There seems to be a temptation for wineries and other packaged consumer goods producers to adapt their packaging to different countries and different cultures. The adaptation can range from merely translating the words on the package to the language of a country or culture to redesigning the whole package to be more appealing to the local buyers. This question has been asked of international marketers for a number of years and various investigations have been carried out. This short article aims to answer the question based on evidence collected in different studies.
First, we can answer the question in the title generally with a ‘no’. Wineries should not adapt their packaging for different markets and cultures. But of course, it is never so simple to just say ‘don’t’. There are instances when some adaptation would be necessary or useful, but the overall look of a brand’s package should not change. This article will present some evidence as to how consumers respond to either adapted or non-adapted packaging and provide some instances when a few changes might be useful.
Overall, a brand should try to build its identity through maintaining a set of ‘distinctive assets’ – non-brand name elements that are linked to and used by consumers to recall the brand from memory. Typical distinctive assets in the wine sector include the font used to write a brand name, logos or other graphical elements, and specific colours. These distinctive assets must be distinctive to the brand, not linked to other competing brands and over time can be used by buyers to remember the brand even without the brand name. The use of elements like grape variety, region, and even medals and awards are not distinctive, since they can be used by many different brands. Distinctive assets are mainly used on the pack, but should be extended to all other areas of communication, such as electronic letterhead, cellar door, newsletters, social media, websites and even uniforms and delivery vehicles.
If a wine brand is successful in choosing and building its distinctive assets, these should be used on all packaging. Remember that consumers in one market may go to your website or even visit other markets where your products are available. If the packaging is not almost the same, it won’t be recognisable. Many consumer product companies believe the name and words on a label should be translated into the local language to make it easier for local buyers to identify and ‘like’ the packaging. A couple of examples are shown in Figure 1.
But does using the local language make a difference in product perceptions in the market? Our research in China and Pakistan with a number of international versus local packaging (mainly the brand name and words in the local language) found consumers liked the international packaging more for hedonic categories, but there was no difference in liking for utilitarian categories (Khan et al. 2017) Wine is defintely a hedonic category and therefore the standard version in English will be better liked than a package translated into the local language. The reasons given for preferring the international (English) version of packaging were:
• It’s an important visual cue
• Global brands use English
• English signifies quality
• English signifies sophistication
As important as the language is, even more important are any graphics, fonts or colours. The human brain uses 40% of its capacity to process images. It uses much less to process words/script. The faster processing of graphics means quicker learning and quicker recognition of a package on a shelf, online, or even on a wine list that uses graphics. Font and font colour along with logos or graphic images were recently found to be the wine label elements that were most powerful in linking sub-brands within a brand family for consumers (Jeffery, 2020). This same result holds true for any graphical or colour-related distinctive assets. These should always be used on all packaging and communications. There is no reason to develop specific packaging for specific markets. Early exporters to China often tried to use red and gold, the number 8 and even Chinese dragons to increase a wine’s appeal. It just didn’t work. Consumers wanting to buy Australian wine want the wines to ‘look’ Australian, and the best way to do this is to use the Australian packaging as much as possible. This would be true in every market, since wine is clearly a product of a specific location and country.
There are some elements that may be necessary to change in some international markets. Wine Australia has a list of packaging requirements for each market and the label approval process. These must be followed and often a special back label or sticky label added to wines for export to certain markets is necessary. Besides these legal requirements, there may be some other issues in determining whether or not to make any packaging changes. The biggest issue is whether the brand name is already in use in the export market. If so, and if the other user has prior rights, then the brand name must be changed. This may seem esoteric, but it has happened to a number of wineries entering different export markets; another wine company had already registered and used the Australian brand name, so a new brand name was necessary.
There are other considerations, which are not exactly on this topic, but are important for packaging in general. Many wineries want to update and modernise their packaging. If this is deemed necessary, then do it gradually over a number of years, so that consumers can always identify the brand. My advice is to keep the existing packaging and update it very slowly over time. If you feel it is necessary to have packaging that would be attractive to younger people, then perhaps developing a sub-brand is a better idea than changing all the packaging. Even the sub-brand should retain the key distinctive assets that make it part of the brand family. Overall, there is no evidence that adapting packaging to different countries helps sell more wine; it is most likely to be the opposite.
Jeffery, T. (2020) Benchmarking branding practices in the Australian wine industry. Master’s thesis at the University of South Australia, Ehrenberg Bass Institute.
Khan, H., Lockshin, L. & Lee, R. (2017). The effects of packaging localisation of Western brands in non-Western emerging markets, Journal of Product and Brand Management. 26 (6), pp. 589-599.
Watch Dr. Larry Lockshin’s 2021 PACKWINE Forum presentation on the topic here: