October 19, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly about #varietydays

Over the last two years variety days have grown into a regular affair in the wine industry.  The idea originated (please feel free to correct me if  I am wrong) by Craig Drollett for #TwitterTasteLive as he organized events where people tasted wine together and talked about it on Twitter.  The events became more focused when Rick Bakas leveraged the concept for #ChardonnayDay (which also led to #CabernetDay).  Since then we are seeing almost every variety and/or region have a #<insert_noun>day.  It is also in almost every playbook from PR firms and “social media consultants” to add a #varietyday in their proposal (we have already seen 30 different proposals for variations of the #hashtagdays in the last 4 months).  So, taking a page from my friend Ben Simons of Vinotology (as well as borrowing his awesome icons), here is The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of #varietydays.

Now before everyone that participates in #varietydays gets out their pitchforks and storms the Tank, we think there are many good things that come out of these events:

  • It’s an opportunity to connect with your winery’s community.
  • It’s a chance to get valuable feedback about your wines and your competitor’s wines.
  • It’s an opportunity to connect with other wineries.
  • It’s an opportunity to connect with wine lovers that appreciate a particular variety/region.
  • It’s a chance to sell more wine.
  • It’s a reason to help your customers drink the wines they have bought from you so they will buy more!
  • It’s a chance to connect with the influencers, trade, and press that participate in the event.
  • These are GREAT for varieties to get additional exposure to consumers (especially lesser known varieties like Tempranillo, etc).
  • Your brand can get more exposure through conversations across people’s social graphs.
  • Some of the event organizers (like Chris Oggenfuss with #ChampagneDay) are very, very passionate about the day and are truly doing it to advance knowledge of the variety or region.
  • And hey, any excuse to have a party and drink wine can’t be that bad.

Oh yes, there is the bad too.  These events are becoming less about the wine and the wineries and more about vanity metrics (psst – good link to click) and promoting the personal brand of the organizers.  Many wineries have expressed fatigue and frustration with some of the events.  Some of the bad:

  • Organizers ask you to throw a party, donate wine and even buy advertising.  Not to mention the time you need to allocate to participate.  At some point the cost exceeds the ROI.
  • Organizers try to bring as many wineries in as possible.  At some point the noise of wines drowns out the signal of your winery for additional exposure.
  • Organizers often ask that you market this to your customers and have them participate en force. This opens up the opportunity for your competition to poach your customers.
  • Organizers co-opt online wine influencers to bring their friends (consumers, wineries, restaurants, and retailers) to participate, get them to donate time and energy but don’t share in the spoils of the revenue they are earning for organizing the event.
  • Many of the organizers have clients (major advertisers or winery clients) that they are trying to achieve big metrics for the day.  Whether you are a wine personality bringing your friends or a winery bringing your customers the organizers don’t care about your goals, but are more than happy to leverage your social graph for a bigger aggregate number.
  • Most wineries don’t have the social media resources or savvy to realize the potential of the event.
  • How many times are we (wineries and wine retailers) asked to donate wines for an event that just evolves into a “party?”  #feh
  • Consumers love these events because somewhere there is free wine to drink and they defend the events with vigor.

And that leaves us with the worst things about #varietydays:

  • The pitches we see to organize these #varietydays is now exceeding $10K a pop but the majority of work and costs comes from online wine celebrities and wineries to get customer participation.  Hmmnnnn.
  • We know that some of the organizers are using these days to have wineries and wine celebrities “flush out” wine lovers so they can add them to a list to harvest for their own future campaigns or are used in proposals where they, and I quote, “have a qualified list of x,xxx social wine lovers that we collected during #<insertvarietyhere>day that you can access if you hire our firm.”

If you need some additional reference Zoe Gedess-Soltess (she rocks BTW) did a great post for @radian6 analyzing #cabernetday.  However, after reading this post you might find different context in the charts and numbers.

Now before everyone gets all crazy and prepares to organize into an angry mob, we still believe in #varietydays or #hastagdays.  They do a lot of good and, in fact, it would be great to see wineries engaging with their customers to do a #<insertwinery>day.  In fact, VinTank will be participating in a big way for #champagneday with Chris Oggenfuss who, as I stated before, is incredibly passionate about the region and style of this type of wine.  But make no mistake, #varietydays are not all sunshine and butterflies.  They have a Good, a Bad, and an Ugly.

  • RichardPF

    1. As to the origins of varietal days, I think you need to reach further back. Beaujolais Nouveau generally became celebrated internationally during the 1980s. International Sake Day began in 1978, and I was promoting it back in October 2008, and I am sure other sake lovers were promoting it online before then.  Lenn Thompson also deserves credit for Wine Blogging Wednesdays, which brought together people all over the world talking about a wine theme each month. It is not really a new phenomenon.

    2. As for “good things” about these days, I think you should add: “Educate people about the wine/grape/drink.” As one example, during this past Sake Day on Oct.1, seems like I tweeted over 100 educational items about sake. Some of the new varietal days have not done much in the way of education, which I think is a mistake.

    • Richard,
      Thanks for the clarifications and I completely agree on both of your points.  I also support your Sake day.  It is a product that can use a day and most people, especially me, know very little about the product.

  • Spot-on “angle-eyes” (ref)…. I  agree w/ pretty much every angle.  My personal take: Isn’t every day #Cabernet or #Chardonnay day? Does awareness for these shelf-dominating varieties really need to increase?  Now if you’re talking Godello, Vermentino or the countless other varieties that have to fight for limited space and consumer attention, that’s a different story and there might be some value.  Do 10,000+ Cabernet mentions spread across 100’s of brands really matter to anyone? Hell no. There’s no value.  How about a couple hundred #Godello mentions? Could that actually help raise awareness for varieties or better yet appellations? Maybe.

    Also there’s the question of sales. Mentions are one thing but marketing teams only give so much weight to buzz. If sales don’t follow there won’t be long term interest from brands.  This business is very shortsighted, if benefit isn’t felt immediately we’ll abandon a plan. Wrong/right? it’s a fact proven daily.

    There’s also the question of saturation.  When every week sees another #_______ day it’s going to get old real fast. If it hasn’t already.

    Just my take.

  • Rich Reader (aka @VineBuzz)

    My feelings of discomfort in #varietal days are in the rush to taste too many wines so quickly that there isn’t enough time to compare any two wines side-by-side after both have been in stemware for 30 minutes or more.  So many of the fine wines that enter such events don’t reach there best taster-experience point inside of the event’s environment, misleading the public into voting for the wine with the greatest first blush.  It’s just a little to United-Statesian for the way that my palate rolls.  Not withstanding this foregone conclusion, I am attending Champagne Day at the Westin Verasa in Napa.

  • Even though I consider myself pretty savvy in the social media realm, I have never understood the attraction to these events. From moment one that I heard of anything like it, it just sounded like a big shill for this producer or that importer or whatever.

    I guess my bullshit alarm is a touch more sensitive than others.

    That having been said, let’s just say I agree with your second and third sections more than your first, Paul. 🙂

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