Seeking young harvest

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As the nation`s prime wine drinkers advance in age, the world`s largest winemaker is toasting tomorrow by marketing toward the younger beer and cocktail crowd.

E.&J. Gallo Winery has signed on as lead sponsor of MTV Networks' "VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards" in a deal valued at $3 million to $5 million that backs Gallo's $10 a bottle Ecco Domani Italian Wines. The wine's name translates to "Here's Tomorrow."

"Tying the brand in [with the fashion-awards program] is a natural," said Mark McIntire, group VP-marketing partnership management of VH1. Gallo executives did not make themselves available for comment. Ads produced for the show, which airs Oct. 23, were developed in-house, according to DeLisa Harmon, a spokeswoman for the winery.

The buy marks Gallo's first on any of Viacom's MTV Networks. The company has not sponsored a major TV program since its Ballatore Gran Spumante ushered in 1999 as sponsor of "Dick Clark's New Year`s Rockin` Eve." The "VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards" show was the network's highest-rated program last year, drawing 1.7 million adults ages 18-49 and 3.3 million viewers overall, according to Nielsen Media Research.

In addition to a number of Ecco Domani spots on the award show, the brand will also run commercials in other VH1 shows, and print ads in Conde Nast Publications' Vogue. Other sponsors of the program include Procter & Gamble Co.'s Pantene Pro V, BMW of North America and Intimate Brands' Victoria's Secret.

The buy is significant for Gallo, which last year spent $23.6 million in measured media for all its brands, and zero on Ecco Domani, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. Gallo's move toward younger consumers comes as the largest concentration of core wine drinkers hit their 40s, and just 10% of the adult population drinks 86% of the wine, according to John Gillespie, president, the Wine Market Council. The wine marketers` consortium, which does not count Gallo as a member, is looking for an agency to launch its own ad campaign.

Wine marketing is entering a new age as a number of marketers line up big league ad agency partners. Brown-Forman Wine Group`s Fetzer Vineyards moved its account to Omnicom Group`s DDB Worldwide, San Francisco, for domestic ads; SouthCorp hired Interpublic Group of Cos.` McCann-Erickson Worldwide, San Francisco, and other offices, to handle advertising for its Penfolds and Lindemans brands.

Gallo has centered its marketing on distribution tactics while moving mercurially through a number of agencies over the years. But now the company appears to be preparing a response to rivals. Earlier this year, the winery began an in-house benchmark study of a wide spectrum of advertising functions ranging from point of purchase to TV creative.

Still, Gallo's marketing acumen remains one of the strongest in the industry. "Gallo is the consummate marketing company," said Eileen Fredrikson, partner, Gomberg Fredrikson & Associates, wine industry consultants. Demographics are not the only issue the industry is facing; with the sagging economy and world situation, restaurant sales, one of the industry's main drivers, have plunged in recent weeks.

Contributing: Kate MacArthur and Mercedes M. Cardona

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