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Wine Industry

Dear Wine Industry: 70 Million Millennials Aren’t Going To Just Disappear So Deal With It

"Dear Wine Industry" handwritten letter

"Dear Wine Industry" handwritten letter



Why Bother?
Why Bother?

The question of the moment.

Summer’s over, September’s here, and it’s time for me to address something head on.

As Millennials become more of a focus in the wine industry, I’ve been getting more and more blowback both online and in person regarding the value of this demographic. Now if I’m getting this feedback – a person openly dedicated to establishing the value of this demographic within the wine industry – one can only imagine the general opinion at the moment. I feel it’s timely and appropriate to address this.

Most of the opposing feedback I’ve gotten can be summed up by the following question:


Great question.

Here’s the answer:


That’s it folks. If you want to make more money, cultivating millennial consumers is a no brainer.  The concept is basic – it’s a huge group of people that spends a lot of money on wine that you don’t currently have access to. Period. It’s the same reason folks are reaching out to the Chinese market – same reason, different scale.


If you WANT to cultivate millennial consumers, you’re going to have to change the way you reach out to this group (marketing, advertising, branding, etc.), because we don’t respond to the same outreach tactics that our parents did.

Think about it: is this really surprising? Do you – personally – respond the same way to ads, marketing, branding , etc. that your parents did? Why would millennials be any different? This is a basic concept, but one that’s important to understand in an industry that’s been utilizing the same outreach tactics for the last 40 years.

If this is too much of a pain, or perhaps better said, too painful for companies to realize, then it’s a waste for these folks to go for millennials.

There are still SEVERAL companies and individuals out there who dismiss the 70 million millennial consumers as kids, as buying cheap, or in some other way completely irrelevant to the wine industry. To those people I say thanks for reading the blog and best of luck – clearly our money is no good to you, so I and my 70 million friends will buy someone else’s wine.

HOWEVER: If a company DOES want to reach the millennial market effectively, that company MUST change its tactics. The purpose of this blog is to help people do just that.

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.

Good Wine, Ugly Sweater: Why Branding Matters

ugly sweater party

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.

WTF? Millennier Walks the Walk

Hello wine industry – it’s been a little while. I missed you. I would be lying if I said you hadn’t been on my mind these past few weeks.

I’ve been both excited and nervous to write this post. Here’s why:

I’ve been writing on Millennier for a little over a year now, discussing many different facets of the buying power and influence of millennials for the wine industry. There’s been theory, there’s been practical applications, and there’s been examples of companies trying/succeeding/failing to reach this demographic group. So, one could say I’ve been “talking the talk.”

What many people don’t know is that during this time I’ve also been walking the walk. Last year, I started a wine tasting event group called WTFLA aka Wine Tasting For Los Angeles. As the name (and my professional focus) suggests, it’s a group that was created to target young wine drinkers in LA and connect them with wineries. We did a few smaller-scale events (50-60 people or so) in 2009 and gained a core following of awesome young people in LA that love wine.

This Spring, I reformatted the group to work with both small and large wineries, and to provide larger-scale events that are free to attend. Byron and Cambria wineries were the first to partner with me for WTFLA’s new events.

This is what happened:

WTFLA Venice Event Crowd

Line back to the elevator of the rooftop wine tasting event. Only part of the crowd shown. Photo courtesy the illustrious Stan Lee at

and this:

WTFLA Thrillist LA feature

WTFLA on ThrillistLA, a 150,000 email list and blog targeted to trendsetters in Los Angeles.

and this:

WTFLA Mailing List inbox

Screenshot of my inbox full of new WTFLA mailing list signups between the minutes of 10:46am and 11:01am

Yep, you could say it was a success.

With coverage in a dozen hyper-local online outlets (including ThrillistLA and LA Weekly) and around 300 guests served (more than 50 turned away due to capacity) at a WINE TASTING, WTFLA has exploded all over the place. Well, all over the place in LA. We LITERALLY cannot launch events fast enough.

This. Is. Big.

If it sounds like I’m bragging, that’s because I am. And this is why I was nervous about this post.

I never really wrote about my adventures with WTFLA before because it seemed to me to be simple shameless self-promotion. While plenty of blogs are created for this very purpose, that is not what is about. The Millennier blog was created to educate professionals in the wine industry and beyond on how and why to reach out to millennials. I strongly believe this approach is one of the main reasons why in such a short time I’ve been able to organically grow a successful marketing and strategy consultation business in an incredibly specialized field – almost all through readers of this blog.

