Every marketing decision, including packaging, falls under the competing
influences of the angel of category building on one shoulder and the devil of
category shredding on the other. The category shredder whispers into one ear,
"It is so easy to steal market share. Just confuse the consumer and play
on his insecurities." The category builder whispers in the other ear:
"Your brand is your chance to speak to consumers in a bright, reassuring
way, so that more of them will enjoy wine."
When I began the task of repackaging Delicato Vineyards 60-year-old
brand, I could hear the angel on one shoulder and the devil whispering on the
other. However, my express purpose was and always is to create
brands that last long past my lifetime. That will not happen in a flat
category; it will only happen if my brand package helps build the category.
When I first joined Delicato Family Vineyards just over two years ago,
virtually all of my wine industry colleagues gave me the same
"friendly" advice: "Let the brand wither away and start over
again with another." However well-intended their advice was, I never saw
this as a possibility. Neither, I might add, did the family whose name was on
Yes, the Delicato brand was "a little tired." Yes, it had suffered
many false starts over six decades. Yes, consumers werent interested. But
I knew two secrets, and I will share these secrets with you.
first secret is that, according to Vic Motto of Motto, Kryla & Fisher (St.
Helena, CA), there are over 19,000 SKUs in the American wine business. This is
an awesome number that represents an incredible number of market niches. It
means that no one brand can be a comprehensive market-share owner. There is
room for everyone in the wine business.
The wine industry is so fragmented, and lets be honest
the consumer is so confused, that brands (even weak brands) can be resilient.
In my first task at Delicato Family Vineyards, I looked at the label,
determined that it needed work, and set about redesigning it. The first thing I
did was some research. I soon realized that for such an old brand I needed to
go back to fundamentals. So I went back, way back 60 years, 100 years,
3,000 years and I discovered the second secret.
This secret is: The Ten Commandments of Wine
The road to salvation
You may recognize these commandments. The first one is: "Thou shalt not
have false gods before me." The second one is: "Thou shalt not take
the name of the Lord thy God in vain."
They are the same commandments given to Moses more than 3,000 years ago.
Just remember they dont come from me they come from a higher
If you follow the Ten Commandments of Package Design, if you are a devout
believer in category building over category shredding, you will find salvation;
you will create brand packages that will outlive us all.
I. Thou shalt not have false gods before me. Resist
idolatry of the design for designs sake.
Today we have so many packaging toys to play with new papers,
die-cuts, laser-cut papers, foils, bizarre inks, wild glass shapes, and cork
options that we can easily get carried away by novelty. It is important
to remember that the package is merely an invitation to the consumer to try the
wine inside the bottle; the package is not an end in itself.
Meditation: Look for eye-catching perhaps shocking package
design. Then ask the wine shop manager if the wine is selling.
II. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy
God in vain. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms (BATF)
can lay waste to your label with one breath. Treat it with respect and
stay true to yourself.
Dont think of the BATF as a four- letter word. Yes, it is a power unto
itself that can strike at any time in the most unpredictable way, but remember
that the BATF is not the indisputable arbiter of truth. False claims make it
onto labels regularly, and true claims are denied regularly.
The BATF is simply a government organization designed to make sure that
regulations are followed. Dont depend on it to defend questionable
claims. Dont curse it when things dont go your way. Rather, say the
"Serenity Prayer" and try again. Stay true to category building, and
sooner or later, you will pass BATF.
As an aside, do you know what "BATF" really stands for? Be Aware
Time Flies. So when designing labels, be sure to allow time for a second try
with the BATF.
Meditation: Identify labels that have unique graphic or copy features. Are
those features category growers or shredders? That is, do they help consumers
understand whats in the bottle, or are they designed to confuse
III. Keep holy the Sabbath day. Take a
break, particularly during work hours.
Think of your last really great idea. Did you get it while sitting in your
office, staring at your computer? Or did your great idea come to you while you
were out of the office, walking, drinking wine, surfing, or lounging with a cup
of coffee? Creative ideas are fundamental to success. This is the number one
reason you should be taking time off, especially when you should be working.
Meditation: Observe the Zaca Mesa label and note its non-traditional
appeal. Notice how the label graphically communicates how the wine tastes. What
an extraordinary idea! This was definitely an "out-of-office
experience." It has resulted in wonderful brand loyalty.
IV. Honor thy Father and thy Mother. For
consistency, integrity, and believability, let your label remain true to its
origins, even as the brand grows and the packaging changes.
Looking back at the history of the labels of Delicato Family Vineyards was
fascinating: the silkscreens of the 1930s, scroll letters of the 1940s,
fluorescent numbers of the 1960s, and the corporate style of the 1970s and
1980s. Sadly, none of these had any resemblance to what the winery stood for
then and stands for today a really approachable family with an
old-fashioned commitment to quality. Revising the label meant reflecting on the
brand, indeed, the company itself. Once we did this, the packaging almost
created itself. When we launched the new packaging in 1998, sales skyrocketed
300% because consumers at long last understood what the package stood for.
