Genesis of a Gen Y Brand

YOU BOTTLESCo-authored by Evan Mitchell, Director, Love & Wine

[message type=”custom” width=”100%” start_color=”#F0F0F0 ” end_color=”#F0F0F0 ” border=”#BBBBBB” color=”#333333″]Editor’s Note: See Brian & Evan’s prior Articles in this Series:

[su_spacer]Sleep walking

[su_dropcap style=”flat”]H[/su_dropcap]OW DID AN INDUSTRY so comprehensively lose the plot? How did it continue to push out tired old heritage messages, oblivious to changing competitive circumstances? All this while surrendering a prime natural market it should never have lost. Sleep walking at a time that required action.

We’re talking Wine.

This is a beverage that’s been celebrated through the ages – by kings, philosophers, and common folk alike. The greatest of the Greek thinkers, Plato and Aristotle, were big fans. Horace, the lyric poet, wrote;

Wine brings to light the hidden secrets of the soul.

Centuries on, wine was on the lips of Shakespeare, Baudelaire and Oscar Wilde, and philosophers like Kant, Hume and Schopenhauer. Robert Louis Stevenson called it “bottled poetry”, and Hemingway, “one of the most civilized things in the world.” And down a culture notch, alt-indie King Crimson guitar god Robert Fripp venerated music and wine together, “music is the wine that fills the cup of silence.” And even Eighties ex-Duran Duran pop moppet Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy channelled the Song of Solomon in singing “your love is sweeter than wine.”

If ever a product had a social and cultural advantage heading into the new Millennium, it was the grape. But with the coming of the Millennial generation… nothing.

That silence you can hear is history’s most aspirational generation abandoning history’s only aspirational beverage.

CABERNETAgreed, wine isn’t the only industry to under-perform with this generation. But it’s the most bizarre example. With other products or services, a failure to hit it with Gen Y is largely an issue of collateral damage – the result of a generational shift in values, behaviors, and attitudes alien to what marketers are used to. In the case of the wine industry however, the damage has been purely self-inflicted. Wine is the craft beverage par excellence. Yet, almost overnight the industry surrendered this priceless consumer mindspace to “craft” beers and ciders. These grabbed youth appeal with a message of old style, hand-crafted artisanship (more hype than reality) – and spruiked youth relevance on top by wrapping it all up in a hipster beard.

The wine industry banked on the generations-old chestnut that people’s tastes would eventually just “grow into” wine. That truism however, for Gen Y at least, is increasingly less true. Novelty, peer appeal, palate-and-packaging bling, these have been allowed to trump the wine ideals of taste, knowledge, and appreciation – without a fight.

Wine’s current battle for the Millennial market has been made more challenging by the ground given up to aggressive competitors. But all industries face the dilemma of how to engage with a consumer generation that refuses to play by the old rules.

YOU – a genuine wine brand for Gen Y

Previous attempts to create Millennial wine brands have been driven by superficial and naff novelty, or a patronising and clumsy co-opting of Gen Y slang. These brands have spectacularly failed to nail the sense of authenticity Gen Y demands from their lifestyle brands.

Engagement with this generation can come only by building a wine brand on the defining characteristics of the Millennial mindset. In essence, ensuring that the brand’s DNA matches the Gen Y worldview:

  • lifestyle priorities of image and identity
  • celebritization and its fame-fascination spinoffs
  • abandonment of authority for peer influences
  • relationship dominance as the social currency
  • technological saturation – tech as both means and

When Australian Vintage Limited – one of Australia’s largest producers of wine – approached Gen Y marketing specialists Love & Wine, this overriding strategy was top of mind.

Gen Y alienating jargon

A fundamental priority was avoiding the alienating effect of traditional wine jargon and descriptive technical terms. Instead, each wine variety in the range declared its own personality in human characteristics. So pinot grigio (labelled “grigio” as another step away from wine-purist intimidation) is “Fun, fresh and flirty – life of the picnic, laugh of the party – your friends love going anywhere with you.” And cabernet sauvignon (similarly labelled “cab sav”) is “Epic in every sense, you lead the way – distinctive, decisive and never divisive – your friends turn to you to get things done.”

Crucially, each wine variety’s personality was not just a collection of catchy phrases. The descriptions had to be accurate from both winemaking and consumer perspectives.

To Gen Y the personality types represent:

  • who they’d like to be,
  • who they’d like to be seen to be,
  • who they’d like to hang out with.

Targeting Gen Y values

These three aspects of personality appeal are directly related to the key aspirational values of identity, image, and that third essential component of the Gen Y mindset, the admiration of their peer group (hence the consistent presence of “friends” and a basis of peer admiration on each label).

