|'Sideways' is a buddy-trip movie that takes place in what was a previously little-known portion of California's Central Coast wine-growing region.
That won’t be the case for the DVD.
Robert Mondavi Winery will promote the April 5 DVD release and launch a campaign to push its 10 varieties of Mondavi wines under the tagline “Perfect Pair.”
The effort will include media support in the form of newspaper ads in top markets, exposure on Mondavi’s Web site and e-mail blasts to the marketer’s customers. In-store signage at retailers and tags on bottles will also promote the pairing of the winemaker with the film. There also will be an advertorial in the May issue of Bon Appetite magazine. Consumers who buy Mondavi wine can save $3 on the Sideways DVD, and customers also can enter a sweepstakes to win a wine-tasting trip to Napa Valley.
The company declined to disclose how much it will spend on the promotion.
Fox wanted a strong marketing partner for the DVD release and made a deal with Mondavi, even though it’s a Napa Valley wine and not from the movie’s much smaller Santa Barbara location.
Some of the wines that have face time in the movie are high-end small labels, available mostly in upscale restaurants and specialty wine shops. Some are distributed only regionally.
“Mondavi has the marketing prowess to know how to wrap their arms around a program and make it big,” said Sabrina Ironside, Fox Home Entertainment’s vice president of integrated marketing. “It’s a national promotion with account specific programs at retail.”
Sideways has generated serious interest among winemakers since the film's release in October.
The $16 million-budgeted film, which was released by Fox Searchlight Oct. 22, has earned $68 million at the box office, and received Oscar nominations in five categories, including best picture.
But more important for the $20 billion-a-year wine biz, Sideways has been credited for a surge in sales of pinot noir, and a growing disinterest in merlots, among wine consumers since its release.
In the film, two friends go on a bachelor party road trip through the Santa Barbara wine country, with one of the characters, a school teacher wallowing in depression, throwing a tantrum and calling merlot “wine with training wheels,” while pinot noir’s flavor is “the most haunting and brilliant and subtle and thrilling and ancient on the planet.”
In the 12 weeks starting Oct. 24, just after the film’s release, and ending Jan. 15, sales of pinot noir rose nearly 16% -- with more people switching from French to Californian pinots -- while merlot was down by 3%, according to ACNielsen data on sales of wine in grocery, drug and liquor stores.
Further, an ACNielsen study using a consumer panel also indicated pinot buyers were making repeat purchases, with 40% of households buying pinot noir being repeat buyers, vs. 3% for merlot.
Merlot sales are still strong, however.
Pinot sales at 318,059 cases were a fraction of the 3.1 million cases sold of merlot during the October-through-January period. And the ACNielsen data found that before Sideways hit theaters, 11.6% of all table wine sold in the U.S. was merlot. After the movie’s release, that number rose to 12.2%.
But Sideways' impact is evident.
"People are embarrassed to order merlot,” said Jon Fredrikson of wine consultant Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates of Woodside, Calif., adding that grape growers have begun stripping thousands of acres of merlot grapes and replacing them with other varieties.
Sideways hit theaters as the U.S. wine market was enjoying strong sales. Just a few years ago, wine marketers were concerned that as the baby boom generation faded, so would its sales. However, their children, the so called Gen Y or echo boomers, have shown even more appreciation for wine, Mr. Fredrikson said. Combined with Trader Joe’s Two Buck Chuck phenomenon (wine priced at $2 a bottle) and the influx of new vintages from Australia, “it’s a dream market,” he said.
Danny Brager, vice president of client services for ACNielsen’s Beverage Alcohol Team, said the shift in wine sales, being attributed to Sideways, proves the power of nontraditional marketing.
But there are a number of important distinctions between Sideways and Hollywood product-placement deals in other films.
The push of pinot noir and the extensive showcasing of the relatively undiscovered California Central Coast wine-growing region was an integral part of the Sideways story but did not come about as a result of brand brokering. Some of the major wineries, such as Clos du Val, skipped the placement route because their wine is made in Napa, said Aaron Gordon, president of Set Resources, an entertainment and product placement firm in Santa Monica, Calif.
But outside of a sales shift, the film’s Oscar nominations only ended up generating even more interest among potential marketers.
Wine marketers were abundant in Hollywood for the Academy Awards, with a number, such as Brown-Forman Wines, for example, inviting stars to try its Five Rivers pinot noir.
And tourism to the Santa Ynez vineyards, where Sideways was filmed, is booming, as moviegoers flock to the Central Coast wine-growing region to take the Sideways tour.
But critics said Sideways may not have had as strong of an effect on moviegoers’ tastes had wines officially been placed in the film and their labels backed it with ads.
Cliff Einstein, chairman of Interpublic Group of Cos.’ Dailey & Associates, West Hollywood, Calif., and one of the pioneers in using star power to fuel sales, called Sideways “the first intelligent buddy film, a Dumb and Dumber” for the intellectual set, and the perfect product-placement vehicle for package goods. However, he said he doubted the film could have been made if wine marketers, or even, say, a pinot noir association was behind it.
“If the movie started out to do that, your artifice would be visible,” he said. “The writing would have been flat and for many of the scenes the association would have said, ‘I can’t have that in there.’”
ACNielsen's Mr. Brager noted that one of the reasons the wine and Santa Barbara branding in Sideways was so successful was that wine is a bit more affordable than many other products placed in high-budget action films such as the James Bond series. “I can afford a little more wine than I can BMW’s,” he said.