Wine goes to the movies

One of the best things about being at this year’s Emmys after-party, says Matteo Lunelli, was listening to Andrea Bocelli singing live. “It was an astonishing and emotional performance,” he says. “It was a fantastic event. Lady Gaga was there,” he adds.

‘Fantastic’ sounds like an understatement. To entertain the biggest stars in television, 10 people spent 500 hours laying over 9,750 square metres of carpet, while others hung 536 strands from the ceiling, each of which carried 45,000 individual Swarovski crystals.

Lunelli, the managing director of top Italian sparkling wine producer, Cantine Ferrari in Trento, has enjoyed seeing his wines served at many such events, from the opening of the Venice Film Festival to Italian state banquets. Asked to recall the most memorable, he mentions the 2005 Oscars. “It was one of the first big events I did in the United States,” he says, his voice brightening.

Having their wine in the hands of glamorous stars would be a dream come true for many wine producers. So what does it take to make it happen?

“There was no money involved,” says Lunelli, though the amount of wine provided was substantial. “It was through relationships.”

The Television Academy was seeking a sparkling wine sponsor for the Governors Ball, the post-Emmys party, when Penfolds, who provide their still wines, suggested Cantine Ferrari. “They asked us if we wanted to discuss the opportunity,” says Lunelli. “The United States is a key market for us,” he continues, and associating his brand with prestigious events is part of his marketing strategy. “We want Ferrari to be a symbol of Italian luxury.”

If it’s clear why Ferrari chose the Emmys, how did the Television Academy choose which sparkling to work with?

“We are always looking at what brands are appropriate,” says Heather Cochran, the Academy’s executive vice president. “Our preference is for long-term relationships, where people get to know us and we get to know them, and their brand is compatible with the brand attributes of the Emmys.” Not only that, but the Television Academy is open to sponsorship pitches. Connecting is as simple as calling or emailing the corporate sponsorship department. “We want to find partners that reflect the Television Academy and want to work with us around our entire calendar,” says Cochran. Throughout the year we have incredible events that speak to the television industry.” These include 28 events for professional groups such as set decorators or writers, which also need wine.
What kinds of wines are they looking for?

“We often use the adjective ‘aspirational’,” says Cochran, explaining that because television is brought into people’s homes, brands must “reach a very broad audience”, while also reaching “a level of excellence”.

The other magic ingredient is the marketing strategy. “Penfolds have been around for 150 years, and they’re very progressive and always looking at upping their game,” says Cochran. “They brought us some wonderful proposals about how they could integrate the brand and create unique opportunities about exposure.”

Barb Held, vice president of event production, adds that both Ferrari and Penfolds “understand the concept of leveraging an investment” as well as being able to supply the amount of wine needed. The Emmys Governors Ball and the Creative Arts Ball that precedes it are “the largest sit-down dinners in the United States,” explains Cochran. “It’s 7,000 people sitting down for dinner with the Academy for an upscale dining party.”

For the Emmys, Penfolds supplied 4,750 bottles of wine. “It’s about 15,000 glasses,” says California-based Lily Lane, Penfoldsʼ senior public relations manager.

Penfolds themselves were at the Emmys because of existing relationships. “We had a relationship with Barb [Held] for ten years, and she started with the Television Academy back in April,” explains Lane. “They were looking for another wine sponsor, and I went to Los Angeles and presented to the board.” The Bin 389 and the Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay proved a good fit with the food planned for the evening.

For Penfolds, the partnership was a sponsorship: they donated the wine and paid an undisclosed – and presumably substantial – fee. What did they get in return? “When we signed the contract, I went to our sales people in southern California to see how we could leverage the Emmys,” says Lane. One spinoff was a by-the-glass program at the Montage Beverly Hills hotel. “The InterContinental did a massive program with Penfolds in the elevator and in the rooms, highlighting that we were a main sponsor and how to drink like an Emmy nominee. We’re in People magazine, another sponsor.”

