August 12 2009
Not all business is good business. That’s what I want to tell Wine Spectator.
On a certain level, I want to be sympathetic to wine glossies – particularly Wine Spectator. While Wine Spectator and I have a tumultuous relationship, and I’ve wondered aloud about their content approach to their audience, I do find myself wanting to give them the benefit of the doubt on an ongoing basis.
Laube has an excellent palate with very good tasting notes, they taste blind and they seem to have less eyebrow arching moments of back-slapping correlating to advertising than others. Heck, at the end of the day, I can even acknowledge that their online pay content approach is probably a good bet in the long run and helpful for the future of wine content online.
Further, I never put much stock into the “fake restaurant” sting they were caught up in last year around their Award of Excellence restaurant wine program. Every single one of us could get caught in a ruse if it was well executed and filled with intentional deceit.
The reality is that Wine Spectator is the wine world’s equivalent of The Wall Street Journal and having them successful and healthy is much better than not having them.
That said, something is really bugging me.
I have seen an increasing amount of advertising in wine magazines that have wineries touting their scores from the same magazines.
It seems that absent good, quality, attention-getting, brand-building advertising, wineries and wine companies are just announcing the scores that they received from said magazine.
This is a problem in two areas:
1) It perpetuates the back of the mind gnawing that occurs with consumers about the relationship between scores and advertising, irrespective of ethical policies.
2) It stifles creativity with wineries because 98% of winery advertising sucks
Hell, in the current issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine I saw an ad that touted a winery’s scores from Spectator, Wine Advocate and Wine & Spirits – everybody’s scores but Wine Enthusiast where the ad appeared. Goodness gracious; if that’s not an unspoken, back-handed pimp slap I don’t know what is.
Now, mind you, this point’s promotion via advertising isn’t anything new, I’ve just noticed more of it lately. As well, I don’t have an issue with wine points. They’re not going anywhere, they’re useful for what they are and they bring a modicum of order to a consumer category that is very unruly.
I just have an issue with the wineries feeding the magazine beast with advertising that touts the scores that they got from the magazine.
In the last two issues of Spectator (August and September issues), Diageo has placed two double page ads touting the wines in their portfolio that have earned 90 point scores from Wine Spectator. Diageo has even gone to the extent of publishing a quick and dirty web site at: 90pointclub.com. I say the web site is quick and dirty because, aside from re-purposed imagery from the magazine ad and a re-publish of the Spectator score and tasting note, there is no content. And, a quick check at godaddy.com indicates the web site URL was registered on June 25th, 10 days after the supposed close of advertising space for the issue in which their double page gatefold ad appeared. Hello, afterthought.
Something just smells off when Wine Spectator accepts a two page gate-fold ad on the inside cover of the August issue and a two page spread in the September issue that is specifically designed to promote the wines from Diageo that have earned a 90 point + plus score from, yes, Wine Spectator.
It seems to me that while editorial and advertising sales are two different magazine functions, whoever leads ad sales at Spectator can do a better job of understanding the difference between good and bad revenue.
Advertising your points earned in the magazine that gave you the points is bad revenue and leads to much of the dubious questioning that arises on an ongoing basis.
And, it’s a simple solution – Wine Spectator should require that any advertising in the magazine not include scores from Spectator, even better if they don’t allow points from ANY magazine. Duh, what a novel concept! Maybe this way a winery will actually think about building an actual advertising campaign while using their scores however they want (but elsewhere) in the wine sales value-chain.
By way of analogy, if Wine Spectator takes the Fight Club approach to wine reviews and points, “The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is, you DO NOT talk about Fight Club” then they serve their own needs by perpetuating the sanctity of the wine reviews while fostering those scores to take on a life of their own elsewhere.
And, as mentioned, a side benefit is that many wineries will actually think about building an advertising campaign that resonates with consumers by achieving something more memorable than a presentation of a number, none of which stick with me longer than the time it takes me to flip the page.