How do we organize and understand the world around us?
We do it through classifying objects, which we assign properties to. And then we understand our environment through these objects. We expect each object type to behave in a certain way.
As I look around me, I see a range of objects: people, cars, trees, houses, chairs, railway tracks and so on. I classify and interpret my surroundings in terms of these objects. It is the way I make sense of the world.
It’s how our minds evolved to work. It is much simpler to deal in objects rather than to have to make sense of everything around us anew each time, a task that would be far too computationally challenging for our brains. Look at the behaviour of small children as they learn about the world around them: they spend ages pointing at things and naming them. They are beginning to recognize and understand objects.
Of course, many of these objects would not have existed in the environment in which our minds evolved. From this we can deduce that rather than being hardwired, many of these object classifications arise because we have the ability to learn about objects and create our own classifications.
What does this have to do with wine?
A few weeks ago I took part in a round table discussion titled, ‘what is wine?’ This will be published in The World of Fine Wine, so I can’t reveal what we discussed or the conclusions we came to. But the question got me thinking.
It is possible to define wine legally. But another sort of definition is the one of usage: wine as an object type.
Wine is an alcoholic drink that usually comes in a bottle and which has a strong association with the table. People use wine in a certain way and this defines the object type of wine. To ask, ‘what is wine?’ seems an absurd question to most people, because we all know what wine is.
The bottle is a strong part of wine’s identity. We think of a bottle of wine. Perhaps this is why alternative packaging of wine, such as bag-in-box, has remained quite niche, even though it is very practical.
I picked up this mini-pouch of wine at a local supermarket. It’s interesting that it has a picture of a bottle on the packaging: many alternatively packaged wines seem to do this. It reassures people that the same wine is in the cask as is in the bottle. But does it also demonstrate the significance of the bottle in the identity of wine?
Our parsing of the world around us in terms of object types is very strong, and so maybe this is something that marketeers need to be aware of. We feel uncomfortable when things fall outside our object space. But we can also learn to develop new object types, and so strong design can sometimes pay off if it disrupts these object types to create new ones.
In most cases, wine brands are confined to operating within traditional parameters of what defines wine as an object: it comes in a bottle, is made from grapes, is alcoholic, is red, white or pink, and is used in a certain way. What interests me is whether it would ever be possible to produce a disruptive wine brand that is packaged totally differently, where the alternative packaging is an intrinsic part of the brand identity, thus forcing people to create a new wine ‘object’.