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Consumer perceptions of wine brand names.

A Maori-owned wine company in New Zealand asked us: "What does a Maori brand name mean to wine consumers?" We had to admit that we did not know the answer to this question, and we could not find one in academic literature either.

This led to the formation of a project team to a) categorize the wine brand names in New Zealand, and b) examine consumer perceptions of these brand name categories in terms of quality, price, purchase intentions and ability to pronounce and ask for the brand by name.


Consumers attach important meanings and imagery to brands when they are making a purchase decision. A brand name influences consumer perceptions of a brand, and these brand perceptions, in turn, influence buying behavior. There is evidence that brand names are associated with consumer perceptions of quality and their purchase intentions. (1-8)

What makes a good brand name? Successful brand names should be unique or distinct in terms of sound, pronunciation, spelling and meaning. They should be simple, distinctive and meaningful.

Successful brand names should:

a) be easy to understand and use

b) reflect benefits provided by the product

c) elicit a mental image

d) arouse pleasant emotions and strong symbolism.

Consumers form perceptions because good brand names convey meaning to them.

As with other products, the brand name of a wine can either help to bring it success or cause it to struggle. A boring name may be easy to forget, while a distinctive one can connect with the story or place behind the wine. In fact, the brand name has been identified as one of the most important attributes evaluated by consumers when making a wine purchase decision. (3,4,7)

A recent study of German consumers reported that brand evaluation was one of the strongest drivers for informed liking of wine. (5) This result suggests that the brand name is a particularly important quality indicator and a significant influence on wine-purchasing decisions.

S. Sherman and T. Tuten described the naming convention in the wine industry as following either traditional, contemporary or novelty variations and suggested that traditional brand names may be based on the winemaker (Robert Mondavi or Rodney Strong), while another trend with contemporary names is to name a wine after a "critter" (Leaping Lizard, The Little Penguin or Three Blind Moose). (6)

Paul Franson noted the prevalence of animal brand names in the wine industry (Bored Doe, Frog's Leap or Toad Hollow), and the use of cartoon-like character names and brands based on dead celebrities. (2)

Novelty brand names are based on humor and tend to surprise the consumer (Big House Cardinal Zin, Fat Bastard, Frog's Piss [French red wine] or Wild Thing).

I. Wilson and Y. Huang suggest that wine brand names are generally derived from six major sources: those based on a personal name (Torres or Gallo), a place name (Mateus Rose), a descriptor (St. Michael English Wine), an associative name (French Connection) or an invented name (Blue Nun). (8)

The wine market is a particularly crowded one, and this adds to the complexity of wine-purchasing decisions for many consumers. This suggests that building a brand is very important in the wine market and that successful wine brand names stand out from competing brands. In this research, we have tried to link the type of brand name with consumer attitudes and purchase intensions.

First phase--classifying New Zealand wine brands

The brand names utilized by New Zealand wine companies were identified through searching the wine aisles of retail stores and the inventories of online wine distributors. The subsequent list of 600 brand names was then classified into seven categories:

1. Regional--Brand name contains reference to an official winegrowing region.

2. Geographic--Brand name refers to a land feature, or a real or fictional place.

3. Indigenous--Brand name is based on a Maori word or name.

4. Animal--Brand name contains reference to an animal.

5. Humorous--Brand name is quirky, novel or comical.

6. Personal--Brand name is based on a person's given or surname.

7. International--Brand name is based on a foreign-sounding language.

It should be noted that most, if not all, wine labels include a mention of the wine's region of origin. In this study, the regional category included wines where the region of origin had been incorporated into the wine's brand name.

Second phase--brand perceptions and evaluation questionnaire

An online questionnaire was developed and distributed to consumers through the websites of established specialty wine stores in New Zealand. Respondents were provided with a wine brand name and asked questions about their perceptions based solely on the brand name (they were not provided with other information such as price or label design).

The questionnaire provided examples of wine brand names from each of the seven categories, and the example brand names clearly fit into just one of the categories and not into multiple categories. Three different example wine brand names were used in various versions of the questionnaires (the three indigenous brand names were Te Whare Ra, Te Mata and Tohu).

Respondents were asked to indicate how likely they were to purchase the wine brand (from 1 "very unlikely" to 5 "very likely") and to rate their perceptions of quality of the wine brand (from 1 "very low" to 5 "very high").