Keep these two key points in mind: First, honoring thy Father and Mother
does not mean never revising your label. In fact, over time, an honorable label
can become dishonorable if it no longer communicates the winerys message
Second, there is a common misunderstanding that big corporate wineries are
bad. Consequently, many large brands try to squeeze their big company into
small, intimate brand attire. It might work for the short term, but before
long, the buttons will pop off, and everyone will be embarrassed. The wine
category is starving for reliable corporate wineries with clout to bring more
consumers on board. Has anyone heard of Coke? Microsoft? McDonalds?
Meditation: Check out one brand before and after package design changes. Ask
yourself if the new package communicates a more convincing identity.
V. Thou shalt not kill. Lack of time and
decisiveness will kill your designer, materials suppliers, bottling team, and
ultimately, your ambitions.
Think of it another way: as a marketing manager or designer, would you have
any trouble designing a package that could never be created because of design
or production problems? Easy, isnt it? Well, we do this without intending
to every day. Its no wonder everyone hates marketing.
Meditation: Create a New Product Timeline and review it with your design,
supply, and production teams. Be sure to sit down; the timeline will be longer
than you think.
VI. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Do
not subject your package to "design by committee." Marketing
managers: stay true to your product.
This grave error of adultery usually happens because of actions (or
inactions) that occur well before the design process. Every brand should have
one person who is responsible for the brand image, for example. If there is no
one with singular authority for your brand, find someone before you begin the
design process. It may be you. If it is, make sure that this is clearly
stipulated in your job description.
If you cannot do this, have your team agree to a formalized design process
and use this process to keep on target. Control the design process, do not
allow it to control you. Once again, if you are not the final arbiter, make
sure to have check-offs beyond which there is no going back. Think of the
design process as going through locks in a canal. Once you have your
colleagues approval, ensure that decisions cannot be reconsidered. If you
have a team that cannot agree, build in lots of extra design time and budget.
Meditation: Identify three labels designed by committee. Here are some
giveaways: stylistic tone which does not match brand name; competing or
confusing font types; mismatched styles (e.g., modern die-cuts which detract
from existing traditional imagery); lack of a singular, easy-to-identify visual
VII. Thou shalt not steal. The greatest
achievements in packaging design are made under conditions of complete trust.
Package design is worse than salary negotiation for sports stars. We try to
agree on price, but at the beginning stage, neither the designer nor the winery
has a clue of what the final result will look like. If the design is
successful, the designer never sees the profit. If it is unsuccessful, the
designer gets paid for producing essentially nothing. So this is a perverse
relationship. To set this right, try to get in the habit of giving your
designers a bonus after the results are in. Create an atmosphere of trust.
Mediation: When your designer gives you greater results than you expected,
offer a surprise bonus. A year later is not too late. (Dont forget to
build that bonus into the budget.)
VIII. Thou shalt not bear false witness.
Be more like prophets, less like presidents.
Category shredders have a field day abusing this commandment. They promote
their individual brands, while manipulating, intimidating, and confusing
consumers with seductive words. Terms like "barrel special," extra
reserve," and so forth may advance individual brands, but they increase
consumers misapprehensions about wine. We need to make wine drinking a
pleasure, not a torture. Loading the labels with strange or misleading
information is not helpful in growing the category.
Meditation: Consider this thought: "If you have to ask the BATF to
arbitrate the truth, no good can befall the category."
IX. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors wife.
Know what you want and stick with it.
If a package design project is merely exploratory, tell the design team so.
Marketing departments are famous for not knowing what they want; a symptom
of this sin is the "wandering eye." Other brands will suddenly have
features that are appealing. This envy destroys that magical relationship
between marketing and design. If you have problems with a design, be specific.
I personally dont like earthtones, and I announce this at virtually every
design briefing. Saying, "It just doesnt do it for me" is about
as destructive to building trust with your designer as a comment can be.
Meditation: Provide positioning and objectives documents to designers.
Insist that designers provide a creative strategy that you agree to before
X. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors
goods. There is room enough for everyone in this highly fragmented
Let your brands be themselves, not cheap look-alikes with short life spans.
Stealing label elements from other brands will give you an unintegrated,
fractured-looking package. Consumers sense this inconsistency. They sense
something fishy, and if there is one thing about wines that consumers want, it
is to be reassured that they made the right choice. There is a niche for
everyone among the more than 19,000 SKUs in this category. In fact, we all need
to go after different niches to grow the category. The more our products look
alike, the less wine we will sell. Have some fun with your niches: create your
own identity; make people happy; sell more wine.
Meditation: As an exercise in marketing to niches, create a wine package
targeted to chimney sweeps or dictionary editors.
Obey these Ten Commandments of Wine Package Design. Be a devout category
builder, avoid the temptation to shred the category, and let your brands live
long, fruitful lives.
Edited from presentation to the Second Annual Global Wine
Package Design Conference, March 25-26, 1999, in San Francisco, CA.