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Washington Post: Wine & Millennials (oh yeah, and me too)


A little over a month ago, a journalist named Jason Wilson reached out to me for an article he was writing. An article for the Washington Post on… wait for it… marketing wine to millennials.  The article is titled Hopes Of The Wine Industry Rest On Millennial Shoulders.

They times, they are a-changing.

Jason had done a blind tasting and label reveal with some millennial-aged students of his and was creating a piece based on the results. We spoke for a while on statistics, theories, and execution in both branding and marketing, and I was alternately thrilled and terrified to see the final piece. When it was printed, I was immediately a fan – and not just because I’m featured in it, though OBVIOUSLY it’s a big reason.

He focuses on a wine brand put out by TXT Cellars – which in my opinion is an invaluable study in underestimating one’s consumer and operating without authenticity. I hope that anyone who has decided to take the leap and develop a brand with millennials in mind will take five minutes and read the article. And THEN take the time to truly learn about your target consumers before lobbing a product out to market.

The most valuable takeaway (I think) is one millennial’s reaction to a TXT cellar label:

In the [blind] tasting, I also included the TXT Cellars wines; [when revealed] they received the harshest criticism. “Ohhh noooo, I hate this so much,” said one 20-something named Kinsey. “I’m embarrassed that this is what they think people my age want.”

Me too, Kinsey. Me too.


New Millennial Friendly Brands To Watch

omg - so beautiful.

When I’m out speaking about marketing, especially millennial marketing, I often get asked the question “Who is doing it right?” For a long while there, I would answer by telling people to look outside of the wine industry. Sure, there have been brands (albeit few and far between) that attempt to reach out to this demographic… that doesn’t mean that they’re doing it right.  I certainly have my LEAST favorites – the one dimensional, the condescending, the identity-challenged, and the ever-present corporate mistakes – but this week is a week of thanks and celebration, right? So I’ll focus on a couple positives that have JUST surfaced.

I became aware of these two brands within a week of each other, and after a long summer and quiet fall, I’m thrilled to say that hope springs anew for you, wine industry. Now, I can’t say that I’m the adorable, rat-tailed, 27-year-old neophyte I once was when I started this blog, breathlessly waiting for the wine industry to understand the value of millennials and catch-the-eff-up. Nope. Now I’m 30, married, and jaded enough to understand that this is an industry that will resist change on pretty much every level and damn the torpedoes. (You don’t agree? Really? Then tell me about it in the comments.)

Here is what I’m so excited about. Amazingly, one of these is a new brand of Rutherford Wine Co. (omg – change!) – makers of design-competition favorite Predator. I initially came across this on the (wonderful) package design blog The Dieline on November 14th, and it has since made the rounds on some of the most exciting design blogs out there.

Cuboid Photo

Sexy boxed wine! Yeah! This seems to be a one-off type brand exclusively available at Total Wines & More – I was unable to find any serious information from their almost-completely-bare facebook page. They also don’t seem to own up to it on their own website. But hey, it’s a start. And it’s GORGEOUS.

The other brand I’m ridiculously tickled by is LA Bubbly. Developed by Charleston, SC wine bar owner Brad Ball and one Harry Root, it makes me swoon. Apparently only available in his bar and some Southeast Whole Foods, this is a very exciting new brand – many many thanks to the illustrious Dale Cruse for bringing these guys to my attention. From site design to labels to copy and attitude, I can’t remember when I’ve been more excited about a brand. Well, a brand that I haven’t worked with, anyway.

Think these are stupid? Destined to fail?  Inspiring? Well, I have a feeling you’ll tell me in the comments.

WHY SO SERIOUS? Brands Today Need To Grow A Sense Of Humor

Why So Serious Joker

Why So Serious Joker

Stop taking yourself so seriously. It’s some advice that almost any brand could (and should) use. That being said, I don’t know if I can think of an entire industry that is in such dire need of a playful shot in the arm as wine is right now.

For decades, it has been an industry built on luxury, discerning tastes, and taking everything – even the scent of cat pee – seriously. And for decades that’s what consumers wanted and expected of the wine industry. That has changed.

Let me repeat myself. That HAS changed. Already. Past tense. This is because there’s already a valuable group of consumers out there – millennials – that have little interest in this serious attitude. Other industries have already recognized this, from car batteries to anti-virus software, but wine is playing catch-up.

Smart, creative humor is one of the quickest paths to millennial consumer’s hearts (and facebook news feeds). Don’t believe me? Then take it from MTV’s head of research, Nick Shore, whose mantra of late has been “smart and funny is the new rock ‘n’ roll.” Amen.

Fortunately, humor and wine make a fantastic pairing. We celebrate with wine. We share it with friends. We enjoy it. How can humor NOT factor in? Wine brands that are looking to reach millennials today must rethink their traditional approach and attitude and start having some fun.