Respondents were asked to indicate the price they would be willing to pay for the wine brand:

1. Less than $9.99

2. $10-$14.99

3. $15-$19.99

4. $20-$29.99

5. $30+

Other scales were developed to measure the respondents' ability to pronounce the brand name (from 1 "not confident" to 3 "confident") and to measure how comfortable they would be to ask for the brand name in a store or restaurant (from 1 "not comfortable" to 3 "comfortable").

Although 218 respondents completed the online questionnaire, only 141 respondents with no previous purchasing or consumption experience of the example wine brand provided were included in the analysis. This meant that their perceptions of the various brand name categories were not influenced by prior brand experience or loyalty.

Each respondent was asked the same questions about the seven brand name categories, resulting in a maximum of 990 distinct cases (roughly 141 respondents by seven brand name category examples with variations due to pair-wise deletion).

Results and discussion

The sample of 141 respondents was 56% male and 44% female. The largest age category was 25-34 (27%) followed by 45-54 (26%), 55-64 (20%), 35-44 (18%), 65+ (7%) and 18-24 (2%). Almost half of the respondents consumed wine most days (49%), followed by weekly (31%) and daily (10%). Many respondents purchased wine most days (41.8%) followed by weekly (28%) and twice per month (20%).

A series of one-way ANOVAs (analyses of variance) were performed across the brand name categories examining variation relative to respondents' likeliness to purchase, perceptions of quality, the price they would be prepared to pay, their ability to pronounce the brand name and their comfort asking for the wine by name in a store or restaurant.

Post hoc tests were performed to examine specific differences across the dependent variables. Figure 1 illustrates that examples of indigenous brand names had the highest "likely to purchase" score, which was significantly higher than all other brand categories. Personal and international brand name categories were second, followed by geographic, regional and animal. Examples from the humorous brand name category were significantly lower than all others.

Figure 2 shows that for "quality expectations," the indigenous brand name category was rated significantly higher than others, followed by personal brand names in second, then a grouping of international, geographic and regional brand name categories in third place. Significantly lower was animal followed by a lower still humorous category.

Personal brand names claimed the "highest price prepared to pay" rating, significantly different from all but the indigenous brand name (Figure 3). This result suggests that consumers have positive price and quality perceptions toward wines that are named after a particular person.

It may be that an implied level of trust is involved when a personal brand name is used; in other words, consumers are likely to think that only someone who is proud of their product would put their name on it. Indigenous and international brand name categories formed the second group, with a grouping of geographic and regional categories in third. Animal was distinct from all but regional in fourth, with the humorous category alone as the lowest ranked.

Respondents rated their ability to pronounce equally highest across regional, geographic, animal, humorous and personal brand name categories (Figure 4). Indigenous brand names were second, and international brand names had the lowest score.

Although the Maori language is recognized as an official language in New Zealand, only 4% of the total population has an understanding of it; this is likely to have affected consumers' ability to pronounce indigenous wine brand names, which are based on Maori names or words. Similarly, it could be expected that New Zealanders would not necessarily be confident in their ability to pronounce wine brand names that have originated from a language other than English.

When in a retail store or restaurant, respondents were most comfortable asking for regional, geographic, indigenous, personal or international brand name categories (Figure 5). Respondents indicated they would be less comfortable asking for animal brands and least comfortable asking for humorous wine brand names. This result is interesting in that it does not appear to relate to the respondents' ability to pronounce the brand names.

While indigenous and international brand name categories were those that the respondents' were least able to pronounce, they were nonetheless comfortable asking for the brands in a retail store or restaurant.


This research provides some support for the notion that brand names matter to wine consumers. This is not surprising, as throughout the wine industry, building brands and brand equity is often key to a firm's sustainable competitive advantage. What is very surprising is how well and how poorly some of the brand name categories performed.

For example, if these results represent widespread consumer sentiments, it would be a very brave winery that introduced a premium wine with a humorous brand name. We would expect that consumers would not be likely to purchase it, would think it was low quality, would not want to pay much for it and could not bring themselves to ask for it by name at a retail store or restaurant.

Although animal brand names seem to be on the increase on wine bottles today, the results suggest that they fare better than humorous names, but not by much. This study suggests that wines with animal brand names are perceived to be typically low-priced, low-quality products.

