Storytelling key to effective advertising

Advertising is most effective when it creates an image or story that consumers can connect with on an emotional level, proved by Gallo with its successful late 1980s campaign. So why aren’t more wine brands following suit, asks Jonathan Cahill

In the world of marketing, the wine industry is an enigma. Much of marketing is concerned with emotions. One of the most useful definitions of a brand is that it is something consumers buy for its emotional benefits, whereas a product they buy for its functional ones.

Wine has a deep well of emotions on which to draw. Of all the products the land provides, wine is almost unique in that those who cultivate it are also intimately connected with its production. Only olive oil comes close. Most other produce is sent off to a third party with no direct connection to the land or the crop.

Wine is one of the few major industries which can still be perceived as artisan – whatever the realities might be.

As well as the importance of place inherent in terroir, there is the added element of the history, community and individuals which go to make the wine what it is – the emotional terroir.

Today brands search for heritage and provenance, as evidenced in the current BA campaign, and would give their eye teeth for the rich fund of both possessed by wine.

This fund of emotions has power, as many of our choices appear to be based on emotion rather than reason. This has been confirmed by work in neurology. Emotion has even been identified as a base for rational thought. When marketing a product, one of the essential elements is to give it a personality with which the consumer can relate.

The philosopher Martin Buber focused on relationships and divided them into two sorts: I-It with objects and I-Thou with people. These he felt were related to empathy, which was switched on by a move from the former to the latter.

To elicit empathy, Gavin Fairburn of Leeds University suggested that: “storytelling is central to most of human life. It is also the most startlingly simple and direct way l know of encouraging the development of empathy”.

This may appear academic, but it has considerable potency in the real world where stories can make a significant difference. In an experiment in the US, 100 items were bought for $128 at a garage sale. A story was written for each one and they were then sold on eBay. The total take was $3,612. Most wines have a rich heartland of stories, yet few exploit them. The best example of one which did was Ernest and Julio Gallo wine when it launched in the UK in 1989.

Emotional terroir: Ernest and Julio Gallo were cast as being rooted in the production

Artisanal approach
This was an emotional campaign achieved by individual stories. The overall impression was of two brothers dedicated to perfecting every detail in making wine that met their exacting standards – a clear articulation of the wine’s emotional terroir.

The stories which illustrated this centred on particular aspects such as the wood used for the casks, an obsession with a particular grape, or getting up early in the morning.

Although there was heavy spending on advertising, the impression created was artisan, focusing on Ernest and Julio who were cast as being intimately rooted in the wine and its production – far removed from their position as heads of the biggest wine company in the world.

This emotional framework was richly clothed in advertisements which mirrored the care and quality which had been attributed to the Gallos. They consisted of two consecutive double-page spreads – anathema in terms of media numbers – which created space for the message.

This was a similar approach to the recent award-winning 90-second advertising for Hovis bread. Rough calculations of the return for this campaign gave a figure of £75.5 million – five times the marketing investment of £15m.

Despite Gallo’s example, the wine industry never seems to have reached this level of insight since. Much of the concern of advertising appears to be with awareness.

But if this goal is achieved and the wine is noticed, then there is little personality with which the consumer can relate or feel empathy.

JD's campaign appears to mirror E&J Gallo

In the drinks industry it is not wine which has exploited its rich emotional heartland but rather a whiskey. Jack Daniel’s advertising has helped make it the second biggest whisk(e)y in the world.

The campaign’s flavour seems to mirror the approach of Gallo. It focuses on the emotional heartland provided by the people who work in the distillery at Lynchburg and whose dedication and individual quirks make up the personality of Jack Daniel’s.

As opposed to the Italian peasants of Gallo, the theme is folksy Tennessee. It is not rooted in the land, as in terroir with wine, but rather in the place and its people. The image is the polar opposite to Jack Daniels’s actual position in the market.

The way Gallo and Jack Daniel’s advertised can be described as the pixel approach – each story contributing a pixel to an overall picture of the brand. This has been successfully adopted by other advertisers such as Tesco and BMW. The latter used many stories demonstrating great attention to engineering detail in order to form the overall image of “the ultimate driving machine”.

Not only was this highly successful in advancing its share, the power of the idea paid in financial effectiveness; in 2008 BMW was best for rate of return on ad spend per car in the UK.

The expenditure between January and August 2008 worked out at £22 for each new car registered – less than 10% the national average of £233 per vehicle. That other paragon of German success – Volkswagen – spent £155 per car.

