Marketing Wine…in 100 Words or Less
Last week three particular writing projects occupied much of my time: A handbook (40,000 words), a press release (500 words) and back labels (100 words each). Any writer will understand when I note that it is the short little wine back labels that are by far the more difficult task.
I’ve probably written upwards of 200 back labels in my career as a public relations and marketing consultant in the wine industry. More than any other writing project they make you appreciate the power of words. The back label exercise is one of making few words say a great deal.
In the particular case of last week’s back label, I was presented with a specific amount of space into which the following ideas had to fit:
1. The winery takes an artisan approach to its winemaking, both in the vineyard and the cellar
2. Its focus is on making wines of a particular region
3. The winery is a small, decidedly family affair
4. A description of the character and attributes of the wine
5. Placing the location of the vineyards and describing what makes them unique.
All these ideas were not merely to be mentioned, but explained…in 100 words.
Unlike a press release which has a generally accepted format to follow, the wine label does not necessarily demand any particular writing style or format. So, there is a more stylistic creativity I can indulge in. Additionally, and again unlike the press release, a back label need not necessarily follow the conventions of proper grammar. The only requirement is that you deliver the message.
My approach to writing a back label is to first ask, "where is it most likely to be read? In a store where it will be purchased for later drinking, or on a table in a restaurant where it will be consumed immediately." In the former case the back label should help make the sale. In the case of the restaurant purchase the back label should reinforce the decision of the diner as well as keep the focus on the purchasing decision that has already been made without the help of a back label.
It is not as uncommon as you may think for a wine to be produced with the intention that it will be consumed primarily after having been purchased in one of these different types of environments. A number of wines, for example, are made with the intention that 80% to 90% will be purchased from a wine list. I prefer writing these kinds of back labels. They tend to be less oriented to "close the sale" than to educate, explain and entertain. As your conceive and write these labels you imagine dinner companions passing the bottle around the table, sipping the wine, and talking about what they are tasting, smelling and reading. I almost always tend to focus on the actually wine in the bottle and what makes it unique (a vineyard, a cellar technique, a person, a history).
Writing a label for the store shelf is different. In this case I ask myself, what can I say about this wine or producer that will help them choose this wine over the other they have in their hand as they stand, wondering and pondering in the wine section of the grocery store. I’m selling. One way to do this is to create back copy that helps the buyer WANT to BE where the wine was made or WANT to BE the people who made the wine: "Adoption by Desire."
The labels I was working on last week were likely to be sold equally on the shelf and in a restaurant (SIGH…).
When this is the case I tend to default to a in-store purchase mindset with a little more emphasis on making the copy more personal. One way to do this is by writing in the first person, rather than 2nd or third, which is often done with back labels for wines meant to be sold primarily in a retail setting.
First person writing on a back label is a powerful style illustrated by the following two sentences:
1. "Domain Wark’s 2004 Cabernet is crafted with artisan techniques in the winery’s small Sonoma Valley cellar."
2.. "Our 2004 Cabernet is a wine I made using the simple artisan techniques I lend to all the wines I produce in our family’s small Sonoma Valley cellar."
The problem with the second sentence however is that it uses far too many words. Twenty-eight to be exact. But as the writing process begins that doesn’t matter. As I start the process of writing the back label, knowing the points I need to make, I simply want to get the ideas on paper in a relatively attractive and complete way. Then, when finished, I’ll count up the words. No doubt there will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 or so. Of course I always to go the label designer before I start to re-write and ask, "Can’t we fit in an extra 40 words?" They always say, "Sure, if we redesign the label."
So, now the process becomes one of tightening. Saying the the same thing but taking out a third of the words.
In the end, it took a good 2 hours of writing and editing to complete this back label of 100 words (it actually turned out to be 97 words). In that same time, I completed and edited 1000 words of the handbook I was also working on.
Words remain the most powerful tools of a literate, civilized society. Crafted and combined well, they have the power to move a nation to action, induce tears among an audience of 100s, slow down a road filled with drivers, or sell an unknown bottle of wine.