Then there was the chance to connect with the stars. A bar was placed inside the Winner’s Circle where the name plates are affixed to the trophies, Lane explains. Penfolds had readied commemorative boxes of the Bin 389; as soon as the winners were announced, Penfolds staff quickly added an engraved plaque with the appropriate name on it and presented it to the winner. “Then we offered a taste of our flagship wine, Penfolds Grange, which they loved,” she said. “We had a lot of people hang around and chat.”

Actress Amy Schumer posted a picture of herself holding a glass of Grange to her Instagram account, which has 1.4m followers. That gave Penfolds a free personal endorsement from an ‘it’ personality, during the most expensive prime-time advertising slot. “That photo was picked up on websites around the United States,” says Lane. Paying for that kind of advertising would have cost millions of dollars.

On the set
Not every brand has the budget or prestige of Penfolds and Ferrari. But that doesn’t mean the movie industry’s doors are shut.

There are two other ways of getting in, says Sarah Curran, business development manager at New Media Group. “There’s what we call ‘free props supply’ and then there’s product placement.”

Placing products into movies has been a part of filmmaking since it began. The earliest filmmakers needed a flow of props for their sets, and big brands learned to oblige, after they saw how quickly sales would rise after the films were released.

Paid product placement turned into the commercial behemoth it is today after Steven Spielberg made Hershey’s Reese’s Pieces chocolates an essential part of the 1982 film E.T. Hershey’s $1m investment led to tripled sales within two weeks of the movie’s release, and writing products into scripts became standard practice. At the top end is the James Bond franchise, with Heineken paying a reported $45m to have their beer sipped by Daniel Craig in Skyfall. Today, many films are digitally altered to show different products to different countries.

Product placement on television is also possible, plus is generally cheaper; a 2011 Ad Age article cite starting fees ranging from $2,800.00 in Spain, to $28,000.00 in Sweden to $70,000.00 in Germany, depending on the program and how long the product is featured for.

Many national broadcasters, such as the UK’s BBC, won’t allow product placement, however, says Curran. Not only that, but the channels that do accept product placements also have to abide by strict rules. “One of those rules is that alcohol can’t pay for placement.”

Fortunately, there’s a better way to be seen on television, and it’s much, much cheaper.

Donate the product
Props departments need everything from fashion to furniture to wine for the characters to sip while contemplating whatever drama they’re caught up in. Making a brand available to a props department isn’t just cheaper, it can also be more effective.

“Heineken paid lots of money to be associated with Bond,” says Curran. “They don’t just get the integration, they also get the ability to create a whole marketing campaign around it.” But, she notes, Daniel Craig only had a Heineken in his hand once or twice in the whole movie. “There’s a bottle of Macallan Whiskey that appears in a serendipitous place, and if you look at the film, it’s a better placement.” For which Macallan paid nothing. To add insult to injury, film critics called the Bond film-makers a “sell- out” for making Bond drink beer instead of his usual expensive tipples. Not only that, but Front Row Analytics determined that Macallan had walked away with more than $7m worth of free advertising.

“Often we’re approached with opportunities for paid-for placements in film and our clients reject them,” says Curran, saying her clients often prefer free props supply. Not only that, but free props supply can get brands into the advertising-averse national broadcasters, because they’re considered donations.

To use free props supply as a marketing tool, most wine brands will need an agency such as New Media Group, not only because they have the right contacts and know what opportunities are coming up, but because they can track the results and value them. Not only that, but an agency can assess whether the opportunity will enhance or damage the brand. “We wouldn’t supply alcohol if the character was going to get drunk or slur their words, for example,” says Curran.

The cost? Probably into the tens of thousands, with fees to cover storage and shipping.

But while it’s nice to be involved in film and television, is it a good route to market for wine? Ferrari’s Lunelli believes so.

“In terms of visibility, it’s been a pretty good investment,” he says. “We want Ferrari to be a symbol of Italian living and be a symbol of Italian luxury. This is difficult to measure, but this work definitely builds the image.”

This article first appeared in Meininger’s Wine Business International, along with an article about how the wine got into Sideways, which can be found here.