Wine Intelligence talks the importance of wine label design with three leading experts in the field
With the publication of our latest Wine Label Design in the US Market 2021 report, Wine Intelligence researchers have been analysing consumer attitudes and behaviours towards wine labels. For quite some time now, we have been seeing in our research that wine drinkers are remembering fewer wine facts – such as producers, regions and grapes – and base their purchase decisions more often on visual cues: attractive and memorable packages that stand out on a shelf and offer clear information. But more recently, data is showing that consumers are looking for safety, which has become particularly important during the pandemic: recognisable brands, with labels that convey classic and familiar elements of the wine world.
That is simple enough to understand in theory but rather difficult to put into practice. Finding this balance between distinctiveness and centrality – standing out, while being reassuring – will be a central challenge for our industry that centres around wine label design.
To understand these concepts a bit more, we have spoken to three leading wine label design experts:
- Rowena Curlewis (RC): CEO and co-founder at Denomination
- Neil Tully MW (NT): Creative Director at Amphora Design
- Sebastian Yañez (SY): Associate Partner at YG Branding & Design
What are the central aspects of a good wine label and why?
“There are a lot of basics that need to be there: good execution, good print, good production and, it goes without saying, a good idea. But one thing that will set something apart is what I describe as an ‘emotional pull’”. – Neil Tully MW
Rowena Curlewis (RC): The aspects that make a good wine label design are fourfold. Firstly, and most importantly, there needs to be an emotional connection for the consumer. By creating this connection, you are able to embed your brand in the mind of consumers, influence the consumer to buy your wine and create brand loyalty over time. Secondly, you want an aesthetic that is in line with the brand’s personality and positioning; that way it is credible and believable to consumers. Thirdly, there is a level of craft that has to be considered, whether it be a traditional or contemporary design, quirky or classic; all labels need the elements to work together as a whole. Finally, the design needs to be unique, not a copy-cat of another label, but something that uniquely portrays your individual brand’s story.
Neil Tully MW (NT): I have judged quite a few wine labels in design competitions, so I have had to think really hard about that question. There are a lot of basics that need to be there: good execution, good print, good production and, it goes without saying, a good idea. But one thing that will set something apart is what I describe as an ‘emotional pull’. So, if you look at a row of wine labels, a lot will stand out in your head; but one of them might connect with you in your heart. A good piece of branding will do that. It can take many different shapes and forms, but if it gives you a feeling, it has succeeded. That is the gold standard.
Sebastian Yañez (SY): First of all, wine labels are meant to identify the product, attract the consumer and persuade them to buy it. Any good wine label, then, needs to stand out and draw consumers’ attention. It needs to communicate the attributes and values you want to highlight in the product. Secondly, it needs to tell a story, while conveying all the important information, which will vary depending on the target consumer segment (age, knowledge and experience with wine).
Attracting the Millennial generation to wine is one of the great challenges for our sector. What kind of label design and packaging do you think are most appealing to these drinkers and why?
“When creating / evolving brands to attract Millennial and Gen Z consumers, we need to think about more than just design. These consumers are after stories, experiences and brands that align to their value systems which can be markedly different from other generations.” – Rowena Curlewis
RC: Generalising for each generation is often problematic; however, there are certain wine designs that have achieved significant commercial success in winning over this highly important audience. If you look at the latest Distilled report from Endeavour Drinks Group, those brands that are modern and disruptive tend to be most appealing to Millennials and Gen Z audiences. Brands that EDG have highlighted as good examples of these are our Elephant in the Room and Little Giant designs (Distilled, March 2021 edition). That said, we know that – depending on which Wine Intelligence Portrait segmentation they fall into – classic labels are also appealing to those consumers who are potentially more unsure.
However, when creating / evolving brands to attract Millennial and Gen Z consumers, we need to think about more than just design. These consumers are after stories, experiences and brands that align to their value systems which can be markedly different from other generations. We believe that’s why brands such as Tread Softly are so successful: the design is contemporary, yes; disruptive, yes; but importantly the name and design speaks to the values of wellbeing and environmental sensitivity that are key to these consumers.
