I’ve had several conversations recently that circled back to the idea that the wine industry should invest in a generic promotion campaign. You know what I mean. Not “Got Milk?” (maybe the most celebrated generic promotion of all time), but something along the lines of “Got Wine?” or “Got California Wine?” depending on who’s talking.
“Got Wine?” is too copy-cat to work, of course. You can come up with something better if you give it some thought. But you get the idea.
One argument for generic promotion of wine is based on the realization that wine isn’t connecting with new, younger consumers the way we hoped or expected. If we want consumers to have a particular image of wine (or of the wine-drinker identity), maybe we should be more proactive in shaping perceptions. Laissez-faire isn’t working so well. Let’s do something.
A second argument, which would support “Got California Wine?” or “Got American Wine?” is provoked by the subsidies the European Union is giving to its member states to promote their wines in the U.S. market.
Years ago the EU used to support prices and winegrower incomes directly, but buying up surplus grapes and wine (we called the result the European Wine Lake). Now the EU has changed tactics and supports the modernization of wine production and the promotion of exports. Basically, they want the wines to be marketable and if the EU market won’t buy it all (and it won’t), then exports are promoted to avoid re-filling the dreaded lake.
This is a better approach from an economic standpoint, but you cannot blame American producers for thinking that it creates an uneven playing field. It might be better, many argue, to get the EU to stop subsidizing wine export promotion. But that would be complicated and take time. In the short run, the argument goes, generic promotion of U.S. wines might even things up a little.
Milk is All Over
Talking about wine promotion got me thinking about milk. That “Got Milk?” promotion ran for 25 years and attracted lots of attention. All sorts of celebrities posed with milk mustaches (aka moo-staches) to draw attention to milk and its broad appeal. Everyone enjoys milk — that was the message. The Whoopi Goldberg ad was my favorite.
But, memorable as these advertisements are, they were fighting a losing battle. Increasingly, American consumers don’t follow the “Got Milk?” path.
I first realized this a few years ago when I heard wine economics guru Karl Storchmann talk about trends in various consumer beverages. He examined Google data about searches for wine, tea, coffee, milk, and water and concluded that while water was rocking it, milk was fading fast. “Milk is all over,” Karl said at the time (here is a pdf of his study).
Karl wasn’t wrong. Dean Foods, America’s largest milk producer, filed for bankruptcy in November 2019. Milk sales fell for 4 years in a row as Americans shifted to plant-based cow-milk alternatives, including oat milk and especially almond milk.
Wine vs Milk?
Got Milk? Yes. Always. But increasingly it doesn’t come from a cow.
When you think about it, what happened to milk is a little bit like what seems to be happening to wine. There are lots of new products available that compete with wine including craft beer, craft spirits, and alcoholic sparkling water. Some of these products are popular in part because they have less alcohol than wine, addressing a health concern in the same way that almond milk avoids a health problem for some dairy-intolerant consumers.
Is wine all over? I don’t think so. But the industry is obviously not as healthy as we’d like it to be.
So what should wine do? A generic campaign is fine, but it matters a lot who it is aimed at, what it says, and how it is organized. And someone has to pay for it. A “Got Wine?” style consumer-focused campaign isn’t the only option.
Sue and I recently attended a promotional event for Italian wine that was aimed at trade — importers, distributors, sommeliers, journalists, and various “influencers” — but not consumers themselves (there was no consumer tasting). The product chain for wine is long and complex and there are several points where promotion can be effective.
Come back next week for thoughts on some of the issues that a “Got Wine?” push needs to take into account. In the meantime, I have discovered that there already is a GOT Wine — GOT stands for Game of Thrones!
The chart comparing Google search term data for wine, milk, etc. is taken from Karl Storchmann, “Wine Economics.” Journal of Wine Economics 7:1 (2012), p. 3.
The video above is the very first “Got Milk?” commercial.