Wine label branding off the shelf

The success of New World wines can be attributed to striking graphics as much as the quality of the product. David Benady examines how European brands are responding in the struggle for shelf standout


In the battle for shelf appeal, wines from Australia, the US and other New World wine-producing countries have left the vintners of Europe way behind, using label designs replete with colourful imagery including flora, fauna, misty landscapes and Aboriginal art.

Of course, the established European producers have had to face up to this threat, and shrug off their traditional heritage iconography of crests, portcullises and chateaux. Indeed, consultancies report that there are dozens of briefs around to redesign wines from France, Italy, Spain and Portugal to give them a fresher, more playful look. ‘There has to be an invitation to participate,’ says Hilary Boys, strategic planning director at Lewis Moberly, which has redesigned a number of wine brands including Mateus Rosé.

Boys says that the UK’s booming wine sales sector is ‘an incredibly crowded, highly visual market’, where hundreds of brands battle for the attentions of shoppers. ‘We know from research that people go in with a price range in mind and, whether it is red, white or rosé, some people will have a preference for a country. If they are inexperienced, they go back to a brand they know.’

It’s a case of making the product feel fresh while, at the same time, retaining a confidence-inspiring sense of history. ‘The task is to strike a balance between something that’s visually arresting while retaining quality credentials,’ says Boys. ‘In research, consumers are ready to look at new wines. But when people get in store – particularly women – they revert to reassuring cues of quality. When they share a bottle with friends, it has to stand up and be counted.’

Boys says that Old World wines are now borrowing some of the wit of the New World. Her consultancy redesigned the labels for top-selling Bordeaux Mouton Cadet, to include a friendly animal motif. ‘We wanted to create something iconic,’ she explains. ‘It previously had a strange label featuring stage curtains being drawn. In contrast, we created an icon based on Mouton [a sheep – the word translates as ‘mutton’] with a beard like grapes. The word-play makes you smile, and it is about finding the balance between participation and quality.

The marketing of wine has become extremely competitive, particularly in the communication of quality and provenance. Many New World wines have built brand reputations on grape varietals and product consistency: a combination that European producers have not been able to match, largely because their vintages vary widely according to each year’s climate. Also, without the deep history, New World wines have been freer to use startling imagery, although bigger producers, such as Jacob’s Creek, have opted for a reserved, classical look, in tandem with heavyweight marketing, to gain market share.

One example of a playful New World label design is Vino Gusto, launched by Australian drinks chain Liquorland and designed by consultancy Elmwood. To describe the taste of each wine in the range, it uses graphic illustrations of fruit, vegetables or flowers, supported by explanatory copy. According to Elmwood, the brand became a runaway success as it demystified wine language in an engaging way.

Elmwood also recently worked on a redesign for Californian brand Beringer, famed as a sparkling wine brand, but hoping to build credentials in the still wine sector. The main graphic innovation was to put an abstract ‘B’ shape on the side of the labels to improve shelf presence. ‘The “B” was created to break the shape on the shelf,’ says Elmwood designer Martin Hayes. ‘The shape is more memorable and stands out in terms of colours and imagery.’ On the premium side, designer John Blackburn, who has worked on many leading alcohol brands, created a bottle for Californian brand Swanson, featuring graphic illustrations of a swan and a face – notionally of a ‘son’ – fired directly on to the bottle. It’s a way of getting shelf presence without over-labouring the provenance of the wine.

‘There are subtler ways of supporting the provenance than by, say, just putting the Eiffel Tower on a label,’ says Blackburn, adding that wine is normally stacked by country in the supermarket. He believes wine producers need to look beyond national stereotypes commonly used to denote country of origin if they want to stand out.

If designers have attempted to add clarity in an exploding market, choosing a bottle of wine is still difficult. Retailers have developed fresh ways of simplifying choice, by building own-label ranges or by new initiatives, such as Six Wines Eight. This innovative on-line wine service offers eight styles of wine using colour-coded sticker dots, designed by consultancy Hyperkit. Each wine style is described with three words, ranging from ‘celebrate, bubble, pop!’ to ‘intense, complex, elegant’, and for each colour, there are six differently priced wines identified by numbers one to six, so that consumers can order a few bottles of ‘blue three’ or ‘yellow five’. It’s another bright idea, in a world that is increasingly full of them. l

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