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AFTER DROUGHT, WINERIES BACK PREMIUM BRANDS;SUTTER HOME, GOSSAMER ON AIR; BOZELL GETS INDUSTRY ACCOUNT

By Published on .

For the first time in almost 20 years, wine marketers appear poised for a spending spree, this time putting their dollars behind premium varietals selling for $4 or more per bottle.

The Wine Market Council has selected Bozell, New York, to work on an industry branding assignment. Southcorp Wines-with the top-selling wine brands in Australia, Penfolds and Lindemans-is hunting for its first U.S. shop. And Beringer Wine Estates is seeking an agency after having previously used a design shop for ads. Sutter Home Winery has hired FCB Promotion & Design, San Francisco, as its first promotional agency.

ON THE AIR

Four of the largest producers of premium wines are on the air with new efforts or are readying them.

Sutter Home early this month broke an estimated $5 million fall/winter effort with a broadcast revival of the "Here's to each and every day" humorous campaign from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. For the first time, the campaign will include new print ads in regional magazines.

E&J Gallo Winery recently started airing a $10 million TV effort for its Gossamer Bay brand, with spots featuring Louis Armstrong singing about a trip to the moon on gossamer wings from Cole Porter's song "Just One of Those Things."

The commercials from Citron Haligman Bedecarre, San Francisco, were filmed in Europe by director Joe Pytka (AA, Aug. 26).

`THERE'S AN UPSWING'

"There is no question there's an upswing in brand advertising, especially among premium varietals," said John Gillespie, executive director of the Wine Market Council, an association of wine producers developing a generic ad campaign.

Mr. Gillespie said his group is planning to test-market its coming campaign, perhaps in the next two years when the current domestic grape shortage turns into a surplus and imported wines begin to flood the market.

Several factors are propelling wineries, whose sales have been boosted by the rebounding economy and consumer interest in wine as a healthful mealtime beverage, into increased advertising.

For years, wineries were content to reap the benefits of Gallo's brand campaigns; but Gallo had curtailed its overall advertising efforts in the early '90s, returning with campaigns for Turning Leaf last year and Gossamer Bay this fall.

"A whole generation has been raised without seeing wine advertising on television," said Jon Fredrikson, president of Gomberg Fredrikson & Associates, San Francisco, who expects advertising to reach levels not seen since the late 1970s.

SUPERMARKET SELLING

Wineries also are selling more of their products in high-volume supermarkets, where they face the same challenges as traditional package-goods marketers.

"It's becoming so competitive that you need to find an edge," said Bob Carroll, exec VP-marketing, Sebastiani Vineyards, this fall launching its first major consumer effort for the Vendange and Talus brands, from Leagas Delaney.

"Most of the wineries that have done well have not advertised. But it is now incumbent to make more of a direct contact with the consumer," he said.

One winery, Louis M. Martini Winery, this fall is even offering free packets of pasta spices as a bottle-collar giveaway. Also included is a mail-in offer for a 1-ounce bottle of the spices for $3.

Today, "Most wine is purchased without much help," Mr. Fredrikson said of the move away from specialty-shop selling. In the new supermarket environment, he said, consumer appeals have been "all focused on package innovations-see-through corks, flashy labels, shelf talkers."

Table wine sales in supermarkets reached more than $1 billion during the first six months of 1996, up 14% from the same period the previous year, according to Nielsen WineScan. Volume sales in supermarkets were up 7% in the period, to 23.5 million cases.

Due to the wine shortage, vintners have been able to raise prices for the first time in recent years, giving them extra money to invest in branding.

Also, recent studies by the Wine Market Council have found that marginal wine drinkers-those consuming wine less than once per week-constitute a potential customer base of 42 million, almost two-thirds of them under 40.

SELF-EFFACING WINERIES

"There is a large audience with a tremendous potential," said Mr. Gillespie, adding that efforts to tap the group have led to advertising using humor, positioning the wineries as self-effacing rather than marketers of products just targeted at connoisseurs.

"We've encouraged this kind of approach to make wine a more casual creature," he said.

Still, vintners are cautious about spending money on advertising when product is in short supply.

"Strategically, we're still on track to move forward," said Sebastiani's Mr. Carroll, "but there is a general feeling among vintners of wait and see."

"The wine industry. . .has been very stingy, and short-sighted," concluded Lewis Perdue, publisher of Wine Business Monthly.

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