Another “Useful” Survey

Reports of wine intelligence are greatly exaggerated. Perhaps I am a contrarian inclined to disbelieve six highly possible things before breakfast, but I reckon that wine intelligence, like its military equivalent, is somewhat of an oxymoron. The world of wine has become an excuse for navel-gazing, voodoo science, claims and counterclaims, self-important surveys, sermonising and proselytising and impoverished writing bereft of imagination and joy. Now that I have got that out of my system Ican breathe again!

To say that wine is highly commercialised is an understatement - big corporations looking at target audiences, creating aspirational images and attempting to maximize sales by endlessly reinventing the product. And the word is product and yea, verily, they threw money at the product like manna from the heavens and, lo, the medium was the message, the product image was strong and the wine, such as it was, was irrelevant. From Chardonnay Girl to the latest patronising piffle we are as lab rats to wanton behavioural scientists - they use us for their sport.

Wine Unintelligibility

Surveys provide us with the stuff of guff. An article published in a certain trade magazine “Constellation unveils WineNation initiative” (24th November 2006) purported to be about a comprehensive (why not say revolutionary) study examining the behaviour of wine drinkers, but it sounded in every respect more like a statement of the bleedin’ obvious. The categories that wine drinkers are “segmented” (their term) into are examples of unmitigated jargon and facile gobbledegook; it talks periphrastically, for instance, about “different levels of involvement with wine” when it presumably means different people who drink wine. Consider this orotund, magnificently meaningless utterance:

“We want to see where the retailers see themselves and compare that with our research. They may want to upweight on a segment or look at a segment where they are under indexing.”

I’d like to know what that means in English; no, on the other hand, I’d rather remain blissfully clueless. The wine trade currently is awash with cod initiatives, cliche-riven pronouncements and nonsensical yet self-important surveys. Despite professing to analyse trends these surveys tend to quantify what we already know, and I’m afraid to say, wine magazines give them far too big a platform to babble on.

Back to this particular survey. The so-called segments, or groups - as we like to say in English - are composed of individuals like you and me shuffled into seven (why stop there?) catchy, catch-all categories. So would you consider yourself to be an Engaged Explorer, for example, or a Routiner? (With this word my spellcheck fries its little brain), Perhaps you prefer to classify yourself as a High Potential, or are you just a simple Economiser at heart and in wallet? Perhaps you don’t see yourself fitting into any single reductive category. The truth, after all, is rarely pure and never simple. I suspect this is just another exercise in reinterpreting and recodifying the usual information revealed by analysis of buying habits and socio-economic research. I seem to recall a similar exercise carried out a few years ago which sought to characterise - although merely succeeded in caricaturing - certain types of wine drinker: Chardonnay girl take a bow.

Where is all this going? The article quotes a gentleman called Dan Townsend saying “...the logical extension would be the on-trade. We believe that there is an 89% acceptance of brands in the on-trade, but traditionally there has been a great deal of gatekeeper resistance (to brands).”

We believe there is an 89% acceptance of brands in the on-trade. Do we believe - or do we know? That 89% is a fascinatingly precise figure. Here’s another statistic; I work with 500+ accounts for my wine company; there is as near 100% resistance to brands in my sector of the on-trade as makes no difference. It stands to reason that if you work in a restaurant or a bar you don’t necessarily want to be offering the same wine as you can find in a supermarket.

Effectively - reading between the jargon - the ultimate extension of this form of research is to profile consumers, find out what they like to drink and to create a brand around it. Instead of all this endless pr blah-blah why don’t we get behind a campaign to persuade consumers to change their drinking habits by introducing them to better wine? There are 19 million people in this country who supposedly drink wine regularly at home. My question is simple, and I don’t have to be one of the 0.8 million Experts (another one of those wacky segments) to pose it: Is the trade just concerned with promoting wine for wine’s sake, as a branded drink, or is it actively engaged in getting customers to question what they are drinking and ultimately to move beyond the comfort of brands? And my final plea - can we have this debate in something resembling the English language?

Posted by Doug on 15-Sep-2008. Permalink
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