Dear Millennials…

If you have not been reading the Millennier blog you should give it a look — you’ll find a deal of info on how 20-somethings engage with wine. Leah Hennessy makes it work with a great mix of smart, snappy writing and a solid point of view.

Her note to the wine industry yesterday was a pointed message that just adding social media as a marketing tool is not going to engage the Millennial generation. My first reaction was a big “duh.”

But her wider message seemed to be that I somehow have to change to make our brand appeal to that generation. Respectfully, I disagree. Letter to Millennials

9 thoughts on “Dear Millennials…

  1. Leah Hennessy

    Hi John,

    Thank you VERY much for the kind words! I’ll be posting about this in more detail, but I wanted to take a moment to – well – disagree.

    A lot.

    Winemakers, existing products, etc. shouldn’t change just to try and target millennials. But their marketing sure does.

    The message has to change.

    This generation of 70 million CUSTOMERS don’t respond in a positive manner to the message that the US wine industry has been putting out for the last 40 years. Period.

    Wineries have the opportunity to change their message and bring in a significant amount of paying customers.

    Every customer deserves special treatment. And if for some reason this generation doesn’t count as customers, then I think that explains a lot.


    1. John M. Kelly Post author

      Leah – depends on how you define “the US wine industry” doesn’t it? Tarring us all with the same brush?

      You are absolutely right that every customer deserves special treatment. Where I work, we go out of our way to engage every customer who comes through the door at their own comfort level – no matter what generation they come from. Every day we see that different people respond to a different focus of engagement. For us it is personal, and never exclusionary. Um… let me qualify that – I exclude people all the time: there are people of every generation who never will be our customers because something about the wines or the experience we offer does not resonate with them.

      What I am saying is that I am not going to create a synthetic brand identity or message designed to deliberately cater to Millennials. Our wine is what it is – take it or leave it. Whatever your generation.

  2. James

    Folks, if it’s not 1997 ready, I must have taken a really long nap. Substitute “Generation X” for “Millennials” and this is the very same topic covered during the era of Wine X Magazine. Why on earth would you wish unto yourselves that baby boomers try to market to what they think you are? Save yourselves, please. It’s a blessing that they continued to largely ignore us, despite a few indignant kvetchers.

    1. John M. Kelly Post author

      James – 🙂 🙂 😉

      I’m mildly amused when any group purports to be something new and different from any other – it’s narcissistic, or naive. The message(s) that some industry players have been putting out over the last 40 years turn me off as much as it (they) do Leah. I don’t think anyone does any good when they “…try to market to what they think you are…” – no matter what generation is doing the marketing. Bad marketing is not a generational thing.

  3. Thomas Pellechia

    Bad marketing certainly is not a generational thing, but hubris and self-indulgence often is. Every next generation seems to have all the answers–even us Baby Boomers felt that way back in the Stone Age.

    On the other hand, the overall domestic wine industry message–to anyone–has been dismal and amazingly stupid, which is probably why we keep having this conversation through each generation.

    1. John M. Kelly Post author

      Concisely put, Thomas – and spot on. At least the industry didn’t trot out a Bikini Team, or something like Happy Cows, or a wine-drinking cartoon camel (wait a sec – didn’t the Aussies…? oh, never mind).

      One thing about Leah’s piece, and the discussion that seems to occur every generation: it does force me to examine the degree of my own myopia. Perhaps I am just a once-vibrant fat man intoning “I will sell no wine before its time.” Or not.

  4. Matt Reid

    Leah said:”This generation of 70 million CUSTOMERS don’t respond in a positive manner to the message that the US wine industry has been putting out for the last 40 years.”

    Doubtless that is so, but I would like to point out that no one else responds to the message, either. American adults consume an average of just over 10 bottles of wine each year. That’s not even one a month, folks. The wine industry should scrap its whole marketing plan–to every one–and start over. It could hardly do any worse.

    1. John M. Kelly Post author

      Matt while I agree with you that a lot of wine marketing is a real turn-off (for me as well, as I have noted here and elsewhere) let’s take a step back and acknowledge that most marketing of every product – in every segment – is crap.

      No matter how much GM spends I’m not buying one of their cars. I don’t care how sexy the Axe ads are, the stuff smells nauseating. And on and on. (On the other hand why are they bothering to spend money on marketing Viagra or Cialis or whatever at all? The stuff sells itself to those in need.)

      These personal observations speak to a wider issue: to indict the entire “wine industry” – as though it is monolithic – for marketing failure ignores factors other than bad messaging.

      The reason the “industry” only sells 10 bottles per capita annually is that America has never been a wine-drinking culture – not that we haven’t found the right marketing message. What message can we use to market a product – bottom line, alcohol – that has been fought against by the forces of Puritanism and Temperance since the inception of our society (and continues to be)?

  5. Matt Reid

    Good points, John, and a great question: what message can we use, indeed? Wish I knew the answer.

    Since I don’t, I’ll make one further point. The big companies are not helping by treating the wine market as mature. In a mature market, if I make a sale, you don’t–the amount of wine sold is unchanged. In a growing market (not yet mature), if I make a sale, it has no effect on your sales–the amount of wine sold increases.

    Robert Mondavi was one of the first to realize that the US wine market was not mature, and that helping other wineries through regional associations, etc., helped all wineries. Today’s big players, e.g., Diageo, Constellation, don’t seem to grasp that. Rather than using their marketing power and clout to help the wine market grow, they seem to concentrate on taking sales away from each other.


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