Can you judge a wine by its label?

Can you judge a wine by its label? »Play Video
OSU research shows the wine label on the left indicates high price to consumers, whereas the label on the right indicates a value.

EUGENE, Ore. -- With a name like Territorial Vineyards, it's obvious location is important to the Lane County winery.

So when it came time to designing a label for wine bottles, "we wanted those maps on there because that shows, it gives a sense of place of where that wine came from," said John Jarboe, the winemaker.

Territorial Vineyard's distinctive label features historic topographic maps from Lane County, with stars marking the location of the winery's two vineyards.

New research from Oregon State University marketing professor Keven Malkewitz shows consumers have pre-determined conceptions about the price and quality of wine, based on the label.  Malkewitz's study, to be published in the Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, indicates consumers believe wine with more ornate labels are more expensive.

Given that labels are a major factor in decisions, more wineries are turning to bold colors and graphics to attract customers.

Location is a popular wine lable theme, according to Brie Malarkey, who owns WineStyles, a wine store in South Eugene.  Also popular are "critter labels," featuring pictures of animals.

WineStyles sells a German riesling in two bottles -- one a standard riesling bottle, the other shaped like a cat.

The cat bottle outsells the other two to one, estimates Malarkey. 

One wine currently popular at Malarkey's store was actually banned in Alabama.

Cycles Gladiator features "classic French art from the 1800s.  It was actually advertisting to sell bicycles," said Malarkey, but Alabama officials deemed the image pornographic.

She's now displaying the bottle with signs asking customers to support classic art.

This is a press release courtesy of OSU News and Communications

Attention wine producers: If you’re putting a premium pinot noir wine in a bottle with a plain white label, you may be making a big mistake.

A new study published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice shows that consumers who highly value design set price expectations based on the package design of the wine bottle. In contrast, a self-described “wine snob” looks at other factors, including the vintage, the type of wine and the reputation of the winery.

Keven Malkewitz, an assistant professor of marketing at Oregon State University, and Ulrich Orth, professor at Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel in Germany, co-authored the paper, which is one of the few that looks at the way consumer’s set price expectations based on package design. Firms spend billions of dollars each year to appeal to buyers with package designs, yet not much is known about how design affects what price a consumer expects to pay.

“The problem is when you have a bottle of wine that looks much cheaper than it really is,” Malkewitz said. “If you are a company producing a high-quality wine and you are positioning the wine at a premium price, why is your design telling the consumer that this is cheap?”

According to Malkewitz, consumers form an expectation of a price based on visual cues inherent in the package. Wines that want to signal high-quality often bear ornate images of chateaus and flourish-rich typography, for example. Other wines “signal” that they are affordable, but use bold colors and fonts to appeal to design-savvy consumers.

“Yellowtail is a perfect example of a company that used design to draw in people who want an affordable wine and might pick a wine simply based on how the bottle looks,” Malkewitz said. “The bright, bold colors and use of animals on the front has been mimicked by many other companies with similar “critter-labels.”

Attractive design elements help wine bottles stand out, and prior research has shown a majority of consumers often buy based simply on the look of the bottle and the price. Therefore, a wine package that speaks to its target audience and also is priced appropriately will sell, according to the researchers.