The New York Times broke a story yesterday about the new $15M marketing strategy by Elevator Group for candy maker, Just Born’s venerable Mike and Ike brand. It got me thinking about corollaries statements I made in my last post here:

“Hopefully, as a result, I will live to see a day when beverage purchase decisions are made by virtue of real choice between one honest product over another rather than having to sift through what is lab-generated and cleverly marketed to even get to the “real stuff”.”


“The winners of this new consumer model will be those that don’t have to spend millions constantly sourcing new fruit contracts and creating new brands and ridiculous back-stories for wineries that don’t really exist.”

The new Mike and Ike campaign uses, essentially, the same tactics that the large wine conglomerates are using to capture millenial drinkers. The specific premise of the campaign is to create a back-story about Mike and Ike (two non-existent characters) as long-time friends whose relationship has gone sour and are openly vocal about their disagreements. This will play out in traditional print and billboard media as well as, most importantly, via carefully orchestrated social media flamewars on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and whatever the kids are into these days.

Large national and international wine concerns—Constellation Brands, Diageo, E & J Gallo, Treasury Wine Estates, and a host of others (I’m sure I’ll post lists of the household-name brands owned by the major conglomerates at some point)—create brands every year. This is done, in large part, to profit dramatically on excess juice produced by same-owned vineyards or purchased/contracted fruit from other growers. Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with this. In essence, these products fill a void for cheap, everyday wine for a large base of consumers for whom a low price outweighs any measure of quality and help those companies keep their premier brands afloat. My concern with many of these pop-up products is the way they are marketed.

The conglomerates know that most consumers simply do not pay attention to where their favorite wine comes from, who owns it, or how it is made. This connects to what I always say is the greatest wine lie ever sold: wine is a natural product (a topic for a dedicated future post, to be sure). Very little about these wines is natural from production to sales. Part of the fabrication process is the marketing. This often starts with focus groups to get some sort of feel for what a specific demographic wants, is followed by brand creation, image development, and target marketing. Somewhere in there, the least important step, wine formulation (don’t be fooled, many of these wine products include flavorants and colorants), takes place.

The latest example of that methodology is Beringer’s (via owner, Treasury wine Estates) new Be. brand. This clever bit of board-room wine making is meant to appeal to millenial women—theoretically, young, impressionable, easy-to-capitalize-upon 20-somethings who respond to simple, emotional cues like “flirty” and “radiant” and, apparently, wines that only come in pastel colors. And it will work, because Beringer had a focus group of their core audience for this stuff pretty much create the brand image from scratch. But what happens when that core audience grows out of the brand in a couple of years? Another with a different image will take its place.

Mike and Ike is doing the same thing. Realizing that their core audience has forgotten them, they are throwing an extra 120-times the cash over last year at capturing a similarly impressionable demographic (slightly younger on the whole, and slanted toward male, but there is some overlap into consumers in their early 20’s).

As I said, it’s all fair-play in my book, but at some point this teeters on the edge of flat-out lying to get your business. Personally, I prefer a wine from a specific place, made by a specific person with no agenda other than making a good product at a fair price. The best I can hope for with these target brands is that they will be gateways to something better as the consumer grows.

How do you feel about being pandered to in this way?