If you want to reach millennials and you don’t have a funny bone, I suggest you find someone that does. Fast.

Building a Brand: What Makes You Unique?

You work in wine right? Ok.

Pop Quiz

Pop quiz, hotshotWhat makes your brand unique?

Seriously. Think about it.

Have your answer?


Is your answer “our wines”?

You just failed.

Is your answer a variation on “our hands-on approach/small lot fermentation/unique vineyard location/new French oak/anti-mechanical pumpovers/hand harvesting/etc.”?


Is your answer a variation on your “passion for winemaking/wine”?

Not good enough, people.

What makes my brand unique? This is the first question you’ll want to ask yourself when you are re-working or creating a brand. It’s the foundation upon which all of your marketing and pr work will sit.

Ok, so let’s take a look at these three answers.

Though the middle answer would work for the question “what makes your wines special,” it has nothing to do with your BRAND.

The last answer is entirely NOT unique, being that most people get into wine/winemaking because of their passion for it (as evidenced in the old chestnut: Q: How do you make a little money in the wine business? A: Start out with a lot).

And now for my favorite answer. When I ask winery folk (including marketing-types, btw) what makes their brand unique, the overwhelming response is “our wines.” There is a special place in Branding Hell for this answer.

It’s not that your wines aren’t unique or a part of your brand, it’s just that it’s a terrible answer. I’m sorry to be so harsh, but it’s true. It’s as if you were to ask me what makes ME unique and I answer with “my fingerprints.” TECHNICALLY I’m not wrong, but by choosing this boring and obvious answer I’m missing the opportunity to tell you:

That I almost became a Hollywood agent


That I started a guerilla film production company in NYC when I was 20


That I name my pets after action movie characters


That I once dyed a teeny part of my hair purple in high school because my parents told me I couldn’t, but then wore a baseball hat everyday until it turned back to its normal color.


Basically anything.

But no. I told you that my fingerprints make me unique, so you don’t know anything about me except that I apparently am boring and like to state the obvious. Every winery has wines, and every wine is unique. Kind of like finger prints. Your wines might be incredible – I bet they are – but hundreds or thousands of wineries claiming that they are entirely unique because of the same reason is counter-productive for all of those businesses. At the moment, I can’t think of another industry that gets away with this approach.

Think about it. Imagine that I just started a soda company and you asked me what makes me special and my answer is “My soda is really good.” Are you getting your checkbook out? I don’t think so.

When you are creating or recreating your brand, focus on what REALLY makes you unique.  There are probably lots of reasons. Now pick the most interesting (and appropriate). This will most likely take a while. It’s tough. It’s frustrating. It’s worth it.

Building a Brand is a new series on Millennier where Leah breaks down today’s process and pitfalls for brands in the wine industry.

And This Is How You Do Creative Branding: Featuring Gary Numan and Cars

As many readers of this blog know by now, I am a HUGE proponent of creative branding. I definitely touched on this on the Authenticity & Pop Culture post this Spring when I brought up a simple-yet-genius Pedigree internet ad. The time has come once again to talk about creativity.

Ok. Let’s say you have a product that, unlike wine, is completely un-sexy. Let’s say for example your product is a car battery.

die hard battery

I mean, your name is Die Hard – that’s cool – but you’re a car battery. There’s not a whole lot you can do with that.

Unless of course, you are a marketing genius. Then you might think about how you can combine the insane potential of a creative interned vid with the current DIY zeitgeist that is fascinating people today. In fact you might look at the following video and say “I want that for my car battery.”

This OK GO music video from March 1st of this year has over 15 MILLION views. And that’s just from the official posting.

And if you’re truly a marketing genius, you might call up the company that made that video for OK GO and say again, “I want that for my car battery.”

And if you did that, this is what you would get:

And then you would be my personal hero. I find this ad brilliant and awesome on about a ba-zillion different levels. I will not wax poetic here, but if you want to hear why I think this is such a big deal just call me and carve out about an hour of your time.

WARNING: I’m about to get cranky, so if you don’t want to hear me cranky on a Friday, I bid you a happy weekend.

<rant>If you’re still with me, here’s my beef. I’m SO TIRED of people in EVERY ASPECT of the wine industry automatically handcuffing wine to media and branding that has been used for the last 40 YEARS. If you want new consumers then you have to do something new. PERIOD. DONE. Don’t tell me that wine can’t be awesome and fun and hip and irreverent when a CAR BATTERY can.</rant>

Go be creative and awesome. If you’re not creative and awesome, find someone who is. A few months from now I want to be writing about a video like this for a wine. And you know what? I will. Maybe I’ll just make it myself. If you want in, let me know.