Is influencer marketing beneficial for the wine industry?
Social media is rife with the "influencer hit and run". With mindless consumption of arbitrary content come sponsored ads, delivered by influencers with the unabashed confidence of a portly, middle aged salesman.
Ads of this nature litter the feeds of today's "it" Instagram darlings. Smashable, uncomplicated plonk expertly packaged to persuade the unknowing, considered the starter or junk food wines of the industry - examples of mass produced juice that might suffice at weddings or found by the glass at unremarkable franchises scattered throughout suburbia.
Certain influencers now come with celebrity status - bought by big brands to target their audience. These corps aren't looking to respected wine professionals - they're targeting individuals who don't know any better.
Muddying the waters even further - partnerships are often made with women lauded for their radical transparency - on going monologues of body positivity, self congratulatory claims of supporting small business, and displays of bountiful food - all organic, of course. Adulterated wine is happily sipped, butchered with exorbitant levels of sugar, while expertly curated discourse is preached from atop a soap box. Cognitive dissonance looms like a bad stench, as armies of Robert Parker - fembot hybrids proliferate.
"Over the past decade, influencer culture has reshaped how brands reach consumers – the influencer marketing industry was worth around $6.5bn in 2019, and almost half of marketers spent more than 20% of their budget on influencer posts.," explains Katie Bishop, in a recent examination of influencer marketing for The Guardian, "The combination of accessible celebrity and trusted endorsement allowed companies to target their customers in a more tailoured way. Payment for posts reflected this – businesses pay influencers with more than a million followers $10,000 or more for a one-off post endorsing their product."
You can thank big, corporate wineries for saturating your feed with such ads - pushing wines with nauseating verbiage: "what a coindikink, hints of rose petals in my glass", carefully curated photography, matching the label and colour scheme of the bottle, ensuring a seamless presentation for the audience.
"Social media is here to stay – it covers a wide variety of delivery mechanisms," shares Michael R Solomon, PhD, and author of Consumer Behaviour, "We tend to over compensate. A lot of influencers are tapping into the consumer's frustrations in dealing with experts. But this disdain for science and expertise has come back to bite us - it really is poisoning the well for everybody else. There are no checks and balances to really be sure what people are saying is accurate."
While there may be accredited wine professionals taking the time to educate, highlighting regions, winemakers and sharing stories and traditions, there are just as many influencers capitalizing on a quick buck. Quality content doesn't pay - selling out does. Kari Macknight Dearborn, owner and operator of Drink Better, a wine importing agency in Toronto, ON, noticed this after a 20 year career in advertising. "The pay to play – especially big brands – there’s no level playing field. What ends up getting covered, are only those who can afford to pay. They shell out for influencer marketing to get the small brands with actual cachet out of the way."
Influencers wield unbelievable amounts of power. How can we shift the narrative, and wake people up, to consume a little more critically, or equip themselves with better criteria for making educated purchases?
"What’s the difference between a step in the right direction and a green wash? There’s absolutely no way that influencers like all the products they push.' Kari continues, "The authenticity of the voice has to match the brand. More often then not, the people don’t have the reach they say they have. They use engagement pods to get more likes on a post. So why are brands continuing to use this form of marketing? It’s not measurable."
We've seen that progress is possible with respect to food, as evidenced by the bounty of local and organic now available almost everywhere, coupled with an initiative to decrease plastic as much as possible. But why is this attitude missing when it comes to wine?
"Ignorance is a choice, while we are surrounded by so much information. It is our responsibility to look outside of our “bubble” and see how we can make better decisions," muses Maja Roy, wine educator and natural wine advocate, in Knoxville, Tennessee, "This is especially important if you have a voice that reaches millions of people. Like it or not, we vote with our dollar. That affects and molds our future, our health and the lives of future generations."
Education through events and tastings could be the key to creating awareness. Wine experts use specific criteria, acquired through personal experience and accreditation - skills and knowledge the average consumer does not have - akin to speaking another language.
“There’s a disconnect where influencers often don’t know enough about the product they’re promoting, stemming from how wine is still not regarded like a food for most people," explains Jessica Luongo, owner and operator of AmoVino Wine and Spirits in Vancouver, BC, "There’s so much that can happen and be added to wine nowadays, and it takes complete transparency to have access to the correct information.”