The Real Thing and Point of Difference for Wine Branding – James Melendez



The McCann Erickson campaign dubbed Hilltop also known as “I’d like to Buy the World a Coke.” Set in an Italian hillside featuring a worldly population of young people each holding a glass bottle of Coca-Cola from their respective Country.

I was reminded of this ad when I saw the last episode of Mad Men (hopefully I am not spoiling anything–I won’t give any comment that lead up to the final scene–don’t continue if you think this might be a spoiler) – how about that disclosure?  We see Don Draper at a spiritual retreat in Big Sur and he utters an “omm” eyes closed and the iconic coke ad appears.  My interpretation and I love this ambiguous ending is that while Don was seeking a spiritual retreat he was a quintessential Madison Avenue ad man and this retreat provided the inspiration for him to in the future create this ad.  Few series endings are not satisfying but the totality of the this final scene felt as satisfying as possible.

I don’t really ever recall the moving image of this ad only the music and the tag line of “The Real Thing”  I went back to see if this coke ad had been re-imagined by Mad Men or it was a re-mastered image.   I was pleasantly surprised to see it was re-mastered.  The old ad from whatever source was grainy but the remastered image seemed new.  Just as Mad Men reimagined the storied past of Madison Avenue and heavy leaning on mid-Century culture and history it was the Real Commercial.  Seeing the Hilltop ad in 2016 eyes is to see an ad that inspires, is relevant and still can deliver goosebumps to be a testament to ads at their finest.

The longer message is this propelled Coca-Cola for a long time–hard to match an ad like this and after billions of dollars spent by Coca-Cola none have truly surpassed the evocation of emotion that this ad still leaves with us today.  Brand and authenticity is a hard thing to convey and cannot always be bought–it has to be nurtured backed by vision and balanced with creativity.

Wine and branding is no different and that today more than ever is a ‘need to have’ a brand position and for very logical and pragmatic reasons.  As of 2014, there are over 10,400 bonded wineries in the United States.  That is a lot of wineries–a lot of labels and that is not including from what is being sourced from abroad.  Wine as I have always said is easily one of the most compelling consumer products and it is also the most complex – large of number of varieties, vintage, vineyard selection, reserve/non-reserve, old vine, cuvee selection etc.  Though label and brand identities have been developed by some producers solidly in the consumer’s mind there is a vast landscape of complexity.  What wine consumers want is selection, excellence and good price points the number of SKUs is still ever increasing.  Wine consumers fall in love with good wine and fall out of love quickly if there is a substantial price increase and lack of availability.  Lack of availability is key — wine unlike beer or spirits is limited at least in the sense of thoughtfully produced wines is both highly unique and limited.  I often go into a wine retailer with a wine I want to buy and out I come with a different brand altogether–why?  Simply the retailer doesn’t have what I am seeking.  With a vast array of complexities and layering more producers I think is a recipe for commoditization.  

I have walked into many wine retailers and grocery stores and have scratched my head at the number of non-branded wine labels–virtual brand–something that doesn’t exist but only for packaging.  These non-brands help to commoditse wine in a way that takes away from the branding position of the wine category.  

Wine brands and advertising in general has not been especially good – there is no wine equivalent for the Coca-Cola hilltop ad.  Some wine ads are depicting people who really don’t exist – Bartles and Jaymes – these are not the people who owned the brand or Carlo Rossi (Charles Rossi) who was a salesman for Gallo Wines married into the Gallo Family but did not start the winery with his somewhat namesake.  Many campaigns are so superficial and shallow such as “Ruinite on Ice/That’s Nice” or the Orson Welles Paul Masson ads were Masson was attributed as saying “We will sell no wine before it’s time.”  Did Paul Masson actually say that?  I cannot point to any broadcast ad where when a brand was presented about wine it was actually the subject not object–most are superficial and endlessly shallow.  The Blue Nun wine ads are cringe worthy call out.

Coca-Cola ventured into the wine world in the mid-70s and exited it as well owning Sterling in Napa Valley.  But ownership doesn’t execute to brand identification let alone great brand positioning or advertising.

Wine branding is vital and important and for consumers to grasp those brands who have a raison d’etre than a raison d’argent.  And to avoid what maybe an overall brand erosion is through thoughtful producers who choose to offer a strong brand identity can help to mark position.  Few brands can do broadcast advertising and I think it is not necessary for most. But there is always an opportunity to create a video on such platforms as Vimeo or YouTube.    Brands need to work towards continuous improvement, thoughtful and methodical about it’s communication and to be on point.  Branding is the only way to not become a commodity.  My comments here are not to say that all wine labels are headed towards commoditization and I do think some brands do an excellent job of holding their brand authority.

There will be plenty of producers who either can’t execute a distinct brand or even care about it will succumb to either a decreased interest or eventual demise of brand and business.




Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

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© 2016 James Meléndez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine Guy.

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About James Melendez

I love wine and have had the privilege of working in the wine trade as a senior national wine marketing manager for a wine, food and home goods retailer in 30+ US States. I executed into making wine experiential and made 'wines of the world' programme work in a highly regulated framework for a successful business proposition. My "wine" site also incorporates those categories intimately involved with wine such as food, travel and lifestyle. This site incorporates my many dimensions of interest. I love to review and also talk about many aspects of wine. I have been privileged to visit many wine countries and find them enthralling no matter how many times I visit. I love all aspects of wine: viticulture, history, winemaking, brand development, wine regions and many more aspects. This is a living tradition that needs documentation, education, reporting and reviewing. Do I have favourite varieties and styles? I love so many varieties and often it is situational and yet there are time honoured wines that I anticipate and I am passionate about. I like all colours of wine and all styles. I have had a mad passionate affair with sparkling wines and they are always top of mind. Wine nourishes our soul and is the key to connecting with other people at our dinner table. Salute, James © 2014, 2017 James Meléndez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine Guy. James the Wine Guy also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other social medias.
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