NT: It is quite a complex situation I would say. There is a portion of the Millennial generation who want wine to look like wine. But there is also an element who want it not to look like wine, and sometimes not even to taste like wine. So, I do not think there is a clear-cut situation at all; it is quite fine-grained, and the wine industry cannot afford to pigeonhole consumers too much. There must be a balance between being reassuring and at the same time eye-catching and disruptive; that is what we call centrality versus distinctiveness. Being able to articulate these elements is very important and there is often a fine balance.
For example, if you imagine that we want to use a very conventional bottle shape, something that is really reassuring: let’s say a traditional Bordeaux-shaped bottle with a traditional cork closure. In that case, maybe I can do something more disruptive on the label; because that is against the background of something that is fundamentally reassuring. On the other hand, if I had a bottle that was really disruptive for the wine category – maybe with a different shape, colour or material. Then, I might need to put a label on it that says: This is ok, the wine is good.
These are slightly crude examples to demonstrate how we can balance off our disruption. And perhaps this disruption is what Millennials are interested in, maybe that makes the category exciting. But there is also an element of reassurance that must be present. That is distinctiveness and centrality in practice; it is finding a balance that is right for the market, right for the product and right for the category.
SY: For me, wine label design also depends on the Millennial subgroup you want to target. On the one hand, Millennials encompass consumers who are not very knowledgeable about wine and have just started exploring it. They can feel overwhelmed by so many labels and the information on them. These consumers, therefore, often want a wine label to show just the must-have elements: quality and branding ques. But there’s another subgroup of Millennials who doesn’t want the product to have anything to do with the traditional world of wine. Therefore, the fewer aspects or descriptions on a wine label, the better. Traditional wine drivers such as grape origin or terroir do not appeal to them. Instead, they care about the consumption experience, how innovative or disruptive the proposal is, or other aspects connected with sustainability or brand purpose.
Is there a difference between designing a label for physical and online stores?
“Let us not forget bottles are a relatively small canvas on the screen, so when you get into an online store, you want your label to be sufficiently distinctive and appealing but also readable or decodable for consumers. However, it is also important to remember that it will also be perceived through other senses once it has made it to the consumer. Once the bottle is delivered from the online shop, the product must deliver in terms of packaging. It will be touched and handled by consumers—they will want to enjoy it, see it, feel it and put it on their tables.” – Sebastian Yañez
RC: When we are discussing a design brief with a client, the distribution strategy is one of the first questions we ask as there is a definite difference between designing for physical or online retailing. Firstly, in the online environment the subtle nuances of paperstock, embossing / debossing, the dancing light on foil etc is difficult to simulate in an online environment which is static. Secondly, the design needs to have the ability to standout at 45mm high, and so the legibility of branding is key. Thirdly, visual hooks are key for disruption and appeal.
NT: Yes, we have been looking at some current trends in wine design, and certainly in our market wine is being sold more frequently online; it is not going as much into stores. And a design that works at the size of a screen is very different from what works on a physical bottle on a shelf. For a label design to be sold online we have to visualise it in a very small size to evaluate the impact of it being on a screen – it almost looks like an icon or a thumbnail. Sometimes it is about having a lot of detail, but the impact must be different. It will be interesting to see where that trend goes.
SY: Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic brought about exponential growth in online retail, which presented us with the challenge of making wine labels that stand out on the screen, while also being readable. Let us not forget bottles are a relatively small canvas on the screen, so when you get into an online store, you want your label to be sufficiently distinctive and appealing but also readable or decodable for consumers. However, it is also important to remember that it will also be perceived through other senses once it has made it to the consumer. Once the bottle is delivered from the online shop, the product must deliver in terms of packaging. It will be touched and handled by consumers—they will want to enjoy it, see it, feel it and put it on their tables.
Do you think the pandemic and shifting market dynamics will bring innovation to packaging and label design?
“Sustainability is the trend that is driving a lot of this innovation, and we are seeing big developments in label stocks made from waste products, vessels that are not glass, and consideration being given to reuse rather than recycle. These innovations are opening up the palette of options available to designers, and in many cases designers are driving some of these changes in their discussions with suppliers and clients alike.” – Rowena Curlewis
RC: The pandemic has accelerated many consumer trends, and we believe this is already bringing innovation to packaging design. Sustainability is the trend that is driving a lot of this innovation, and we are seeing big developments in label stocks made from waste products, vessels that are not glass, and consideration being given to reuse rather than recycle. These innovations are opening up the palette of options available to designers, and in many cases designers are driving some of these changes in their discussions with suppliers and clients alike.
