Adults are playing cards on a terrace. Someone brought pretzels and chips. It is daytime, but a garland of festive lights stretches across a yard of green, leafy trees. Friends have bright expressions, open-mouthed. Someone places a winning hand. There are wine bottles including one with a perfectly readable label. This scene is taken from an advertisement for a valued Pinot Grigio. It’s an example of a modern lifestyle image, and there’s more here than meets the eye.
A lifestyle photo is an evocative visual message intended to connect a potential customer to a specific product. They include models or emphasize, through props and sets, that a human experience is involved. While these consistent types of images are evolving, there is still a long way to go before they speak to the spectrum of today’s wine consumers. Fortunately, talented professionals are answering the call.
Diversify wine advertising
Juliana Colangelo, Vice President of California and New Business at Colangelo & Partners, a beverage-focused public relations firm, says beer and spirits ads “do a better job of placing the product in the environment in which it’s going to be consumed.” For her, wine is confronted with an “inner” problem. If one opened a print magazine focused on wine, there would be more images of Edenian vineyards at sunset than wine drinking in action. When it gets busy, often it’s not a diverse crowd.
Don’t miss a drop
Get the latest in beer, wine and cocktail culture straight to your inbox.
It’s not new.
The lack of diversity in wine lifestyle imagery ranges from where the scenes take place, to who is depicted inside the images, to what those people eat and do.
“It was extremely rare to see a wine advertisement featuring people of color,” says Jean Kilbourne, alcohol advertising critic. She began her work in the 1970s. The subjects were generally older, “upper-class whites.”
Consumer wine struggles to shake off this exclusive imagery. At the Pinot Grigio card game, the three friends are all from different racial backgrounds, but this is one of the only examples of diversity in the wine magazine in which he appears.
“They’re so redundant,” says graphic designer Laurie Millotte, of traditional images. His Canadian company, shine, helps beverage brands develop visual content while streamlining the process. The shoots include people of different races, genders, ages, and sexual orientations. Dragging images from vineyards to more exciting occasions is also key to producing his business. “It’s such a fun product,” she says.
CGI imagery or classic photography? It’s the choice of a wine brand
To be effective in the modern market, convenience is the mainstay of Outshinery. He takes the stage and inserts the bottle later. “Everything is self-service,” says Millotte. Customers choose from a catalog of staged scenarios, and the Millotte team adds a perfect computer-generated image of the customer’s product. “We have well over 150 bottle shapes,” explains Millotte. So far, Outshinery has returned over 16,000 bottles for its partners. Once a customer chooses a scene, it becomes off-limits to other businesses in their area. Finished pictures can be expected in a few days.
In 2020, Gabriella Macari of North Fork Macari Vineyards started using Outshinery and has nothing but good things to say about her experience. “For small family wineries like us,” says Macari, “Laurie and her team…are a dream to work with.”
The nature of the process eliminates shipping hassles and the turnaround time is quick compared to conventional services. “Shine Credits” are purchased through subscriptions. The most popular listing lasts all year and costs $2,159.90. With it, customers receive 25 credits. Lifestyle images cost one to three credits.
Some growing companies, like the one in California Bottle marking, owned by Jeremy and Michelle Ball, takes a more classic approach to lifestyle photos. A bottle is on hand when the photo is taken. Ball says making an image “over-processed or posed” can take away from the sense of authenticity. “Someone may think they need X, Y and Z to shoot a lifestyle shot,” he says, but “sometimes you just have to see the sunset glistening on wine glasses” .
Bally says a customer can sign up with $600 and “get more than a handful of high-quality photos.” It all depends on the length and size of the shoot. A few days can cost thousands.
Online lifestyle images are full of food
Colangelo & Partners has an expanding creative team and is seeing a huge increase in requests for digital images and social media content. In fact, many new customers only sign up for these types of services. In the space of four years, the company has witnessed a shift from in-person event marketing to strong online branding campaigns as clients attempt to retain customers and approach new ones on platforms virtual.
Colangelo, Ball and Millotte all see an opportunity with food. Wine is particularly tied to what is eaten with it – and in the real world, consumers enjoy wine with more than cheese platters. Wine lifestyle images are now promoting meals inspired by Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Mexican and Indian cuisines. Even the pretzels and potato chips in the Pinot Grigio lifestyle photo communicate with an audience that hasn’t traditionally been tapped by wine marketing.
Kilolo Strobert, retail store owner Fermented grapes, in New York, thinks lifestyle photos incorporating specific meals might work well when delivered to the communities in which they are loved, but might fall flat outside of them. “In order to get someone to think about your message,” she says, “you have to give them the tools to do it.” Whether it’s curry in an Indian restaurant or fries and pretzels on a terrace, for Strobert, these images need a revealing atmosphere – even words – to resonate with the general wine consumer.
But today, companies can target particular groups with relative ease, which is a big part of why the online wine lifestyle landscape is so much more diverse than that of print. A shot promoting Prosecco on Instagram has two sparkling glasses placed next to pieces of nigiri and sushi on a dark wood table, and includes specific hashtags to bring the image to the right consumers: #sushi, #sushilovers, #sushiroll. A sushi lover scrolling through the posts might get a glimpse of the pairing and try the Prosecco. Similarly, someone who already enjoys this pairing might appreciate being recognized.
Understanding Lifestyle Images for What They Are: Stories
“What’s really sold here, besides alcohol,” says Kilbourne, is “a special life.” For decades, Kilbourne has educated consumers about subliminal techniques in alcohol advertisements. In his 1982 film, “Calling the Shots: Alcohol Advertisingshe aimed to “bring these subconscious messages out into the open.” By understanding how certain images quietly encourage excessive drinking, a viewer is better prepared to protect themselves. “It gives us power back,” she says. in the film. Forty years later, she says it’s just as important to “pay conscious attention.”
“It’s very tricky because we’re so surrounded by these images,” says Kilbourne.
More and more consumers will recognize themselves in wine media as representation in lifestyle imagery develops further. Technology makes their production more efficient. Social media is a frontier for brands to reach out to all wine drinkers, and they are innovating to do so with precision. In a lifestyle image, a fun card game with Pinot Grigio isn’t just a fun card game with Pinot Grigio. It’s a message. What an image represents, says Ball, “depends on the story we’re trying to tell.” Hopefully we try to tell them everything.
This story is part of VP Pro, our free content platform and newsletter for the beverage industry, covering wine, beer and spirits – and beyond. Sign up for VP Pro now!