The YOU brand aimed to invite Gen Y to incorporate wine into their lifestyle for positive and aspirational reasons – rather than playing to baser instincts (as many RTD and spirit campaigns have done). The YOU wine personalities in effect have a triple-barrelled impact. Gen Y consumers:

  • can establish a connection with their own personality match
  • identify their friends in the personality mix, and “share” and “gift” on the basis of this, and
  • explore different varieties that reflect their changing moods – which are like minor personality changes.

It has never been sufficiently appreciated to what extent wine bottle back labels are “the most poorly used, misused and underused marketing space in the wine industry.” The back labels for YOU wines were designed to avoid all the old mistakes, and act as an inducement to purchase, rather than as is too often the case, an obstacle.

Turning the bottle from front to back, the Gen Y consumer’s experience is to see the aspirational personality terms become a coherent personality narrative. Key characteristics are highlighted in the varietal colour to reinforce the connection. The brand theme “YOU know how to make an impression” reinforces the identity/image/peer admiration connection.

Even the health warning – love wine RESPONSIBLY – is couched positively, as an invitation, not an admonition.

Science of reading patterns

In both physiological and psychological terms, the labels are consistent with the principles established by the Nielsen Norman group in their ground-breaking research on dominant reading patterns for the digital generation. Their studies in eye-tracking visualization showed that the internet age no longer approaches material in the literal way readers once did. They are highly selective, they skim and scan. Eyes sweep across the words in horizontal and vertical movements roughly in the shape of an F. And as Jacob Nielsen has pointed out, that F also stands for “fast”. These findings have direct implications for the wine industry. Traditional wine labels, with their dense scripts and compressed formats, are the antithesis of user friendly to a Gen Y audience.

The Nielsen research was influential in the design and content of the YOU front and back labels. These employed a unique technique called “wine bites” – punchy, informative, brief encapsulations of a wine, that stand in sharp contrast to the often turgid descriptions on the backs of most wine bottles.

All aspects of design, labelling and packaging are explicit in their reinforcement of end-user benefits. Aspirational personalities are a key attraction. Immediate understanding of the differences between wine varieties comes directly from implicit understanding of different personality types and relationship dynamics.

As a result, a new language of wine description is provided, with none of the anti-attractions of jargon and specialist terms. With such an easily adopted vernacular, Gen Y can now easily talk about wine.

Brand Message

An area of general weakness for companies marketing to Gen Y is the selection of brand message. Research shows that Gen Y consumers are more attracted to brands that fit who they are, what they like, and how they do things. This makes the combination of brand name and accompanying slogan or theme crucially important. The ideal is to achieve a synergy, but many brand message combinations fail even to even achieve compatibility between name and theme.

Based on research findings, three requirements were set in theme selection for the YOU brand:

  • inventiveness
  • emotional appeal that is legitimate, not forced, and
  • synergy with the brand name.

The themes chosen were:

  • “YOU – wines with personality”
  • “YOU know how to make an impression”
  • “Find the wine to match your mood.”

Brand website

The website is the foundation of the brand’s digital presence – YOU WINES

The wine industry internationally has been extremely poor at establishing a digital connection with Gen Y. Websites reflect the generationally alienating flaws of all their other sales and marketing literature. And as transparent E-commerce sites, they attempt to push an unearned sales message on consumers they’ve failed to connect with emotionally. A fatal mistake with this generation.

So the sole focus of the YOU wines website was to establish which variety is a personality match, and why – in as interactive and engaging a way as possible.

To this end a quiz was created, designed to

  • play up the interactivity of the site and the user experience it provides
  • give a genuine baseline of taste, for an accurate personality match
  • ensure each quiz-taker feels a genuine affinity with their nominated variety, and
  • be fun, insightful, and possessed of that necessary dimension of generational “irreverence”.

YOU WINEThe range of questions asked in the quiz was designed to evaluate participants in terms of 20 Aspirational Values that underlie the relationships Gen Y has with brands. “YOU are saving… – the world – the planet – yourself – your sanity?” “YOU are playing… – the field – to win – the game – by your own rules?” “YOU are heading to… – the top of the mountain – the ends of the earth – the top of the heap – the end of time?” Questions shuffle randomly on each visit, the only question guaranteed to appear each time being “YOU are dating… him – her – both of them – all of them?”, required to provide a necessary gender baseline to help with flavour/personality alignment, but in a way that does not alienate the generation for whom Facebook now declares 71 genders/orientations.

Social Media campaign

Gen Y is notoriously dismissive of traditional experts and authority, and impervious to much traditional media advertising. A generational move away from “vertical” to “horizontal modelling” has seen an overwhelming switch to peers (friends, and followed social media identities) as the preferred source of recommendations.

