Wine Influencers Inspire Strong Reactions. But What’s the Harm in Being ‘Liked’?

Monica Simon

What comes to mind when you hear the word “influencer”? A photogenic person sipping rosé in an infinity pool, maybe, or squinting heroically across a vineyard at dusk?

No matter who or what you picture, chances are you have a strong reaction. One wine publication went so far as to call them an “Incurable Plague” in a January 2021 headline. That article referenced a 2020 piece by wine critic Robert Joseph, titled, tellingly, “In Defence of Wine Influencers.” Not since natural wine has such a loosely defined concept become this divisive.

While the wine industry wrings its hands over how to capture millennials’ and Generation Z’s dollars, it could only help to meet potential customers where they are: social media.

So, what does an influencer do, exactly? A 2019 Wired magazine article declared that the term is virtually meaningless, so “it is simultaneously an insult and an aspiration, the scourge of small business owners and the future of marketing.” In reality, influencers create social media content that aims to affect consumer spending. They get results, too. In 2018, 49% of consumers made purchases based on influencer marketing, according to the Digital Marketing Institute. Statista, a research-driven provider of market and consumer data, reported that the global Instagram influencer market doubled from 2018 to 2020.

For my #twocents, I think influencers are an underutilized asset in wine. They can help struggling brands reposition themselves, engage new consumers and diversify the wine business. While the industry wrings its hands over how to capture millennials’ and Generation Z’s dollars amid competition from craft beer, spirits and cannabis, it could only help to meet potential customers where they are: social media.

Millennials and Gen Z Could Save the Wine Industry

Influencers could do wonders to make wine more inclusive. If you partner with people from communities commonly ignored by or omitted from many wine advertisements, you’ll be blown away by the untapped potential. Much like how LeBron James’ Instagram is currently the primary source of fine wine messaging to nearly 80 million basketball fans, there are so many potential consumers as yet untouched by mainstream wine marketing.

To a relentlessly optimistic person like myself, influencer marketing seems like a win-win for wine. Why, then, does it rouse such passion from established professionals who write think pieces? It might just be late adoption. Those with deep roots sometimes hesitate to embrace fresh shoots.

There are so many potential consumers as yet untouched by mainstream wine marketing.

Or, there could be deeper resentments. That January 2021 takedown of the “plague” called one female influencer “gormless” with “vacuous friends.” I’ve never read such language lobbed at models in traditional wine advertisements. Is the only difference that influencers own their images and self-direct their incomes? Do people begrudge the misconception that “anyone with a phone” can be an influencer, even as that perceived relatability is precisely what makes influencers so compelling to their followers?

Whatever our feelings, social media isn’t going anywhere. If we dismiss influencers now, we are putting corks in our ears and heads in the soil. I’d rather give influencers, and wine, a chance.

Published on April 6, 2021
Topics: Viewpoint