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Millennials, Gen X and “Rich, Old White People”

by David on February 24, 2007

There were a couple of articles this week – one on the demise of Wine X magazine and the other on the purchasing habits of the Millennials– that seemed to be sending the same message in very different ways.

Of course, theories abound as to why Wine X folded after 10 years. Wine X founder and editor, Darryl Roberts, was quoted as saying ‘The wine industry says it’s interested in young adults but spends all of its ad and promo money targeting the same people it’s been targeting for the past 30 years – rich, old white people.’

While no one would accuse Wine X of marketing to that demographic description, I wonder how well they were reaching today’s up and coming wine drinkers, the Millennials. Perhaps this Gen-Xer has failed to speak meaningfully to his intended market. I think we’re all guilty of thinking that we’re cool enough and smart enough to know how to communicate with and market to younger generations, but we’re probably fooling ourselves. It may be a hard realization for Roberts, but getting old is hell. Ten years have gone by and perhaps he and his staff failed to reach their target group because their leader must be looking at 40 candles here pretty soon and his world view is somewhat different than that of his intended readers.

He certainly evidenced a glaring blind spot by focusing on glossy print media to reach out to this generation. Of course there’s a website, but it has the look of something that’s trying to promote the hard copy. I like to think that these wine-intrigued 20-somethings are reading this blog right now instead. ;-)

The evidence indicates that as a generation the Millennials like wine and they’re curious about it. That’s good. But we Californians better wake up and smell the Zinfandel, and soon, because evidently these folks are far more inclined to shop around in other parts of the world for their wine than prior generations. That’s potentially bad. The San Francisco Chronicle stated that “Twelve percent of both Baby Boomer and Generation X wine drinkers bought imports, compared with 32 percent for the Millennial generation…” and added that there are 70 million Millennials in the United States, compared with 44 million Gen Xers and 77 million Boomers.

Now, we can assume that this has something to do with price. The Boomers and increasingly Gen-X will spend more per bottle than the average Millennial because most of us have long since finished paying off student loans and are established in our careers. But attitudes and habits that are developed now are likely to persist as time goes by. If we want these new consumers to shop for fine wine from California in the future we’d better gain their loyalty by offering them a good value and do our homework on how to market and package it right now. My hat’s off to Don Sebastiani and Sons for leading the charge in the under $15.00 range. And Three Thieves has a new brand with a page on MySpace.

Regarding marketing, Karen Ross of the California Association of Winegrape Growers said that “Every major wine-producing country has an aggressive program in the United States, and California needs to make sure there is a California message out there.” She said the association is launching a public relations campaign focused on “informing U.S. wine consumers and wine trade media of the vineyard practices that add value to California wines.” Sounds pretty sexy, huh? ;-) Hmmm. We haven’t been very good at this in the past. Can we possibly come up with the wine equivalent of “got milk”?

It seems to me that Wine X had the right concept: make it fun and informal. Lose the elitism and the snootiness. Perhaps they just lost their way. And perhaps there’s some truth to Roberts’ assertions that we’ve been overly attentive to those “rich, old white people” to the detriment of building a future with this new consumer base.

The market potential is there. The challenge is there. Let’s hope we can rise to the occasion.

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