Millennials value the experience of discovery, of sharing, and being shared with. To this end, the YOU wines launch campaign was focused on identifying appropriately aged social media influencers to fit with the brand’s sense of generational authenticity and lifestyle appeal. Influencers were of four distinct identified types – fashion and style (largely female), general lifestyle, food and dining (mixed), and indie/arty/hipster (mixed), to provide visual content for Instagram.

Youth-themed events and festivals also offer an ideal opportunity to expose the brand to influencers among Gen Y, so long as the demographic mix is right. These influencers are the “connectors, salespeople and mavens” identified by Malcolm Gladwell in his influential book The Tipping Point. For a generation who reject traditional authorities, it’s essential to position the brand where it can resonate with the new tastemakers.

The end result has been to situate the brand as an essential part of the style dialogue between influencers and the Gen Y consumers who value their lifestyle messages.

An end in itself

Six months after launch, the YOU brand achieved full national distribution in Australia’s largest liquor retailer, and was also the fastest trending Australian wine on Instagram (far out-stripping established brands with decades of presence, significant brand equity, and strong cellar door promotion).

Social considerations are important here as well.

Wine is exceptional among alcoholic beverages. This provides more than just a dispensation for wine in the light of modern youth binge drinking and the associated health and social costs. No other beverage can claim wine’s enviable history, its intellectual and cultural bona fides, its special complementarity to meals and to social interaction. No other beverage can claim wine’s distinction as a fine craft if not an art, and its contribution to the heritage and culture of each country and society in which it’s made. (The Italian government has recently formally recognized this cultural positive, and other governments in wine-producing countries should follow suit.)

Only wine, of all the alcoholic beverages, can by its very nature play a part in addressing the destructive unravelling of social and familial cohesion.

This raises the question;

[bctt tweet=”Can established behavior patterns be changed by positive messages?” username=”bizmastersglobal”]

Yes, they can. Robert Cialdini, author of the best seller Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, has a good deal to say on the principle of “social proof.” People, especially the young, seek evidence as to what behavior is “right” in given situations through the behavior of others, and in particular those others perceived as role models. While the role models themselves have changed, the principle has not. Engaging with Gen Y, in the right ways, via the right messages and messengers, provides an opportunity for the wine industry to correct its previous missteps.

And there’s a lesson there as well, for other industries relying on old marketing truisms that are increasingly less true for this singular generation.


Brian Mitchell & Evan Mitchell, “What Created the Gen Y Consumer”, BizCatalyst 360°, January 2016.

Brian Mitchell & Evan Mitchell,Shadowing Science: A Lesson for Marketing on Paradigm Shift”, BizCatalyst 360°, April 2016.

Brian Mitchell & Evan Mitchell, The Psychology of Wine, Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2009.

Brian Mitchell & Evan Mitchell, “Wine, cultural health, and social cohesion – a modern day challenge”, Paper to the 7th International WineHealth Conference, 2013.

Jacob Nielsen, “F-Shaped Pattern for Reading Web Content”, Nielsen Norman Group, 2006.

Robert Cialdini, The Psychology of Persuasion, NY: Quill William Morrow, 1993.

[message type=”custom” width=”100%” start_color=”#F0F0F0 ” end_color=”#F0F0F0 ” border=”#BBBBBB” color=”#333333″]EVAN MITCHELLEVAN MITCHELL graduated from the University of Sydney with an Honors degree in English Literature and Psychology. He worked as a sommelier and sales performance consultant to the hospitality industry before joining Mitchell Performance Systems (MPS). Evan spent a number of years developing sales performance strategies for leading US consumer products companies. He has co-authored three books with Brian Mitchell, on commercial psychological themes – including the Praeger 2009 publication The Psychology of Wine – and given joint papers at major conferences and festivals. Evan leads the brand creation activities within the MPS company Love & Wine. He also heads up research efforts for the broader Millennial market. He is a director of Love & Wine, and co-founder of How & Y a business specializing in connecting brands with the Gen Y consumer market. Contact: [email protected] [/message]

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Brian Mitchell
Brian Mitchellhttp://www.howandy.net
Brian Mitchell and Evan Mitchell write extensively on psychological themes, with scores of published articles on three continents. Brian has a clinical Ph.D. and a significant period as a therapist. Evan has Honors degrees in Psychology and English Literature, and also extensive practical experience. They have two published books. The well-reviewed hardcover The Psychology of Wine: truth and beauty by the glass (www.psychologyofwine.com ) – Praeger US (and now in eBook edition) explored the aesthetics of wine and art and their psychological possibilities. This led to the storyline and structure of their upcoming literary thriller The Last Cave, an action narrative of suspense and surprise in the mode of Terry Hayes’ I am Pilgrim. Prior to writing full-time, the pair conducted a successful US consulting operation specializing in negotiation effectiveness. Subsequently extended to generational studies on decision making tendencies by Gens Y and Z in the consumer world and politics.They can be reached through [email protected]