wa2.gif (4241 bytes)

abut9.gif (3095 bytes)

abut12.gif (3207 bytes)
abut10.gif (3636 bytes)

abut11.gif (4039 bytes)


Part 3
Parasites and mimics

Let’s take a slightly different look at brands by using a couple of biological analogies. In one sense, brands are parasites. They live on the back of the traditional wine industry. The romantic, alluring image of wine is largely generated by the traditional and cultural values embodied in the produce of the classical European regions. Estate bottled wines from famous regions have established wine as a drink with associations of class, elegance and sophistication. The wine brands are cashing in on this image that has taken hundreds of years to build, by marketing themselves as ‘lifestyle’ products that offer this tradition and sophistication – the good life. To see that this is the case, you only have to look at the sorts of associations they build with their expensive marketing campaigns. In short, the brands steal the positive image of limited-production estate wines; they themselves lack any interest, but they trade on the reputation and image of the diverse and truly interesting estate wines. This is parasitism.

Just as Disney’s Epcot Center allows visitors to visit a dozen or so nations of the earth in the space of a morning by means of its ersatz creations of various global destinations, branded wines offer an easily accessible route through the complex world of wine. The similarity between theme park simulations of reality and the imitative nature of many branded wines is readily apparent to anyone who has experienced the real thing. 

The second biological analogy is that of mimicry. You are a caterpillar and you want to avoid being eaten. Your neighbours have devised a potent chemical defense system that makes them unpalatable. The problem is, that once a bird has realized these caterpillars are unpalatable, it is too late for that individual, who has already been bitten in half: it’s scant consolation then to be spat out. So it is important to advertise this unpalatability by means of distinct colouration. However, this then presents you with an opportunity: by mimicking this colouration, you’ll dissuade birds from eating you without having to go to the expense of assembling the chemical defences the colouration advertises. However, mimicry only works when there are more genuine articles than mimics in circulation.

How does this analogy apply to brands? Well, they are imitating the genuine thing: estate-bottled wines. Brands are ambitious. They want to command the same prices as estate wines, without being constrained by such inconveniences as limited production and vintage variation. A bit of clever winemaking, smart packaging, smarter marketing and wide availability, and a branded wine will be invading the niche previously occupied by estate wines. The mimicry works because there are still enough of the genuinely interesting estate wines, but as the brands become more prevalent at higher price points, will people begin to realise that they are just being offered a mere imitation of the real thing? It’s a possibility. Their mimicry may fail, and the demise of the more upmarket brands could cause the reputation of the genuine article – estate wines – a lot of damage.

See also 

Back to top

November 2002