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
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