Mind your language: how global wine brands have to adapt around the world

Here is an edited version of an article I produced for Meininger's Wine Business International on the challenges wine brands and regional bodies have when promoting their wines to different cultures around the world.  But get it right and you can connect with a global audience. 



We have all heard stories, and probably been guilty ourselves, of saying something in a foreign country that might sound fine in our home land, but translates as something very different, even insulting, in another language.

My own personal faux pas came when proudly asking, across a packed bar in Barcelona, for some ‘burro’ to put on my croissant. 

Not knowing the name for butter I guessed it might sound like ‘beurre’ in French. How wrong I was as the bar collapsed in communal laughing with the sound of braying donkeys(the correct translation for ‘burro’) ringing in my ears as I walked shamefaced from the bar.

But being embarrassed on an individual basis is one thing, doing so on a corporate level is quite another.

Today, when everything can be checked, double checked, or even Google translated, there is no hiding place.


Brave new world

Wine producers and generic bodies are having to go to increasing lengths to ensure they have the right message for the right consumer in the right market.

“One size definitely does not fit all,” says Bernard Fontannaz, founder of South Africa’s Origin Wine, which has international brands such as Fairhills and Stormhoek.

“Asia is a completely different ball game to Europe. But even within Europe, Holland is very different to the UK. It is less price driven and more willing to try and find ways to build a brand,” he explains.

For a brand to work across many continents and cultures requires a completely different way of thinking for the traditional wine company, claims Mark Hely, export director of Australia’s McWilliam’s Wines.

“The wine companies that are winning are consumer lead, not product lead,” stresses Hely.


Understanding a brand’s DNA

To have any chance of knowing what message is going to be right in different countries, you need to have a true understanding of the core values and DNA of your brand, claims Andrew Maidment, who heads up Wines of Argentina both for Europe and Asia.

“Part of what we do will work everywhere,” he explains. “So it is not a case of ripping everything up and starting again as that would get confusing.”


Stuart Purcell, creative director at Cedar, a specialist publishing business that creates content for companies like Tesco and British Airways in different countries, questions whether all brands have the ability to work in all markets.

He asks: “Does the brand DNA run deep enough to cross international waters and boundaries? Is the ‘code’ of the brand strong enough and represent sufficient material in the proposed territory to actually work?”

The key, says Bela Szabo, strategy and innovation director of global advertising agency, DDB, is to understand what are the “operating principles” for your brand – the common narrative which runs through everything the brand is about.

Paul Houlding helped to create the global campaign for Bordeaux wines 

Paul Houlding helped to create the global campaign for Bordeaux wines 

Paul Houlding, managing partner of Isobel advertising agency, was faced with that challenge when developing “The More You Look The More You Discover” global advertising campaign for Bordeaux’s wine marketing body, the CIVB.

“When looking internationally, you have to decide what makes that brand unique,” he explains (see case study).

Once you know the “spirit of the brand” the next challenge is “identifying the audience” and “creating a campaign that is flexible enough to be used in each market,” he says.


Unified message

Maidment agrees there are aspects of your brand’s values that should work in any market. But Argentina could not have done a Bordeaux-style campaign in Asia as “we are at a different stage of awareness about what Argentina is there compared to Bordeaux”.

Instead it needed to play a lot more on the stereotypical image of Argentina. “So for China we would look to play on football and Lionel Messi as that is all they know about Argentina,” says Maidment.

Hely says brands need to be aware that “the target audience for that brand could change dramatically in different markets” between age groups and genders.


Horses for courses

There is not one winning approach, stresses Hely. Wines, for example, based on the family, the tradition and the heritage of where they come from do not have to do so much work in different markets, he argues.

But the growing number of lifestyle brands, like McWilliam’s’ Expressions range, have to be tailored to the different lifestyles of the local market.

Here the influences and driving factors need to come from understanding sectors outside of wine, he says.


Local specialist help

All of which requires specialist local knowledge. In the heyday of global advertising in the eighties and nineties major advertising agencies would have local offices all over the world.

You have to be global and local, says Mark Fiddes

You have to be global and local, says Mark Fiddes

Not any more, says advertising executive, Mark Fiddes, co-founder of IdeaMotel, that helps create international campaigns.

