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After multiple opportunities to do field research this holiday season, I’ve come to the conclusion most of us choose wine based on brand, rather than taste.

Sure, many people have an oenophile friend who knows that a bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite with the initials Th.J. etched on it sold for more than $150K. However, most of us either stick with a few vintages we’re already familiar with or, when we want to choose a new wine, we make the decision largely based on the label. That’s right, the label.

According to David Schuemann of CF Napa Brand Design,

“a carefully crafted label can make us think the bottle is way more expensive than it is, and it can boost our enjoyment of the the wine itself.”

In his new book, 99 Bottles of Wine: The Making of the Contemporary Wine Label, Schuemann reveals the strategy behind the company’s most successful packaging designs. The book contains a wide variety of photographs of some of the most eye-catching wine labels which, “tickle our subconscious and coerce us into grabbing a bottle off the shelf”. The book’s dust jacket unfolds to become the following poster which displays all of the wine bottles in the book:

99 Bottles of Wine

The general public needs explicit clues on what to expect from a wine so the entire bottle is designed to convince novices to buy it. For starters, bottles typically look $10 more expensive than they actually are. People associate simple uncluttered designs with high-end vintages and sophisticated flavors. Therefore, more expensive vintages have a single color background with only a simple logo.

For mass market wines, labels are colorful so they can compete for attention. As Schuemann says, “they’re whimsical in a clever way. And we’ll still add a bit of gold foil to show the quality.” The foil helps beginners know what flavors to expect; red means berries, yellow is buttery and green implies tropical flavors. And, of course, the descriptions on the back of the bottles are usually less about the wine itself and more about the experience you will have drinking it.

Academic research shows this effort pays off. In Customer Sense: How the 5 Senses Influence Buying Behavior, Professor Aradhna Krishna explains the brain’s pleasure centers are more active when people think they are drinking $90 wine than $5 wine, even if the two are really identical. The flowery writing on the back of the bottle also works:

“if the description on the back makes you imagine the wine’s fruity bouquet and the way it feels in your mouth, then the taste will be enhanced and consumption goes up.”

So the next time you reach for an impulse buy of a bottle of wine, go ahead and choose by the label. It may or may not be a great wine but you’re likely to be entertained.

This blog was originally posted on Manage by Walking Around on January 4, 2014.

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  1. Jelena Perfiljeva

    Poster looks really cool but $15 plus shipping – yikes! I can get 3 bottles of wine at Trader Joe’s for this money. 🙂

    Not sure if this is a trend as well but I’ve noticed that more producers finally started to put some useful information about the wine on the back labels. Before that if wine even had such a label it would go on and on about the region where it came from and how it has “notes of honeysuckle”. As a consumer, I couldn’t care less that some valley has cool nights and how many of us actually tasted a honeysuckle? It’s a flower, for cripes sake. But when a bottle of wine has a clear ‘dry / semi-sweet / etc’ indicator and a note “pairs well with red sauce’ etc. – now we’re talking! That’s a definite winner in my book over some fancy embossing and cutesy names (which, thankfully, seems to be a passing trend already).

    Thanks for sharing!

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