuggable bottles were now offered so that consumers could stand around the barbeque just like in the beer commercials! (I won’t even get into the changes to wine glasses, wine poured over ice, etc., in these old commercials.) In this Riunite commercial, they squeezed in baseball, picnicking, hot dogs, family-fare and even a touch of romance.

We even had Bruce Willis hawking Seagrams’ wine ‘coolers’ in a similar way in the 1980s (harmonica, guitar and other instrument playing on a Victorian farmhouse porch). But you’ll notice that none of these products or package types are around in force anymore. Beer remains the staple beverage of choice (in addition to soft drinks) at sports games and barbecues (although not necessarily in my neck of the woods).

Drink with Friends

In the 1990s we had a round of Turning Leaf wine commercials. The primary message was “changing ideas about what’s in the bottle,” and the visuals depicted friends gathered around a dinner table laughing and enjoying one another’s company. The day of the big celebrity representing a wine brand seemed to have passed.

In each of these time periods the advertising messages and visuals all depicted what consumers seemed to be responding to at the time. But none of them seemed to trigger an avalanche of purchases. We often go years between major wine campaigns on TV.

This is all quite ironic given that the U.S. has now surpassed France into the #1 spot for wine consumption (by volume, not per-capita consumption). But the average U.S. consumer still only manages to drink 2.6 gallons per year. (Who’s in first place? Why that’s Vatican City, at 17.6 gallons, followed by France at 14.1 and Italy at 13.2 gallons. Those are 2008 statistics, the most recent available on a per-capita basis.)

Don’t Overlook Up and Coming Segments

As we can see from wine drinking habits over the past 40+ years, the American public changes its mind as to what, when and why to buy on a regular basis. The same is true in other industries. Buying motivation shifts with personal priorities and preferences for all kinds of products.

What may have, at one time, seemed like the impenetrable beer–consuming market may now be far more interested about exploring wine drinking.

Take a look at this recent IBM commercial, which is certainly not advertising wine drinking. But its secondary focus on wine knowledge and the rather unusual geographic places and market segments portrayed shows a more mainstream approach to wine consumption than in past decades.

IBM Wine commercial

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The Crystal Ball of Wine Advertising

Will we see some stellar wine commercials on prime time in the near future? Unlikely. The wine industry is continuing to recover from the economic downturn. Wineries have turned, in large part, to social media for a more direct connection with the end consumer than television can provide.

Will we see U.S. wine brand commercials in prime time in the coming years? Probably. But like much of the marketing world, the target audience is shifting its allegiances from TV to the many new venues available. I predict we’ll see more and more video advertising online.

Gary Vaynerchuk has built an enormous wine empire through his deft use of the online video medium. Wineries have begun dabbling in video to deliver their marketing strategies for a few years now. With the ability to record, edit and produce custom commercials and experiences directly to the consumer via YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and many other online channels, the wineries now have the capability to reach out to the consumer directly and get feedback on their efforts.

This is not unlike the direction taken by many industries post-economic meltdown: Follow your target audience. Do whatever it takes to connect with them – change mediums, change message, change the game.

Video Advertising as a Contact Sport

The cost to produce a short video piece for online use has come down dramatically, making it far easy than ever before for any winery or other business to provide a virtual tasting and tour of the winery by simply following someone around with a camera and posting the footage. (A page with video is 50 times more likely to show up on the first Google search engine results page, according to Jupiter Research, making it far more attractive to use as a marketing tool.)

The options are unlimited opening a whole new world of marketing possibilities. Video advertising is about to get a whole lot more sophisticated in a short amount of time as advertisers find out what does and doesn’t resonate with viewers. After all, now consumers can post a feedback comment in a matter of moments after viewing a piece. What would you want to see in a modern wine commercial or You Tube video?

What contemporary message would you like to convey to your customers and prospects via video?