Wine Brands Are Raising A Glass To The Dark Side

by Rowena Curlewis on 01/28/2021 | 4 Minute Read

Switch on the TV, and you can get your true crime fix in an instant. TV documentaries, podcasts, dramatic adaptations of real-life events—we’re inundated morning, noon, and night. 

There’s something about the dark side of life that has us in its thrall. It taps into the most powerful emotion we can experience—fear. Even from the relative safety of the sofa, released dopamine and endorphins can light up our brains’ neurotransmitters like a Christmas tree. And it’s this dramatic response that increasing numbers of wine brands are tapping into, as the allure of evil and the macabre, and their ability to entice and seduce, is better understood.

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The Unexpected Path

Central to creating a strong brand, one that makes a powerful connection with its target consumer, is storytelling. And what better tale is there to tell than one that’s mysterious, that tantalizes, and gives a vicarious thrill?

But it serves a greater purpose than simply sending a shiver down the spine of a potential consumer. As brands like Del Diablo Loco and Trapped have shown, it’s a striking way to disrupt a sector and shout-or scream-out your existence from the shelf. With so many wines taking the path well-trodden with brand and packaging identity, balancing "evil" and "accepted" cues effectively will resonate emotionally and connect on a deeper level. We slowly focus on faces from "the other side"—it’s subtle, sophisticated, and chilling all at once. 

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Editorial photograph

Welcome To The Dark Side

Across the pond in the US, winemakers and drinkers have embraced this trend for a while now. Gen X, Y, and Zers keen to show off a rebellious streak have long celebrated brands that err on the side of the ghoulish and disturbing, such as Orin Swift, which enjoys cult status. Many of its labels are the stuff of nightmares, but that didn’t stop E&J Gallo from snapping up the hugely popular brand a few years ago.

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Editorial photograph

In Europe and Australia, we’re beginning to see more adoption. Australian brand 19 Crimes celebrates the convicts turned colonists of the 18th and 19th centuries taken in prison ships from Britain to the southern hemisphere for committing one of 19 crimes punishable by transportation. Their faces get depicted on the pack with their stories told via an augmented reality (AR) app. As pioneers in a frontier penal colony, they represent success in the face of unimaginable hardship, and the brand celebrates the rules they broke and the culture they built. The brand strategy also lends itself to different formats and SKUs—cue 19 Crimes’ bag-in-a-box. Right now, 19 Crimes is the UK’s top supermarket wine brand.

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Have You Got the Bottle?

Maybe, as many of us live lives with greater restrictions than usual thanks to Covid-19, that indirect thrill is even more appealing. Most of us don’t have the bottle to veer too far from the beaten path—but we’re endlessly fascinated by those who do, even as we yearn for a life beyond four walls.

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All of this has the potential to impact the consumer drinking experience, too. There is a feeling of daring when a consumer chooses and then opens this type of wine. Provoked by danger and fear, their senses become heightened, and there is a perception that the wine inside will be unexpected and dramatic, a dangerous expression. And a brand such as Del Diablo Loco, with its 16.5% alcohol content, certainly delivers on that expectation. 

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The Perfect Balance

The beauty of this brand strategy is that it appeals to multiple audiences and at different price levels. From premium wines like Trapped to more affordable varieties, such as Take It To The Grave (an inexpensive pinot noir whose brand inspiration involves the secretive nature of the grape sourcing).

The job of brand strategists and designers is to create the perfect balance—intrigue and excitement rather than repulsion, tension and fear rather than terror. They also need to ensure that quality cues and expectations are met so that people still understand what they’re buying. 

Wine is a serious business. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with it, play a little fast and loose with the rules. We can always put the cork back in the bottle and go back to our safe, secure, and comfortable lives—until the next time we feel like a little adventure.

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