Conversely, an indigenous, personal or international brand name could help to present a new wine as being high in quality, one that consumers would be willing to buy at a premium and be happy to ask for. The regional and geographic names performed respectably and were easy to pronounce so they could also be helpful for a new wine brand.

It would be overstating the results to say that indigenous brand names will universally outperform humorous brand names. However, it may suggest that wines with animal and humorous brand names may have to work harder to get consumers to buy them.

Once consumers experience a wine, the brand name will not have the same impact on subsequent purchasing decisions. The results of this study support the view that a brand name provides information to consumers. To put it simply, this research provides evidence that a brand name, in the absence of other product information, influences consumer perceptions of quality, price and their purchase intentions.

While it is clear that consumers do not use brand names in isolation when purchasing a wine, this exploratory study highlights the effect of the attribute and suggests that future research using joint analysis would be useful in examining all major influences on the wine-purchase decision.

This research has attempted to use multiple examples for the brand categories, multiple waves of data collection and multiple wine retailers to achieve a realistic coverage of the market, but the data collection was limited to New Zealand consumers, using an online questionnaire, and participants were directed from wine merchant websites.

In addition, the sample was limited to customers from specialty wine stores, and thus it was likely that these respondents would have higher than average product involvement. Conservatively, the results may only be generalizable to online and high involvement wine shoppers in New Zealand.

BY Sharon L. Forbes and David Dean, Lincoln University, New Zealand

Edited from first publication in Wine & Viticulture Journal, September/October 2014 with permission of the publisher, Winetitles.

Sharon Forbes is a senior lecturer of marketing at Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand. Her Ph.D. examined the factors influencing the purchase behavior of wine consumers in New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.


(1.) Dawar, N. and P. Parker. 1994 "Marketing universal: Consumers' use of brand name, price, physical appearance and retailer reputation as signals of product quality." J. of Marketing, Vol. 58, pp. 81-95.

(2.) Franson, P. 2006 "Labels gone wild." (accessed Nov. 2012).

(3.) Johnson, R. and J. Bruwer. 2007 "Regional brand image and perceived wine quality: The consumer perspective." Intrl. J. of Wine Business Res., Vol. 19 No. 4, pp. 276-297

(4.) Lockshin, L., W. Jarvis, F. d'Hauteville, and J.P. Perrouty. 2006 "Using simulations from discrete choice experiments to measure consumer sensitivity to brand, region, price, and awards in wine choice." Food Quality & Preference, Vol. 17 No. 3-4, pp. 166-178.

(5.) Mueller, S. and G. Szolnoki. 2010 "The relative influence of packaging, labelling, branding and sensory attributes on liking and purchase intent: Consumers differ in their responsiveness." Food Quality & Preference, Vol. 21, pp. 774-783.

(6.) Sherman, S. and T. Tuten. 2011 "Message on a bottle: The wine label's influence." Intrl. J. of Wine Business Res. 23 (3): 221-234.

(7.) Thomas, A. and G. Pickering. 2003 "The importance of wine label information." Intrl. J. of Wine Marketing, Vol. 15 No. 2, pp. 58-74.

(8.) Wilson, I. and Y. Huang. 2003 "Wine brand naming in China." Intrl. J. of Wine Marketing, Vol. 15 No. 3, pp. 52-63.

Caption: Classifying New Zealand wine brands: Bird--personal; Martinborough--regional; Lone Goat--animal; Tohu-- indigenous; Mt. Difficulty--geographic; Hunky Dory--humorous; Neudorf--international.

Caption: Figure 1. Scale ranged from 1 "very unlikely to 5 "very likely."

Caption: Figure 2. Scale ranged from 1 "very low to 5 "very high."

Caption: Figure 3. Scale ranged from 1 "less than $9.99" to 5 "$30+."

Caption: Figure 4. Scale ranged from 1 "not confident" to 3 "very confident."

Caption: Figure 5. Scale ranged from 1 "not comfortable" to 3 "comfortable."


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Title Annotation:WINE MARKETING
Comment:Consumer perceptions of wine brand names.(WINE MARKETING)
Author:Forbes, Sharon L.; Dean, David
Publication:Wines & Vines
Date:Aug 1, 2015
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