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09.24.2009  
 

Message In a Wine Bottle

Label design can draw in consumers, set price expectations, according to Oregon researchers

 
by Peter Mitham
 
 
blank wine bottle label

Corvallis, Ore. -- The dramatic increase in wine brands available to consumers during the past decade, as well as consumer interest in discovering new wines, has made packaging a critical element in carving out market share. Walk through just about any wine shop and you'll hear exchanges dissing one wine because of its label, while another finds favor.

Discovering what consumers respond to in wine packaging is the goal of ongoing research by Dr. Keven Malkewitz, an assistant professor of marketing at Oregon State University, and Dr. Ulrich Orth of Germany's Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel. The research could help wineries devise labels that reach their wine's target market more effectively, while cultivating more accurate expectations among consumers of the wines the labels herald.

A forthcoming report by Malkewitz and Orth in the Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice says that an appreciation for design may be as significant as a knowledge of wine when it comes to effective packaging. While wine connoisseurs may not be as prone to judging a wine by its label as less-knowledgeable consumers, a label as well-crafted as the wine it describes will accurately signal the wine's quality to design-savvy shoppers.

Building on previous research, Malkewitz and Orth assessed a number of factors, including wine knowledge and aesthetic values, to arrive at the correlation between package design, wine quality and consumer purchasing decisions.

Malkewitz and Orth found that consumers form expectations of a wine's price based on visual cues inherent in the package. Wines positioned as premium products may bear ornate images of chateaus, or flowing typography, for example. Complex labels that require "greater mental processing effort" translate into a higher price expectation by the consumer.

On the other hand, a more affordable wine may signal its own value using bold colors and simpler fonts that appeal to design-aware consumers.
"Our study corroborates findings that aesthetically appealing packages can, per se, represent a source of value to aesthetically conscious consumers, and may even lead them to accept higher prices," Malkewitz and Orth wrote.

Keven Malkewitz wine label
 
Dr. Keven Malkewitz considers a wine's packaging its most potent sales tool.

The challenge for wineries is devising a label that both accurately represents a wine and appeals to the appropriate target market. The right label should garner the best price from the consumers most inclined to pay for it. While a well-designed label can command a higher price for a wine than it might otherwise enjoy -- Malkewitz hasn't done the research, but he suggested the premium might be at least 10% -- some wines risk presenting themselves as too expensive or too cheap for the consumers who might otherwise buy them.

This doesn't make sense in a competitive market -- or any market, for that matter.

"The companies that do a better job of signaling what's inside their bottle with the outside of their bottle -- in the long run, those are the companies that are going to build strong brands," Malkewitz told Wines & Vines. The study builds on a paper Malkewitz and Orth published last year in the Journal of Marketing that examined package design and consumer brand impressions.

That paper presented 125 graphic and industrial designers with photographs of 160 wine bottles, mostly of lesser-known brands, and asked for analyses of the bottles' aesthetic attributes. Consumers were also presented with the photographs and asked to comment on the "brand personality" of each bottle.

The responses identified five types of package design -- bold, contrasting, natural, delicate and nondescript.

The study found that consumers rated packages with bold and contrasting design elements highly for their eye-catching qualities, but they also expected them to contain inexpensive wine of low quality and sophistication.

Consumers deemed packaging with natural design elements to convey sophistication and a higher price, but they also expected the wines to be of high quality.

Delicate designs ranked at the top of the spectrum for sophistication, expense and quality, while nondescript designs indicated a mass-market product from corporate wineries offering little value.

Another study the pair has submitted for publication examines the perception of wine bottles from different distances. A bottle may be perceived differently at different distances, but the more consistent the messaging, the better the chance a consumer who sees it from a distance will buy it after approaching it for a closer look.

Understanding consumer responses to packaging is important, Malkewitz said, because it's really the only tool most wines have to sell themselves to consumers.

"When a customer walks into Safeway, that's the only thing a brand -- other than Yellow Tail, other than Gallo, other than maybe a Chateau Ste. Michelle or something like that -- that's the only thing that a brand has going for it at that moment," he said. "There's no extensive promotions or TV spots or things. It's basically that thing sitting on the shelf. Do you like me or not, do you think I'm expensive or not, do you want to buy me or not?"

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