Designer comment: It's not easy branding wines
Published:  27 August, 2008

One of the biggest challenges when we're asked to create a distinctive design for a branded wine range is how to make it stand out in a category so dominated by tradition and traditionalists. Mixing oil and vinegar comes to mind.

We quickly discover two very different perspectives: that of the traditional wine trade and that of the consumer. For the former, the focus is more on WHAT? So what's important is the country of origin, the grape variet y, the maker and ultimately the price - the factual stuff.

But today's consumers are more concerned with WHEN , WHO and HOW? - the more emotional side. We want to choose the right wine for a particular occasion, considering who we're going to drink it with and what it says about us. We're anxious to "do it right", serving it with the right foods and creating a good impression. This is where brands come in.

The wine brand has to offer everyday consumers a more compelling, emotionally engaging and reassuring story than simply "this is a Merlot". Having won them over, it wants to keep them loyal, making it easy to find other wines from the range. Ultimately it has to help them choose what's best for them by selling a consistently reliable approach and attitude, rather than just another product.

We have to communicate these emotive values in a way that will be recognised (ie looks different to other wines) but also trusted (ie isn't too unconventional). It's difficult to balance these opposing forces, and it's always tempting to be safe rather than sorry. But we know from long experience that the safe way doesn't tend to deliver the business objectives. Those compelling brand messages eventually get camouflaged in all the traditional wine language: The Wine Design Law.

But there is one golden rule that you break at your peril. Most people regard even the cheapest bottle of wine as a more up-market treat than a premium food. As long as whatever you do looks "classy", wine drinkers will cut you more slack than you might think or that even they will admit to in focus groups.

And "classy" really doesn't have to mean sombre typefaces, endless coats of arms and lashings of gold script.