Now that the world is wrapped up in the latest iPhone consumption epidemic it’s a perfect moment to discuss branding. I will not discuss Apple’s branding. You’re welcome.

What I WILL talk about is Barefoot. But first, a story:

A couple of weeks ago, as seen in the photos I posted last week, I participated in the Next Gen Wine Competition. After hours of tasting and despite the political ramifications of millennial judges choosing a sweet wine as Best in Show, the group overwhelmingly chose the dessert wine as the winner.

We were overall very confident in this decision. The atmosphere was relaxed and pretty jovial – until the name of the winning wine was announced.

This is the wine that won Best in Show:

Barefoot Moscato

Yep. Barefoot Moscato.

Barefoot Moscato. Personally I was MORTIFIED. And I knew I wasn’t alone. The room had EXPLODED in sound. Bitter laughter. Curses. Anguished cries of “oh my God.” Some were stricken silent with the news.

A thought flew into my head: “I will never tell anyone about this.” I was absolutely ashamed. As the minutes dragged on, however, I realized (duh) that although I’m a wine professional I am ALSO a millennial. And if I and the other millennial judges in the room were having such an emotional reaction to hearing the name of one brand, that it was THIS MOMENT that I needed to pay attention to in order to learn more about millennials and wine. The moment when I was least comfortable.

There were really two factors in play in the room’s reaction, in my opinion. 1) These are young professionals looking to prove their taste and worth in the industry, and they were embarrassed that they had chosen a $6 bottle. 2) It was a Barefoot wine.

I’m not so interested in #1, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a factor. What fascinates me is that we were all confident in the choice, until the brand was announced. What fascinates me is #2: Barefoot’s branding.

Barefoot’s Branding

The Barefoot brand is notoriously huge, corporate, tacky and “cheap” – at least to most young wine drinkers. But why? Millennials certainly don’t have these issues with other “value-based” brands – Yellowtail and 2 Buck Chuck are perennial 20-something faves from the bargain section. What’s the difference? Branding.

From its placement in the grocery store aisles (bottom shelves) to the 80′s elegance glamour portrait label, there’s nothing about the Barefoot brand that is appealing to young wine drinkers – not even in an ironic way. If I personally had a choice between bringing a bottle of Barefoot and a jug of Carlo Rossi White Zin to a party, I’d go with the jug of CR because at least that’s funny. Why is that, when Barefoot (Moscato, at least) is actually a good wine?

I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: in these situations, I URGE wineries to look at their brand as an accessory or an article of clothing. Wine is a SOCIAL ACCESSORY. When we talk about wine, bring it to a party, open a bottle at our own table or order a glass at a restaurant, we are effectively showing off. We are telling the people around us a little bit about who we are just by what wine we choose. This is what I mean by a social accessory.

Now let’s look at sweaters (bear with me). The Carlo Rossi jug of White Zinfandel that I mentioned before would be a phenomenally terrible holiday sweater from the late 80s. This sweater is something that our target demographic would wear with irony because it is a perfect storm of ugly, tradition, poor taste and social courage. In fact, our target demo likes wearing these sweaters so much, they create holiday parties specifically for these sweaters.

ugly sweater party

Hideous Holiday Sweater Party

They are almost always awesome. But I digress.

If the jug of Carlo Rossi is a hideous holiday sweater, then in this situation our bottle of Barefoot Moscato would be a simple ugly sweater from the mid-90s. Nothing phenomenal, nothing over-the-top about it, just dated.  A sweater that was well-made and would have been pretty pimp in ’96 but today is just sad to see on a person.

If we were to throw Yellowtail into the mix, we’d be talking about an $8-$16 sweater just purchased from Old Navy or Forever 21. It’s not well made and it will fall apart in a month or two, but it’s in fashion, it fits well, and it looks good.

What do these sweaters say about the young person wearing them in public?

Hideous Holiday Sweater: I have a sense of humor, am very confident, and am creative enough to find this rare gem of an ugly sweater.

Old Navy/Fovever 21 Sweater: I may not have a lot of cash, but I’m in style and I look good.

Ugly Dated Sweater: I’m either completely clueless when it comes to fashion or I’m trying to do something and failing. Perhaps this is my favorite sweater and I really don’t care about fashion or what you think.

The same could be said of young people bringing the associated wines to a party. This is why wine is a social accessory. This is what branding does for a wine – it tells us what a wine says about us. Carlo Rossi’s jug branding is so bizarre and over-the-top that it’s funny at certain times. Yellow Tail is hip and always a safe bet. Barefoot is… dated?

Barefoot Moscato is a solid wine, and I’m pretty sure that Barefoot’s sales aren’t hurting too much; however, it’s interesting to think about what this brand would be capable of with interesting branding. It’s proven that millennials like it (and other demos too, it always seems to place well in competitions) – the product is solid. What would happen if Barefoot became a “hip and always a safe bet” social accessory for millennials instead of an embarrassing budget purchase?

The world may never know.

But not for lack of trying. Interestingly, Barefoot is trying to change this branding online with a blog, charitable works, and highlighting their young team-members. Unfortunately all of this work is foot-themed. Yes. Foot-themed. Also, despite having arguably the most successful facebook page in the wine industry, Barefoot does not take any of this offline to their labels – the one place where they can instantaneously affect a consumer’s decision to purchase. All this work looks to be for nothing since the most visible part of Barefoot’s branding (the actual bottles) run counter to all the work they are putting into the name.

Learn from this brand’s mistakes. Your most visible and vocal branding should make it easier for a person to purchase your bottle, not the other way around.