Two pieces of mail roused me from mid-summer torpor. The first was a press release from Taylor California Cellars. They, you may recall, are part of Coca Cola's Wine Spectrum. You may also recall that they have specialized in the testimonial type of advertising for their products. So-and-so Wine Authority has tasted TCC's chablis or burgundy and found it to be a most acceptable wine. And so it is. However, if you read the fine print or listen carefully, the celebrity has not said that the TCC wine is the greatest thing since our forefathers discovered the side effects of fermentation, only that it is good value or, in his opinion, better than its direct competitors.
I dislike endorsement advertising on principle. I don't think it does much for the credibility of the Wine Authority. But I'm not in TCC's target consumer group. As proven by TCC's excellent record, from 400,000 to 7 million cases in less than four years, the personal touch has done wonders for the sales of its cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, rose, etc.
Now TCC is appealing to America's twin passions of sports and weight watching. It's come out with a sales catalogue of sporting goods, promoted against a background of people playing tennis, jogging, cycling or otherwise having a healthy time. You can pick up a catalogue at the point-of-sale: next to the Taylor California Cellars Light wines, the low-cal ones.
While admiring this evidence that the advertising profession is still one step ahead of the consumer, I started to read the second piece of mail. It was the July 1 issue of Impact, a trusted and much-quoted newsletter on marketing, statistics and forecasts for the wine and spirits industry.
This issue is entitled "Expanding the Wine User Base." To summarize editor and publisher Marvin Shanken, wine usage (his term) has gone up very nicely in the past decade. But it's got to do a lot better. The real competition is not from within the wine trade, or from other alsoholic beverages, but from soft drinks (30 percent share of the beverage market), milk (19 percent) and coffee (18 percent). Wine has a 2 percent share, the same as spirits. Beer has 19 percent.
Given that we have a limited capacity to consume liquids, Shanken feels that wine usage can be expanded only by persuading more people to drink it as an alternative to other beverages. He urges the wine industry to play the same game as the soft drinks and beer people: advertise. "Wine is fighting for a share of the mind of the viewer, listener, or reader, as well as a share of the consumer's thirst." And, he adds, the smaller producers shouldn't rely on the big guys to do all the fighting and then gain when the consumer who has been weaned onto wine by Gallo, or TCC, or Swiss Colony graduates to a more sophisticated level.
Advertising obviously hasn't hurt the sales of Lambruscos from Italy or jugs from California and if it helps to expand the "user base," I'm all for it. I just hope that wine and its drinkers will be treated gently by the creative and marketing people. No matter how appealing the slogan or the label, we're only gullible up to a certain point. The product inside the bottle still has to be worth the cost of the packaging and promotion.