Can we innovate in the design of wine bottle labels? Answer with Franck Celhay, university lecturer and researcher at Montpellier Business School


Having been a university lecturer and researcher at Montpellier Business School for 5 years, Professor Franck Celhay specialises in issues of visual marketing communication and his research focuses on semiotics (science of signs) and graphic design. One of his research articles, Package Graphic Design and Innovation: A Comparative Study of Bordeaux and Barossa Valley Wine Visual Codes, was just published in French and in English in RAM, classified rank 2 CNRS and published by SAGE. This is a great reward for this lecturer who started doing research by reading this journal.

"This article was co-written with colleagues from Montpellier and Australia: Josselin Masson, Karine Garcia and Pauline Folcher (from the Université de Montpellier) as well as Justin Cohen (from the University of South Australia)," Franck Celhay begins. "The initial idea came from the observation that, on most categories of products, we can see that there are very strong visual codes regarding packaging design. This is even truer for wines and specifically for wines from Bordeaux: same style of typography, same colours, same illustrations, etc. This is reassuring to the consumer who is used to this".

"From this it is interesting to note that it is both difficult and important for a brand to innovate by deviating from the visual codes of its product category. As a result, the topic was to try and understand under what conditions we can successfully deviate from a category’s visual codes", continues Professor Franck Celhay. "My doctorate already addressed this issue with reference to the wine industry. But it presented a few limits that we tried to overcome by means of a different methodological approach".

It is known in the wine industry that Australian wineries are innovative with regard to packaging design while in France, and the city of Bordeaux more specifically, it is known as being conservative. Franck Celhay and his co-authors thus decided to conduct a comparative study of the visual codes of wines from Bordeaux and from Barossa Valley (a well-known Australian wine-making region).

"The results indicate that Australian wines succeed in innovating by complying with two conditions. Firstly, the innovation remains moderate. Most of them use the same visual codes as their competitors as far as colours, typography and layout are concerned but set themselves apart through a specific theme or style of illustration ("MAYA principle": Most Advanced Yet Acceptable by the designer Raymond Loewy). Then, innovation is required that makes sense in connection with the product category. The new visual codes introduced by the Barossa wines can be atypical but they are always relevant in the context of the world of wine. Thus, a representation on the label of a wine-grower's hands may seem surprising compared to an engraving of a vineyard or chateau; but at the same time it makes sense as it refers to work in the vineyard and the notion of craftsmanship".

"Thanks to these innovative graphic choices, we become aware that Australian wines practice ‘storytelling’ on more varied brands than the Bordeaux wines," adds Franck Celhay. "Whereas the Bordeaux wines are limited to the story of the "estate wine", the Barossa wines develop the story of wine such as "gift of nature", "work of art" or "artisanal and rural product". In doing so, they display more varied positioning strategies which are more likely to address the various consumer segments".

This is what Franck Celhay's next courses will contain, which include "Wine Marketing" and which will start this 2nd semester with the MSc in Marketing students.

To read the full article, click here.