NT: I think there are two aspects to this. The first is about the functionality of packaging: people are buying wine to drink more at home, so they want convenience. We have seen an increase in bag-in-box, and we have been doing a lot of work with cans in the last couple of years – especially with premium wines. So, I think we are going to see those physical containers beginning to change a bit.
The second aspect is that well established and familiar brands have been massively successful in our markets during the pandemic. Maybe because people are buying online and trying not to visit stores too often, they are taking fewer risks. There is something about comfort during challenging times – we all want the familiar, the comfortable.
I really hope that, as the pandemic comes to end, we might see a bit of a reaction against all that. I think we need to be ready to be creative and to bring exciting new things for when people can go out to enjoy eating and drinking. I anticipate a good creative surge and a bit of a new vision for the wine category as well.
SY: Definitely. We’ve been experiencing so many changes lately that new trends and innovative ideas will be part of label packaging for sure. Additionally, the recent changes in how we perceive our relationships with brands —a notion closely intertwined with the pandemic— will create a significant curve in sustainability and purpose-driven drivers.
For example: What are the consequences of the packaging after we consumed it? How recyclable or reusable is it when compared with another one? How much material waste does it produce? Does this product help society or the planet in any way? Does it make any difference if I choose this brand? I think these questions will be part of the disruptive trends and new strategies that emerge when developing packaging, both for wine or other products.
Do consumer preferences in wine label design differ from country to country and if yes, how and why?
“It is crazy – this is the great international world of wine we’re living in! It means we have to be very agile, to be able to take all the codes and cues and make sure that what goes into that specific market is going to be commercially successful.” – Neil Tully MW
RC: Having design studios in three key wine regions of Australia, Europe and the United States, has enabled us to have a considered view on how and what consumers buy in these three regions. Like the Wine Intelligence Portraits that are similar across the globe, but with key regional differences, we see the same with wine label design. Both Australia and the US, being ‘new world’ countries when it comes to wine, are not constrained by the weight of history and the assumption of conformity. Instead, we can be braver, able to break assumed rules, able to inject uniqueness and personality into our brands. Where Australia and the US differ is that there’s a modern aesthetic to Australian wine labels that is not as prevalent in the US. The key difference between the new world and the old world – Europe – is the freedom to create a brand approach which has semiotics and distinctive assets which build memory structure rather than rely on a consumer’s knowledge of the wine category. It’s hard for low-involved wine consumers to remember one chateau brand from the next, whereas they’ll remember La Noblesse – a design with humorous cropping of noblemen’s portraits.
NT: Very much so, and we have to be aware of those differences. An interesting example: we have a client who is based in Spain and we were briefed on a project where they were going to sell their wines to customers in Japan. But their Japanese customers asked them if they could develop a Chilean wine brand for them. So, our Spanish clients came to us, here in the UK, asking for a Chilean wine brand for the Japanese market. And that was fine because we have also worked in Japan, so we could help our Spanish client to understand what a brand from Chile needs to look like in that market.
It is crazy – this is the great international world of wine we’re living in! It means we have to be very agile, to be able to take all the codes and cues and make sure that what goes into that specific market is going to be commercially successful. It is the visual language of wine and it has many different interpretations – sometimes, you must be a relatively objective outsider to see these differences.
SY: Yes, absolutely. Some markets are very distinctive, such as Asia, Nordic countries, or Latin America, to name but a few, where consumer preferences have always differed from the global norm. For example, some of our work includes creating brands for the Chilean market, where consumers continue to go for a more traditional design. While you could find disruptive labels there, they have yet to be very successful. Other markets, like California in particular, show significant preference towards more unique designs and consumers will not necessarily lose their purchase preferences to it. Still, one should also bear in mind that some consumer segments, such as highly-involved wine consumers, still share some of their preferences in terms of the label design no matter where they are located.
Interested in wine label design in other markets? View our published wine label design reports here.