Generation Y and Branding

by Eve Resnick on March 6, 2008

in General

Also called “Millennials” or “Generation Why”, this group is widely represented in a lot of countries and constitutes a major target for local and global brands. In the US, there are 70 million people under 30; in Vietnam, they represent 50% of the 90 million people; in China, they are 200 million strong and there are 367 million people under the age of 18, a huge potential market for this growing economy. In South Africa, they account for 35% of the population.

In countries where their number is not as significant, they are different from the Baby Boomers: in East European countries, the Millennials are the first post-communist generation and in Southern Europe, the first post-dictatorship generation. In emerging countries (South Korea, Russia), they are the first generation growing in a stabilized social environment.

The generation Y was born with Internet and finds it easy to interact with each other and then with the world. Forums, blogs, Facebook, iTunes and many other community sites are their favorite places to express themselves, share their ideas, tastes and distastes. Those young people think they can make life fit their specific needs and wants. Brands have to get used to engage in a two-way conversation with those potential consumers. Their favorite US brands, Trader Joe’s, Ben and Jerry’s and Whole Foods (to take into account only the brands connected to the wine and food business) communicate to their customers in a very personal and socially aware style. It’s not so much what they communicate that how they do: Millennials like style, a real voice, and a bit of attitude. They love to blend personal and professional life: their workplace, the marketplace and the lifestyle have to stay connected in a meaningful way.

What does it mean for wine brands? In the US, the percentage of Millennials who consume wine has increased from 10% in 2004 to 17% in 2006. Even more interesting, Millennials and GenXers are more inclined to drink wine than beer.

How did they become interested in wine? For some of them, their parents drank wine and they grew up with wine on the table. “My parents are both big into wine”, said 22-year-old Jennifer Hammons to journalist Deborah Pankey, Daily Herald Food Editor on November 30, 2005. ”At first I didn’t like it, but then it grew on me.”

There is much the same scenario for young people in France: wine is a food always on the family table. Young children are encouraged to taste a drop of champagne or wine during family gatherings. Later in their teens, they are given a third of a glass of wine or champagne with their meal. Why do they then reject wine to go on to beer, cocktails or liquors? Very often, as sociologist Céline Simonnet-Toussaint explains in her book Le Vin sur le Divan, young people under 25 reject wine because it is the symbol of the family. Young people want to experiment with their freedom, but they come back to wine at around 25, when they get their first job, their first “real” apartment and start settling into their new life.

Others discover wine by themselves – during a trip to a wine country, like Napa in the USA, Burgundy in France, Tuscany in Italy, Priorato in Spain or Porto in Portugal. They get interested, go to wine classes or tastings, join a wine club and explore wine stores to get good advice. Mostly, like the women, they listen to their peers, surf the Internet to read about wine and discuss their new passion in forums.

The wine industry is aware of the need of young people for more knowledge. At the same time, this new generation of wine drinkers is very different from preceding generations. It is the “coca cola generation”: they have a much sweeter tooth, they are “zappers”, having known TV and the Internet all their lives, and they are used to getting what they want and paying a high price for it. After all, they pay $3.50 for their daily Starbucks cappuccino and download their songs for $1 or their movies for $5 every day on their iPod or MP3. They know that everything has a price and usually a high price.

Taking these parameters into account, some wine makers considered designing wines specifically targeted at Millennials and GenXers: fun labels, fruity forward wines and a high price. Millennials do not hesitate to pay up to $20 for a bottle of wine! Indeed, they do not yet have any big financial burdens: no children, often a two-income household, no parents to take care of, a good salary and a large disposable income. Unfortunately for the wine industry, they rarely buy the same bottle twice, because there is such a huge choice of brands. They want to be the first to discover a new brand or a new trend, the first to try them and share them with their peers.

Nonetheless, major groups have designed brands for Millennials as they have for women. Constellation designed 3 Blind Moose, Four Emus, Monkey Bay and other “fun” brands. There is no talk of terroir or winemaking on the packaging. The label does not tell a wine story, but a story of having a good time and fun with your friends. Those brands sell well. Gary Glass, former Vice-President of Marketing for Constellation’s Centerra Wine Company, estimates that 3 Blind Moose sold 175,000 cases in 18 months on the market.

At the same time, young people are not as comfortable as their elders when they buy wine. They can be adventurous, but they also seek quality and certainty. Whether they are American, European or Japanese, they will rely on a classic wine from Europe or a well known luxury brand from the New World. Wine is still a little intimidating for Millennials. It is the wine industry’s responsibility to help the young generation to appreciate wine.

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