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SPECIAL REPORT: Labels and Packaging

The wine and spirits category is one of the most competitive consumer markets. Crammed shelves, with products always faced at the edge, create a wall of differing brands all screaming for consumers’ attention. Whether a product is new or long established, brand building here must create trial and reinforce existing consumer relationships by advancing the product’s positioning.

In this environment, labeling has to work harder than in any other consumer product location. It is all about shelf appeal and the ability to communicate product attributes. This is a difficult challenge by itself but added to this is the fact that according to industry sources, 70 percent of purchase decisions are made at the point of sale. As such, the ability of the product label to establish and reinforce an image about a particular brand of wine or spirits is vital to retail success.

The label on a bottle of wine or spirits represents a bridge that must be built on understanding the consumer’s expectation about the product. But this is not a one-way bridge—far from it. The communication must flow in both directions. The label has to establish a dialogue with the consumer. And just like a busy cocktail party, the label is a brand’s greeting from overly crowded retail shelves. It offers the warm affirmation of an endearing friendship, invites or turns away a new encounter, or goes completely unnoticed.

Pack design helps to set a brand apart
The importance of product packaging in the wine and spirits market cannot be overstated. The impact of packaging can make the difference between success or failure of a product. Not only the look and feel of the package, but also the quality of the label itself is essential for great shelf appeal. This means the label needs to be perfectly printed and applied.

Something should happen between the consumer and the packaging because a visual cue is the first point of contact with the consumer and it affords the opportunity to evaluate product quality, which is an essential qualifier for choosing one brand over another. Who would pay, even at an inexpensive price point, for a product that does not look appealing?

So, the more a label looks and feels luxurious, the better the perceived quality and the better the opportunity for purchase.

Gaining a competitive advantage
The inability of some consumers to taste the difference between various wines and spirits is an opportunity for labeling and packaging to fill in the gaps by creating an identify that is visually and texturally separate from that of the competition. It comes down to appealing to those senses beyond taste and aroma, each a distinct signature that is crafted with care, but unfortunately lost to many consumers.

This is why when it comes to wines and spirits, package design has both the opportunity and responsibility to set a brand apart. And no other labeling technology delivers stronger shelf appeal than pressure-sensitive labeling. A wide variety of papers, films and specialized materials enable designers to leverage their most innovative ideas for brand building. Pressure-sensitive substrates include:

  • Clear-on-clear films for a no-label look
  • Glossy and matte white papers for highly visual graphics
  • Digitally top-coated papers and films for short-run and complex designs
  • Eco-friendly papers and films to appeal to Earth-conscious end users and consumers

Pressure-sensitive technology is versatile. It enables intricate designs and complex die-cuts, creating labels that jump from the shelf. But even more so, the array of materials, when combined with special printing techniques, can become a metaphor for the product itself.

For example, rough and porous textures of an uncoated paper label can be combined with screen printing to signify the craftsmanship of an 18-year-old Scotch Whisky; coated semi-gloss facestocks are subtly smooth and can denote the flavor profile of something that is soft, easy to drink and good for socialization; and clear film can denote a sense of sincere elegance that carries a premium spirit to a secure position of prominence.

The label and bottle create a sense of familiarity. Together they convey the product positioning and, as such, must be appropriately executed.

Helping consumers decide what to buy
Consumers make purchase decisions from two distinct dimensions—one rational, the other emotional. Rational factors include the reason for buying, such as product functionality and price, among others.

Emotional factors are more motivationally complex. It’s about the experience we want on behalf of the product, the pleasure we have in consuming it, how it makes us feel, and how it validates our decision to buy—a reward, for taste, about who we are or who we want to be. These are all elements package designers take into account when creating a brand identity for a wine or spirit. It is an identity that must serve many perspectives.

As you might expect, the emotional factors behind a purchase decision are quite individual as the consumer. However, there are some common consumer profile traits that can be leveraged and factored into the label concept. Consumers of wines and spirits can be broken down into three common categories—the connoisseur, the amateur and the step-in:

  • The connoisseur drinks wine from traditional countries; is financially wealthy; is usually a male in his 40s, but the category does include women; has a natural palate; knows a lot about wine, tasting notes, etc.; appreciates the craftsmanship in a product; and is intelligent about what he or she is drinking. For targeting this group, the label should reflect the craftsmanship and marketers can use a complex vocabulary because they understand it.

The connoisseur enjoys complex red wines, premium branded champagne, single malt whiskies and anejo rums. The label must provide plenty of detailed information: cantina/bodega/chateau, region, the local area, filtered wine or not, harvest year, grape quality, wine making process, etc. This information should be placed on the label so the connoisseur feels he or she is the only expert to read and understand the information.

In wine, a paper label should be structured, rich in texture, beige and with creamy colors. For spirits, a metalized effect or a rough surface with a complex shape will resonate well. For this category, it is okay to be generous with embellishing printing techniques. The label should include golden hot foils, as well as some element of embossing or tactile varnish.

  • The amateur category includes both men and women, 30 to 40 years of age. They claim to have a good wine tasting knowledge but have a palate that is not ready for wines with complex flavor profiles. The amateur is open to new world wines, wine that is easy to drink and middle priced. This man or woman also drinks rum, vodka, tequila and brandy, but mainly premium brands and in cocktails.

They expect a label that provides practical information. Here, the amount of information is important, but must be accessible and provide the right reference, such as grape varietals, brand name, wine name, geographic origin, a credible story behind the brand, and serving recommendations like temperature, pairings with meals, etc.

In spirits, this person appreciates serving ideas for cocktails. He or she will positively react to white label paper, from light structured paper to soft touch. Be selective in the printing techniques by choosing one that will enhance the information he or she is looking to review.

  • The step-ins category is the least sophisticated consumer. Drinks Coca-Cola, beer and sweet spirits. They like white and sparkling wine, tequila, vodka, and rum. Some of them dare into wine, but are less demanding and do not want to invest too much in a bottle. Accessible price offers, easy to drink and refreshing, coupled with fruity and flowery flavor notes, are behind the purchase. White, rosé and mainstream sparkling types, as well as mixed vodka and rums, and some international liqueurs are of interest. Simplicity is important.

This type of consumer will not invest the time to read an in-depth label to explore the complexity of a particular brand. The step-in wants to be told what the product is about—grape varietal, of which they know a maximum of two; taste orientation; and serving conditions. Brand name is very important.

With step-ins, you can dare to exploit contemporary and fashionable colors on the label and in the bottle. Clear-on-clear film labels are a strong draw, especially when incorporating neat designs. Immediate visual impact is what resonates, so borrowing design cues from contemporary culture can create strong interest. Consider using new and original printing techniques. For this group, dare to test unusual combinations, such as non-covering colors on metalized paper.

It pays to know the consumer, or better yet, the type of consumer to whom a wine or spirit is targeted. To be effective, marketers need to connect the label and packaging correctly with these consumer categories in a way that meets their expectation about what is inside the bottle. And that expectation must be linked to how the product is positioned.

Beyond the product itself, wine and spirits labeling must have a visual identity that, when properly executed, has the power to establish an icon that is fully vested in the consumer’s perception about the brand.

“Give people a taste of Old Crow, and tell them its Old Crow. Then give them another taste of Old Crow, but tell them its Jack Daniel’s. Ask them which they prefer. They’ll think the two drinks are quite different. They are tasting images.” – David Ogilvy, marketing pioneer.

1 February 2012 - Felicity Murray