So… why talk about WTFLA? Good question.

I find that I am constantly using my experiences with WTFLA as examples to clients and other marketing folks in the wine industry and beyond. And though there is no denying the element of self-promotion, I find it kind of ridiculous for me to stick to hypotheticals and examples in other industries when I’m putting everything I talk about into practice with WTFLA.

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve realized that I’ve reached a point where I’m in danger of repeating myself and boring the hell out of anyone reading. It’s one thing to communicate how valuable the millennial generation is to the wine industry, but it’s another issue entirely to just keep repeating it like some French recording on LOST. This doesn’t mean that the content on Millennier will change dramatically.  I WILL continue to provide examples of companies that succeed (or fail) in outreach, I WILL continue to point out important new data, I WILL continue to challenge folks to come up with new ideas. But I will ALSO be documenting my own first-hand attempts – I’ll be telling the awesome, the awful, and the ugly stories of my experience in practicing what I preach. I’m documenting my experience with WTFLA on Millennier in the hopes that you, dear reader, will learn from my successes and my failures and maybe something will even inspire you to start a revolution of your own.

My father is a veteran (I am proud to say) and he has often noted that both in combat and in life, the person leading the charge always seems to be “in the rear with the gear.”  That is not the case with Millennier. I am on the front lines and I hope that you will join me as I document the WTFLA adventures.

Fearless First, Then Leaders: Lesson for the Wine Industry

A little over a month ago, AdAge published an article* on 10 marketing ideas that changed the world – at least in their opinion.  From the 1984 Apple commercial to a certain iconic hosiery packaging, it’s fascinating to see these 10 ideas juxtaposed. For you marketing types, it’s incredibly inspiring. And for the rest of us, there’s an important common theme to notice among all of the companies mentioned. Each idea highlighted in the article resulted in catapulting its company to industry leader status, at times when these companies were only just fighting for their market share.

Apple's 1984 ad

Old meets new: an update to Apple's original 1984 ad.

As nonsensical as it sounds, it seems like that’s the state of wine companies today: everyone’s just competing. There’s no definitive leader. Sure there are the big guys. Sure there are the big brands. But do you see the wine equivalent to the iPhone anywhere? WHY NOT? The brass ring is just hanging there, people.

I highly recommend taking the 5 minutes to read the article. More than one of these campaigns has shaped a generation. While you read, take notice of the one thing (two things?) each of these companies had in common when they made these marketing choices: Balls.

I don’t mean to be crude, but it’s absolutely true. Some of these companies had everything to lose and they STILL made risky choices. AND THEY WORKED. It’s important to note that these Fearless Leaders were fearless BEFORE they were leaders.

There WILL be more underdog upsets in the coming years. There WILL be companies that chang their consumers’ worlds as well as their own industry landscape.

The real question is will wine be a part of it this time? A girl can only hope.

*UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that AdAge has archived this story in the last few days and it is now available only to AdAge subscribers. This is very disappointing. I am in no way supporting or recommending that readers should subscribe to their services through the original link used in this post. The updated link that I have provided will take you to a blog that has reposted the article in its entirety. Apologies for the inconvenience.

Dear Wine Industry no. 3

Dear Wine Industry #3


Dear Wine Industry,

It shouldn’t be this hard to get people excited to buy wine. You’re not marketing a blanket with arms, here. IT’S WINE! One of the most celebrated “products” the world has ever seen. C’mon – wine is fun and delicous and exciting and sexy. Loosen up. Have some fun. See what happens.



Dear (U.S.) Wine Industry no. 2

Y is the New Black: Why Millennials Matter to Wine in 2010

the Kids are Alright

And it’s true. At last. The millennial generation is arguably the hottest topic in the US wine industry this year. IMHO, millennials will be to wine in 2010 what social media was to wine in 2009 – a game changer. And just like social media, companies within the wine industry can either adapt and thrive, or stick their heads in the sand and be left behind.

Quite frankly, NO ONE should be left behind. So for those interested in educating themselves, their co-workers, or (yikes) even their bosses, I’ve compiled a short list of resources that is designed to catch ANYONE up on the current state of the wine/millennial connection. Look at it as a bibliography for future conversations in 2010.

Obviously, if you’re looking for more detailed information on millennials and wine, you’re sitting right in the middle of a blog entirely dedicated to the GenY/wine connection. Check out the Millennier archives, if you feel like learning more.

