Savvy Marketing or Sour Grapes?

Being the solo-female voice at SBB, I thought I’d go ahead and get my first chic article out of the way. Michele Miller, (genius marketer, who happens to be female) recently commented on Brown-Forman’s Little Black Dress campaign, a collection of wines targeting women.

BF’s Little Black Dress is three “feminine favorites” (their words) – Pinot Grigio, Merlot and Chardonnay. According to Laura Webb, director of new products commercialization for Brown-Forman,

“Every woman has a little black dress, or three, or four. What could be better than to create a wine that women can relate to in that way?”

Miller’s response to that is pretty similar to my own…

“How about a wine that just tastes awesome for a ridiculously inexpensive price?”

She shares her thoughts on the desire for a bottle of inexpensive, great tasting wine, like Yellow Tail. A brand that until recently didn’t advertise at all. Much less create an entire campaign designed to lure in “Little Black Dress” wearing, wine enthusiasts. Michele ends her mini-rant curiously inquiring,

“What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear what you think about wine marketing and if Brown-Forman’s “feminine” ideas are worthy or just a bunch of sour grapes.”

My thoughts? Having worked in this industry on the event marketing side (I promoted Schieffelin & Somerset brands), I can tell you that targeted marketing like the LBD promo, can often come across as trite to consumers. The best S&S wine promotions I ran, targeted savvy, smart and cost-conscious consumers – period. While S&S brands focused on white tablecloth restaurants and their patrons, we still mentioned the competitive price point.

Promos like the LBD promo can seem gimmick-y and often reflect a lack of true understanding for the targeted consumers. Since the popularity of the HBO hit, Sex and the City , and the rise of “chic-lit” novels like Bridget Jones’s Diary, a number of brands have tried to jump on the “sassy, urban, witty, hip-chic” bandwagon. But S&C worked because it was authentic. Same goes for Ms. Jones. Those that try to model the trend often appear to be trying too hard.

Niche marketing can be tricky. There’s a fine line between reaching women that wear little black dresses and out and out screaming for their attention. Cable has only one Carrie Bradshaw, and she’s in syndication now. I’d encourage marketers to be unique and tap into the heart of the consumers they are trying to target.

How do women that wear LBD’s experience wine? What emotions strike a cord causing them to order/purchase/consume wine? Do they drink wine chilling on the couch, watching “chic” flicks? Or are they sharing a bottle with a girlfriend or two rapping about men, the kids, relationships or future dreams and aspirations?

My issue with campaigns like LBD is that they don’t give women enough credit. Yes, I might wear a LBD. I might even drink wine while I’m wearing it. But I choose to drink wine for many reasons. In many different scenarios. And choose my wine based on my many colored moods. Cab Sav, fits my mellow philosophical side. Pinot Grigio is yummy on a hot summer day while noshing at an outdoor café. Shiraz finds me feeling sassy.

Let’s not put women in a box – although some do drink wine from a box…now that’s really cost conscious! Because while I do own a little black dress, I don’t associate all of my wine drinking memories with it.

Are you putting your target market in a box or uncorking your brand creativity and allowing it to breathe?

Cheers to your brand success,

Kammie K.


  1. Here here! There is something to be said for subtelty… I’m with you, give us a good reason to drink your wine, don’t just clump us all into a dress wearing group and then tell us that you have developed a campaign to suit our needs. Instant turn off!

  2. Kammie, I’m with you on this one. I found a real turn-off in Brown-Forman’s comment, “Every woman has a little black dress, or three, or four.” It’s the last four words that set my teeth on edge because they reek of stereotyping women as buyers of a lot of clothes. I think there’s a difference between marketing to a target audience and marketing to a stereotype, and B-F appears teetering on the edge of the latter. Ugh.

  3. ~Natalie,

    Yes…not-so-subtle marketing can leave us feeling out in the cold!


    I agree, like I said in the article…it IS a fine line between reaching your target market and screaming for their attention. When I see this campain it’s almost as if I can hear them shouting and waving, “Ohh..Ohh Pick Me, Pick Me!”

  4. Indeed. What if I don’t wear the LBD but love wine? In general, I’m not a fan of “trend” feels dumbed down to me.

    As you and your other commenters noted, I do think there’s ways to market to women that are more subtle.

    Instead of focusing on some women’s specific materialism (by that I mean consumer behaviors specific to women, e.g. the buying of clothing versus behaviors more specific to men, such as the buying of gadgets) and slapping it in our faces with the assumption that we all fit into that buying category (I can’t afford Jimmy Choo’s–can you? What if they assumed we all can and developed something around that!?), a better campaign might have been to research the emotions and moods women have about wine (as you noted) and create a strategy around that. For example, many people (men and women alike) drink wine in the evening as a way to relax. An ad that empathizes with busy schedules and offers a specific wine to help one relax might have particular female appeal. Or, a visual ad with a group of 3 or 4 women smiling at the bar, with wine glasses, might pay homage to a ‘girl’s night out’ without SAYING that. Perhaps something like “Brown-Forman’s Chardonnay: A classic among friends” (I’m just going off the top of my head here). This would appeal more to a woman’s emotions and relationship habits than the clothing she buys.

  5. Reese~

    I’m with you…I’m not at Jimmy Choo’s budget level (yet). And I love your ideas about more subtle ads. Let the visuals speak for themselves without have to go for the obvious. Perhaps this little rant of ours will inspire other ad/branding folks to stretch their visions and ideas…to dig a little deeper?


  6. Great article! Marketing to women is tricky–especially for us men. I just read a great book, “Marketing to Women”, by Marti Barletta. She covers the subject from A to Z: a real eye-opener.

  7. Brad~

    I LOVE your Funny Business…and I dig that you are taking time to read about how to market to women.

    There are subtle nuances and thinking you get it, and getting it are two different things.

    It’s a fine line, but those that get it succeed.

    Thanks for adding to the convo,
    Kammie K.

  8. “Let’s not put women in a box” – Fantastic. Its aways successful if you don’t try to concentrate on a particular type of customer. The better the quality of the product better the product being accepted by the user. I totally agree with your points made in this posting.

  9. Hi I am learning everything I can about marketing to women and so far it has been tricky but I agree with you 100% and stereotyping is one of the worst ways to market to anyone Men or Women, anyways I hope to learn alot here from you women 😉