Now an agency will come up with a concept, or execution that specialist, individual agencies will then tweak and adapt to their local market, he says.

“Their skill,” adds Fiddes, “is making your product fit in with the everyday conversation taking place with your target consumer group in that country.”

Wines from Spain, for example, says its overall message is to demonstrate the versatility of its wines and then relies on its local economic and commercial offices to determine which of those wines, in which channels and which types of consumer are best to target in each country, explains Inés Menéndez de Luarca, director of Food & Wines from Spain. (del)

Fontannaz’s approach is to listen carefully to what local retailer buyers are saying. “They are usually very close to what consumers are doing and looking for,” he says.


Closer the better

The most successful brands in the future will be the ones that can “read cultures better” in different countries, says Szabo at DDB.

It is not enough to have a top line understanding of a market’s cultural differences.

To do so means ensuring the language and messaging you use is as authentic as it can be, urges Purcell. “There are a host of visual guidelines concerning how the same image maybe offensive or tolerated depending on your stance. Pigs, cows, nudity, people smoking, religious symbols, protest symbols, flags, borders can all be in need of specific treatment – or deletion.”

Wines from Spain, for example, could not use one of its campaigns in China as it featured artwork with large white backgrounds which has negative connotations there.

Purcell also urges companies to look at every detail down to the type and size of font being used.

Maidment agrees: “For China we had to buy specific fonts that represented the Chinese characters we wanted to use in the right way,” he explains

Robin Copestick, co-founder of Copestick Murray, who has seen its I Heart brand grow to be distributed in 25 countries, says it is equally important to be aware of cultural differences even in your own country.

“We would not try and sell a I Heart Manchester United wine near Liverpool,” he adds.



Case Study: Bordeaux wines


The challenge for advertising agency, Isobel, was to create an international wine campaign for Bordeaux wines that could work in any market which also adhered to strict French advertising laws.

As it is forbidden to use people to advertise alcohol in France, Isobel used illustrations to target its target audience of experienced wine drinkers looking to explore new areas.

Hence the tagline: “The More You Look The More You Discover”.

The illustrations were created to reflect the different wine cultures where the campaign would run and how Bordeaux wines are perceived in that market.

By having different illustrations local offices could choose the ones most suited to their culture. For example, one illustration showed a bottle of wine being picked up by chopsticks, which worked very well in China. But it could not be used in Japan where it is seen as bad luck to pick up anything with chopsticks other than food.



Case Study: I Heart Wine, Copestick Murray


One of the biggest recent global branded wine success stories has been the I Heart brand, which uses the I Heart New York-style logo to promote different wine varieties (I Heart Pinot Grigio etc).

Robin Copestick, managing director of Copestick Murray, says the brand is always looking to fit comfortably in to its local market.

“We definitely adapt both message and approach to different markets, but we always try and maintain key brand values to individual markets,” he stresses.

“We have created a special edition wine for I Heart wine for China, the US and Australia.”

In 2016 it is using an image of a monkey on a special I Heart gift pack for China to tie in with the fact that I it is the year of the monkey. the monkey has been chosen as the zodiac animal of the year.



Case study: Concha y Toro: Wine Legend Casillero del Diablo

Concha y Toro, which arguably runs the biggest global promotion for it Casillero del Diablo brand, believes its ‘Wine Legend’ campaign appeals to consumers in any country because it is based on a true story.

People all over the world can relate to the tale of a (del) the winery’s founder claiming, 130 years ago, the Devil was protecting its best wines in the cellar, says Cristobal Goycoolea, marketing director for CYT in Chile.

“The concept of the brand is exactly the same in all markets,” he adds, but it will look to adapt the “the approach and implementation” in specific countries.

This is normally around the use of media, graphics, imagery and local legal restrictions in areas such as Asia, Latin America, the US and Europe, she says.

It can’t use fire, for example, to communicate alcohol in France or Sweden or the link with sport and Manchester United in Mexico and Costa Rica. 

The fact it has a campaign that works globally means it can invest bigger budgets on production like its current TV advert which travels to Venice, Vietnam Bucharest and Chile, says Goycoolea.