The biggest scam in wine history

Food & Drink

Thanks to its iconic logo that makes it immediately recognizable, the Armand de Brignac Champagne is known worldwide also under the name Ace of Spades.

The price for a single bottle is around two hundred and fifty euros. While limited editions can go up to three hundred and fifty.

The annual production reaches 60.000 bottles and they sell out every year.

Nevertheless, the famous enologist, Lyle Fass defined it as “the biggest scam in wine history”.

The product has in fact been described of poor quality and owns its pleasant taste to the excessive sugar addition that makes the skin of wine experts crawl. So how can they possibly sell all these bottles?

The story is quite intriguing.

Everything started when Jay Z (one of the most famous rappers of the world, husband of her majesty, Beyoncé, realized that his songs (and the ones from his colleagues) could be excellent rhyme promotional tools. Tools that could exponentially increase sales for luxury brands, alcohol, and sports cars.

One day, good Jay, got tired of promoting brands without getting any share on the sales he nurtured, or following an Italian saying “to work for the church”. Ok, the artistic flair needs to be pleased, but why enrich someone who is not even thanking you?

He, therefore, started to adopt the principle of “we don’t do it, we don’t sell it”, in other words, the law of your product.

He started to substitute all the brands he was mentioning in his songs, with his own brands.

His Vodka.

His clothing brand.

And yes, you got it: his champagne.

This “method”, which his colleagues decided not to follow, made him even richer.

He then decided to film a scene in one of his music videos while he was theatrically choosing a bottle of Armand de Brignac over a bottle of Crystal.

Wine Cellar – Photocredit: GettyGetty

And it does not end here. To create an even more convincing story, he refused to admit he had any partnership with the winery. We had to wait until 2014 for him to admit he acquired the company through one of his subsidiaries.

Hiding his obvious interest while endorsing the brand resulted in an even bigger increase in sales, and he knew it.

All right, I am talking about a very specific marketing case inside the wine world (to take with a grain of salt), but let’s see how we can benefit from it.

Given that not all of us are Jay Z, we don’t have such a nice bank account or audience reach, this case teaches that to communicate a product we have to use any weapon at our disposal. Above all the ones we are not comfortable with and that might seem unconventional at first.

There are still so many brands whose marketing is basically stuck in the postwar period. Companies that are still trying to promote wine as it was done fifty years ago, in the “old way” or even worst, that are not even trying to. This lack, regardless of the market growth over the past few years, contributes to an unstable and limping position on the market.

“People come to buy wine because is good”, they say.

But “good” is not enough anymore. There are at least 1000 different bottles in any supermarket you might walk in. Too many brands that are overlapping and create a cannibalization effect.

The “Italy of wine” needs to find its own synthesis, a model leveraging the Italian style, without losing its value and prestige.

Sunrise over fields of wineyards in ItalyGetty

The recipe is not simple, I know, and does not count only for this specific market. Consider that a marketer wakes up every day knowing he/she will have to run much faster than another wine or food maker to convince them that there is another way and that this can even bring to better results.

For example, there is a key consumer category, the so-called millennials (between 18 and 29 years old), which represents a fundamental target. Their needs and interests though seem not to be given enough importance or are being tackled in the wrong way.

We have to consider what drives this generation to complete the purchase, and understand that their motivations differ from other group ages. An intimate relationship with the product needs to be enhanced, as well as its myths, possible food pairings (another critical theme) and all the stories enclosed in a bottle of wine.

Even more important is to remember to give people “simple” words for them to communicate and share their wine experiences.

We need to find the right balance between simplicity and scientific elements, without minimizing nor overcomplicating it. We have to be innovative and break the conventional communication strategy that usually enhances the family’s prestige and terroir’s uniqueness. Above all, we have to get rid of those pretentious terms that drive people to walk away instead of engaging them.

Apprehend that there’s a type of consumer not interested in interpreting wine “as a sommelier” is another key factor. Those consumers actually aim for the opposite. They only want to learn how to enjoy an escape moment that will become a positive memory.

That said, I believe that quality is still a must (you cannot walk away from that). While communication should go on a parallel path and put the product at the center of the strategy, together with the customer and more precisely his/her experiences.

Until next time.


Find Matteo Parisi online on VinhoodLinkedin and Facebook.

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