As Gallo and the other examples demonstrate, a strong idea which pulls firmly on the emotional chords, can add value to the brand and even efficiency to the budget.

There are issues – such as price promotions – which influence commercial decisions and are labelled pragmatic.

But it is surely more constructive to spend money to add value rather than remove it. The enigma is that wine provides the tools for this in abundance, yet few pick them up.

5 Responses to “Storytelling key to effective advertising”

  1. As usual Jonathan speaks a huge amount of sense but part of his argument is also part of the problem. The wine industry is essentially a farming industry and, apart from notable examples such as William Chase (Tyrells crisps, Chase Vodka), most “farm” products are marketed as commodities, which is why there is no “brand” of carrots. Many producers feel that if their product is good enough, and good value for money, the consumer will think it worth buying by some some sort of telepathy when they see it on a shelf. Most commodities are bought on price and wine has fallen into the same trap. The awareness building advertising is therefore a desperate attempt to say “buy my commodity, rather than his commodity”. Its no surprise therefore that Gallo, with their understanding of the consumer, have become number one, whatever we might think of the product. The trick for smaller companies is to realise that it doesn’t require big advertising budgets to achieve the same thing, it’s the thinking that matters, creating the story and then communicating the story. Every wine has its own advertising space, on the label, but instead of using it wisely we constantly see labels that simply focus on how the wine was made; “elaborated from the Chardonnay grape, cool fermented and aged in American oak, blah,blah….”. Will we ever learn?

  2. Having worked in advertising for 25 years and now running my own business with plenty of wine clients, I could not agree more with this article (or with Mr Rockett’s comment). I have been preaching the value of brand storytelling for years. Stories fill our lives like water surrounds fish. And it’s continually frustrating to see stronger brands in the freezers than on the wine fixture, where there are rich, potent tales to be told to the consumer. My campaign for Blason a few years ago told the story of 100’s of smallholders coming together in co-operatives to create Blason. It gave Blason brand substance and made the consumers’ purchase a meaningful transaction. Which made price less important. Which meant that fewer price promotions were needed. Until wines recognise the real value of telling their stories, the volume products will remain just that, products, and the consumer will continue to buy what’s on promotion. We reap that which we sow.

  3. Yes – of course what the article says is all true – the problem is that all those stories that are common to so many of us have been told a 100 times before ! In our case, just how many new slants can you give to the Italian emigrant family story line ! Ho hum

    But no, we can’t afford to give up. Recently we could not attend tastings in Europe with our distributors because it was the middle of harvest here – so I sat down and wrote, to them and their customers, word pictures of what we were doing at the very time they were tasting our wines, in the midst of their very cold winter – “we were working under a hot Australian summer’s starry night picking the grapes for this vintage under the light of a full moon … etc” . Our blokes told us their customers loved it – and we like to think, helped them order more wine !

    Everyone has a story and people love to hear other people’s stories. It ain’t rocket science – most clever ideas aren’t. But for small producers like us, without the likes of Gallo’s advertising budget, (but thank the Lord not all people see wine just as a price driven commodity so there is still room for artisan wines like ours), getting our stories out, is where the clever bit has to happen.

    Thanks for articles like that – stuck in the aloneness of my office in the antipodes being our self styled marketing department of one – it puts a spring in my step, reminding me sometimes the simplest things, like telling it how it is, can be the best! And reminding me to get cracking with updating our website for a start !

  4. J Stallcup says:

    The wine category lacks advertising because it lacks a culture of brand building. If you define brand strength by the % of category usage (% of glasses of wine purchased in this case) a consumer purchases the strongest brand is Franzia with a 50% share of requirements. The Corbett Canyon radio campaign took a brand with virtually no brand awareness up to around 50% in less than two years with a $17 national radio advertising budget and increased case sales to over 3 million. So yes Martha you can use advertising to grow a brand in the wine category. It’s not easy because the category is crowded and most of the “brand stories” are nearly identical. The wine category executive group think thought process and belief system is just not oriented towards believing in brands from a cpg orientation, or understanding how to employ advertising to build brand equity.

  5. Herman Petersen says:

    Great article. Makes me think of the unique story and fantastic branding being done by the new winery in our town…. Mosquito Fleet Winery in Belfair WA. Just getting rolling and building their brand but they are using a great story… sharing it further with a consistent website and a useful QR code on the back of every label. Slick work by these local guys.

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