We taste-test Brown Brothers’ wine website and find traces of potential but lifted aromas of missed opportunity.
W ine websites are outstanding fun. They’re almost universally pleasing to look at. They have full-frame landscapes of bucolic paradise, delightful typefaces and white spaces and sparkling images of barrels, wine bottles and chilled glasses of sunshine.
Wine sites offer customers a giddy sense of unfulfilled excitement (and often a history lesson) as they’re directed swiftly to an e-commerce page. Once here, they’re urged to buy a case or three of a shiraz or cab sav they might not have even tasted, and pay the freight costs from the cellar door.
But the most fun bit can be trying to decipher the wine descriptions. How else does a winemaker hope to explain that one of their wines has “a robust mix of plum and currant” with “sweet, almost slippery mouth-feel” as well as “lashings of toasty oak”? What more do you need to know about a wine that has “aromas of lanolin, leather and dried herbs over red fruits”?
Break the code and the kingdom is yours. But what if you aren’t a complete wine buff and you would just like to find a bottle that suits your mood?
One winery that has looked at this issue is Brown Brothers. You may not know this by looking at its wine descriptions. One merlot has “lifted aromas of red berries, dried herbs and spices with hints of liquorice” and a cab sav “has aromas of blackcurrant and dried herbs, while the French oak influence offers a gentle ‘cigar box lift’ to the nose”.
The Brown Brothers customer-facing site includes pages devoted to the brand, heritage, philosophy and vineyards, as well as Wine Club member pages with FAQs, news and competitions. “Wines are as different as the people who drink them, which is why we have developed such a comprehensive range of wine styles and blends,” the site says. There are profiles of winemakers, viticulturists and 15 members of the Brown family (some of whom have never even worked in the business).
The “Inspiration” tab leads visitors to a separate site, Colourful Conversations, which is an interesting content-led experiment in vigneron communications. The first thing potential customers come across is a short film of a dinner party, in which 10 young, well-dressed sophisticates pontificate life’s issues. Between topped-up glasses of Brown Brothers whites and reds, the switched-on creatives ask each other questions provided by prompt cards that come from a “Brown Brothers Colourful Conversations” presentation box.
One beardy guy: “Are you what you said you wanted to be when you were growing up?” [group groan “noooo”]
Another beardy guy: “Not a ninja turtle” [laughter]
Girl with unusual fringe: “I’m not a killer whale either” [more laughter]
Colourful Conversations, which was created by digital agency Get Started to help celebrate the winemaker’s 125th anniversary, won a Melbourne Design Award for best branded website in 2015. The opening film clearly sets out Brown Brothers’ target audience for this site – under 40s women who see wine as their social lubricant of choice. As well as carrying recipes and style tips, it has an engagement component (via #makeitcolourful) that asks people to respond to potentially curly questions such as “What is your greatest fear?” and “If you could be invisible for a day, where would you go?”
The site’s centrepiece, however, is an interactive “wine mood wheel”. Responding to the question “What kind of wine mood are you in?”, site visitors can “dial their wine mood by colour” (are you feeling “genuine”, or into “sharing” or “favourites”). Otherwise, they can take the “wine mood test”. Here, they are asked to fill in the blanks of this statement: “I feel _______ and would love to _______ with _______. ” Among the options are feeling “fresh/creative/extravagant”, loving to “dine at my favourite restaurant/relax at home/go to a dinner party” with “the girls [note gender specific]/close family friends/someone really important”. Shazam … the mood wheel offers a range of Brown Brothers’ wine suggestions of different colours and price points.
Is it a bit silly? Yes, maybe. But it is a fresh approach to what is often an intimidating job of choosing the right wine to suit an occasion.
In a video explaining the story behind the campaign, Get Started managing director Adam Griffith says the mood wheel was designed to give people a chance to choose wine in a different way. “So instead of a traditional red, white, fruity or dry, the idea was you would choose your wine based on your mood,” he said. “Research [showed] people would go into a Dan Murphy’s or their local cellar door and see all of these wines and have no idea what the difference [is] between a merlot or a cab sav or a semillion blanc or pinot gris. They tend to just go with what they’re used to or they’d recognise a brand or a nice shiny colourful label and choose that one and hope for the best.
“We wanted to change that up, especially for the younger audience. The mood wheel gave them an opportunity to say if you’re in a romantic mood perhaps you might want to try a durif, or something else.”
Griffith said Brown Brothers’ “luxury feel” presented a challenge to his digital team. “The challenge from a digital perspective was bringing this experience somewhat away from the main brand,” he said. “We wanted the Colourful Conversations digital experience to target a younger audience and have a different feel.”
In other words, it was important not to stuff around with the status quo. Brown Brothers is an iconic brand with a century-old legacy to protect. But what if this idea reached a new, engaged audience that might like the experience and wish to come back for more? On the DrivenxDesign awards site, it is claimed that the campaign brought “a significant uplift in brand awareness and social engagement” with “more than 100,000 unique visitors” on the back of minimal advertising support. Many of these visitors, it says, “had not visited the main Brown Brothers site”.
Unfortunately – perhaps typically – Colourful Conversations existed only as a digital campaign. The “makeitcolourful” hashtag was allowed to slide into the sunset. The Facebook conversations were silenced sometime in 2014. Although the mood wheel still spins, the rest of the site feels like the circus has left town.
Considering the wine industry relies heavily on education, wine brands continue to take a conservative approach when communicating with their customers. Just as not all shirazes or pinot grigios are the same, wineries find it difficult differentiating themselves. Although it’s slightly naff, the Colourful Conversations idea has some potential as an ongoing way to help new wine buyers.
Until winemakers start putting their customers first, their websites will continue to be a race to see who can produce the prettiest vine pictures and the least comprehensible wine descriptions.
Links & references
Brown Brothers website
Colourful Conversations website