MIND THE GAP: "Phase 2" Proves Elusive For Wine Industry & Millennials

About a BILLION years ago (well, more like 6 months), Gary Moore, author of Vinotrip: A Maryland Wine Blog, put into type-written the words what EVERYONE looking to reach out to Millennials should hear. Everyone in the wine industry, anyway.

In a short and sweet post about the increasingly big deal being made about wine companies reaching the millennial consumer, he finished with the following invaluable question:

“You sell alcohol. How hard can it be to sell alcohol to college graduates in their mid-twenties?”

LISTEN TO THE MAN. He certainly has a point.

His words have been echoing through my busy little head ever since he wrote them. At first, I lol’d. A lot. Then I started thinking more and more about this. Why on EARTH does the wine industry need me to say all this stuff? It really should be simple. I shouldn’t have to constantly reverse engineer the needs, wants, desires, dislikes, etc. of myself, my friends, and others in my generation in order to re-format these things into easily digestible somewhat sporadic how-tos for the world to read (though I do enjoy it quite a bit).  So, really. Why?

Look familiar?

In the time I’ve had to clarify my thoughts on the matter, I’ve come up with an answer to Gary’s question: it’s HARD. And here’s why: Survival. (Tough love is incoming, people. Fair warning.) To clarify, it’s difficult because of the the attitude and image that the wine industry in the United States has carefully cultivated in order to emerge, survive, and thrive over the last 40 years. The inability for the wine industry to change the marketing tactics that it has been using for the last almost-half -century accounts for the failure to appeal to millennial consumers.

In the mid 1970’s, when US wine became an international contender on the wine scene, both wine producers and wine drinkers embraced their (well-deserved) status with evangelical enthusiasm. And as evangelicals do, they sought to prove that Americans could be just as knowledgeable, critical, and refined in taste as their European counterparts. And though I was not around for this incredible time, I believe this image and attitude is exactly what the US wine industry needed to survive.

This is the foundation upon which current wine culture in America is based. Throughout the decades, the industry has not lost the evangelical zeal to display its knowledge and refinement. Marketing campaigns embrace it, wine publications tout it, and wine drinkers from this era flaunt it.

It was effective to market wine in this way to generations 40 years ago – even 20 years ago – but it’s NOT WORKING NOW. For the next generation of wine drinkers, this attitude tends to turn us off. Some people are annoyed by it, some people are intimidated, some people don’t identify with it, the list goes on.

RANDOM STORY THAT THIS REMINDS ME OF: The story of my friend’s grandmother. This woman lived through the great depression as a child with a large family and went through unthinkable hardships: poverty, starvation, the death of young siblings. Though she didn’t speak of this much with my friend, this time weighed heavily on her throughout her long life. When she passed away, my friend and her father went to clean out her home to sell it. When they went into the basement, they found over 20 boxes of canned goods – some recent to some almost 50 years old. Because of her formative years in need, this woman had been buying and hoarding thousands of cans her entire life because she felt that she would someday need them; in reality, however, she had been spending her family’s hard earned money on a misappropriated sense of safety.

I find this very similar to what is happening with the wine industry today. Today’s attitude was created in a time of need – it helped the wine industry emerge, survive, and thrive for years. However, that’s not what it takes to survive today and certainly not tomorrow. Attempting to create new “brand ambassadors” using the same old tactics is proving to be a failure.

EXAMPLE: How many new brand ambassadors from the target millennial demographic did your company’s last full-page, full-color ad in Fill In The Blank Glossy Wine Publication get you?

Too far? Ok, my apologies. Snarkiness aside, clinging to the safety of what has worked in the past is exactly what will torpedo efforts now and in the future. By no means am I encouraging companies big or small to do away with what has gained them their current following. There is value to that approach, but only to one’s current customer base. In other words, to maintenance – not to growth. This is why I’m not suggesting  companies completely amputate this approach.

I do, however, highly recommend that if any company wants a NEW consumer group, that you create a NEW marketing plan for them – separate from your existing plan. This means a new attitude and image for this group. Put in the effort to find the aligned interests of the demographic and of your brand and work from there. If you personally don’t know what I’m talking about, find someone that does. This kind of work won’t be easy at first, but it WILL be worth it.

You’ll know it’s working when it’s no longer difficult to sell your alcoholic beverage to a twenty five year-old college graduate.