On Feb. 5, Yellow Tail caused a stir in the advertising and wine communities when it brought wine to Super Bowl airwaves for the first time since 1988. The ad was a gamble, requiring the Australian company to circumvent Anheuser-Busch InBev’s exclusive national rights to alcohol ads during the big game by buying local ad time in major U.S. markets. All told, the ad cost Yellow Tail more than $5 million. Was the payoff worth it?
“We got a tremendous response,” Peter Deutsch, CEO of the Yellow Tail U.S. distributor Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, told Wine Spectator. The ad was the most visible piece of a new promotional campaign that began in mid-December. And January sales reached their highest levels in 12 years, 10 percent higher than the recent average. In the week following the Super Bowl ad, Yellow Tail sales grew 19 percent by volume and 13 percent by value in Nielsen data covering large national grocery chains.
Plus, the company’s Twitter and Instagram accounts experienced a 30 percent jump in followers. Counting digital channels where the spot previewed in the weeks before the game, the company calculates the total number of impressions at 285 million.
Spurred by this success, Yellow Tail has plans to pursue a three-year campaign (estimated to cost more than $40 million) centered on TV spots. It’s an unusual venue for promoting wine. But Deutsch believes the investment will be worth it. In an interview before the Super Bowl, Deutsch explained, “Over the last three or four years, the Australia wine segment had declined, but Yellow Tail kept pace. It’s been virtually flat over the last few years, so we were trying to evaluate creative ideas and reignite growth. Obviously, there’s no stage like the Super Bowl.”
Australian wine sales in the U.S. have experienced significant ups and downs in the past 20 years. The early 2000s were a boom time for Australian wine imports in the U.S. And Yellow Tail, recognized for value, reliable quality and a memorable label, benefited, hitting 8.5 million cases in sales in 2010, the most successful of the so-called "critter wines." (The brand is a partnership between Deutsch and New South Wales winery Casella Wines.)
The Australian wine craze lost traction in the U.S. when value-conscious consumers looked elsewhere. Today, sales are increasing again in the U.S., and many Aussie winemakers credit a reemergence of individual character and focus on region specificity. Does Yellow Tail fit in?
The new Yellow Tail ad campaign touts “fun and versatility." Its mascots are an animatronic kangaroo and a yellow-suited young man nicknamed “Yellow Tail Guy.” In the Super Bowl ad, bikini-clad Australian supermodel Ellie Gonsalves lovingly strokes the kangaroo’s nose when Yellow Tail Guy asks if she wants to “pet my ‘roo.”
The ad stirred criticism on social media from Australians who claimed the ad was an embarrassing caricature of their country and a degradation to the country’s wine industry.
“The wine itself continues to 'dumb down' the category,” one Aussie in the wine industry told Wine Spectator. “While most Aussies are all for fun and a good time, this was not at all classy and it was just weird.”
“I thought we had moved on from the stereotype advertising for Australian wine,” said Casey Mohr, CEO of Schild Estate, in an email. “Most producers over the last five years have been working hard to convey to consumers that we aren’t all the same, and we all have our own individual stories to tell. We’ve been working hard to promote our regional diversity, which has begun to resonate with trade and consumers.”
But feedback in the U.S. has remained positive, argued Deutsch, citing a large cross-section of retailers, restaurateurs, distributors and consumers. “People commented that the ad had a really fun vibe to it,” he said. “The brand is very approachable. The campaign brings the brand’s laid-back Australian personality to life.”
One additional ad for the campaign brings Yellow Tail into the bedroom.
And while some Australians were embarrassed, they weren't the target audience. The U.S. counts for 65 percent of Yellow Tail’s total global sales, while Australia ticks in at only 7 percent. (The other two prime markets are the United Kingdom, constituting 14 percent, and Canada, with 5 percent.)
Some do think an increase in Yellow Tail awareness may help the larger Australian wine industry as it emerges from challenging times. “The media surrounding the [Australian wine] category is by no means limited to an advertisement during the Super Bowl,” said Aaron Ridgway, the head of the American market at the trade group Wine Australia. “It seems to me that any look at this ad has to be considered in the greater context of a bigger media moment—that we certainly feel like we’re seeing in the Australia category.”
He confirms that the climate for promoting Australia’s wines is more favorable than it was five years ago—even one year ago. Which is good news for Deutsch, because the new Yellow Tail campaign is here to stay for the next three years.
“There are no tweaks that we’re making in response to anybody that came forward with negative comments about the ad,” said Deutsch. He suggests the complaints come from jealous competitors. “You're never going to get 100 percent across the board. We think those comments were outliers and we question the source and the motivation behind them.”
As the campaign continues, additional TV spots will continue to air. The spots are what Deutsch calls “evolutions” of the original Super Bowl ad. Already one ad has aired during the music competition show The Voice on NBC, and an upcoming ad will air on March 7 during This Is Us, a comedy-drama series also on NBC. The campaign, which is geared to maintain long-term growth in sales, especially among Generation X and Millennials, will end in December 2019.