Dust Up of the Week—Wine Influencers

wine influencerEach week we bloggers are on the look out for profoundly meaningful conflict to write about. This week it took the Internets only until Tuesday to generate that issue—the relative merits of wine influencers.

In case you’ve been mercifully oblivious to the latest rage in marketing, a “wine influencer” is someone with a large social media following who is paid or receives free product in return for their efforts to endorse that product to their followers, usually by being photographed with the product they endorse. Wine influencers should be sharply distinguished from wine journalists and other writers whose primary goal is to inform rather than endorse.

Several weeks ago James Lawrence published a screed taking wine influencers to task for being vacuous and fatuous, a dishonest hustle that’s really about selling the influencer on social media with selfies that sell a lifestyle rather than a wine. But his main complaint is that he doubts it works:

This lifestyle documentation creates no automatic or obvious link between a particular wine brand and the setting in the mind of the “influenced”… the appeal of influencers is clear: a collective able to appeal to consumers in a way that the trade cannot. But selling pretty pictures isn’t the answer and isn’t probably very effective.

This week Sophia Longhi, who I assume is a wine influencer, pushed back in a post entitled What’s the Problem with Wine Influencers.

The wine industry has been failing to capture Gen Zs, so if a young person wants to pose on a boat in swimwear with a bottle of wine and promote it to their audience, then great! This type of content is peer to peer marketing in action: Millennials and Gen Zs seek out places where they feel they belong; they form connections and align with people who are like them. They can see themselves wearing those clothes and drinking that wine.

She accused her critics of sexism and worried only about their loss of status in the face of new media selling authenticity to a “stale and fusty industry.”

I have no idea if wine influencers sell wine or not. But I assume the wine brands that pay for influencers can afford the market research that measures the impact of the people they work with. If wine influencers lack influence, why are wine brands using them? The claim that wine influencers are authentic is silly—they’re being paid to endorse the product. But they’re no less authentic than celebrity endorsements.

So I’m having trouble seeing what the controversy is about. Of course it’s vacuous and irritating. it’s advertising. And of course they’re selling themselves. That’s why they have thousands of followers. If they sell wine or at least help with branding then why shouldn’t they exist?

But on a personal note, I just don’t care. I imagine most wine influencers are working with the top 100-200 global corporations that sell 90% of the wine around the world. I don’t much care about that wine. It’s the hundreds of thousands of smaller wineries that matter to me. If wine influencers can help sell that wine then may they flourish and prosper.

2 comments

  1. There’s always room for asking how can we engage new consumers as well as where? But when you hire Kim Kardashian to promote Midori including “hosting a Halloween party and appearing in promotional images” all despite the fact she doesn’t drink. …this feels like a hustle where the reliance on pretty and provocative photos the infotainment for this generation and lacks any deeper communication. We can grant this fact however, more broadly, the question is asking to take a critical eye at the manipulative perils of the Social Media world. Something I think you would be sympathetic to in 2021. The question starkly put are we sacrificing quality – a professionally written article (and Pictures) for the skill of photoshopping? Is there a role for influencers to introduce products to a larger group of people who rely on Social Media in 2021? Yes, most definitely. But I’m with Diageo…. let’s pause and think this through. As a fellow Philosophy graduate (NYU) I’m sure you would agree that reputation is a storehouse of good deeds and asking the question of i”s it wise to put a brand’s reputation into the hands of these folks based on a follower/ impression count,” seems to be a fair intellectual endeavor. So, I respectfully ask you to look a little deeper you have it in you. Periodically I have seen threads and articles about the death of wine writing. IMO Lawrence is right to point out…. that the move into space where you are selling everything but the wine…. you may be doing so at your peril for all involved.

    1. Advertising has always sold “more than wine.” The so called wine influencers on social media are not replacing “a professionally written article (and pictures).” They are replacing the celebrity endorsements which you rightly deplore. I doubt that putting a “brand’s reputation in the hands of these folks based on follower/impression count” is any riskier than putting it in the hands of celebrities with their meltdowns.
      There is plenty of good wine writing around and I doubt it’s threatened by pretty pictures on Instagram. They are appealing to quite different audiences.

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