Affiliate Programs—The Next Wave in Wine Marketing – Wine Industry Advisor

With an increased interest in the digital space, more wine brands may shift marketing efforts toward affiliate programs.

Brooke Heron

When it comes to online marketing and advertising most wine industry businesses are familiar with advertising channels such as Google, Facebook, or Instagram. Far fewer are familiar with the concept of affiliate programs or affiliate marketing, a type of digital advertising that allows brands’ content and ads to be displayed by partners (or affiliates) on their own websites, online channels, or digital publications.

While affiliate marketing has been around since the early ‘90s, it wasn’t widely utilized until 1996 when Amazon launched its Amazon Associates program, the first publicly promoted affiliate programs.

Affiliate marketing concept image with text and related symbols.
iStock

Historically, affiliate marketing has been something that primarily large, high volume, online retailers—like Amazon—took advantage of. These programs made more sense for businesses doing high volume online business, who had the technology in place as well as the budget and talent to build and manage these programs.

In the world of wine, businesses have traditionally focused on on-site sales or orders placed by phone or email. The implementation of ecommerce software became more popular in the early 2000s, but has only truly been embraced in conjunction with the 2020 pandemic.

Technology over the past five to 10 years has become simultaneously more advanced and less expensive, thus more accessible to businesses of all sizes. The wine industry has arrived at a unique moment in time. A business of any size can now launch their own affiliate program using a software app on almost any website platform of choice.

Currently, the types of wine businesses that offer affiliate programs are almost always online wine clubs, wine club businesses, or wine retailers. There are few wineries present in the affiliate advertising space—for a few reasons. Firstly, there is concern about potential violation of tied house rules that, for wineries, comes with all forms of online marketing and advertising. Secondly, there are concerns about violating ABC guidelines, which all types of wine and spirits industry businesses that participate in online sales must pay attention to. 

Bahaneh Hobel / dpf-law.com
Bahaneh Hobel / dpf-law.com

     Bahaneh Hobel, an alcohol beverage law and compliance lawyer, stipulates that, in theory, the use of affiliate programs by wineries would be acceptable if business is conducted and payment occurred in accordance with all applicable laws.

The other issue: compensation. “This is akin to third party marketers of brands, and in California at least, compensation of third-party marketers is permissible so long as it is reasonable and complies with ABC’s guidelines in its Third Party Provider Industry Advisory from 2011,” explains Hobel.

However, the small number of wine businesses that have leveraged affiliate programs in the past is also largely due to the lack of focus on ecommerce in general. But since 2020, things are different. The urgent need to do more business virtually has led to a rapid evolution and adoption of more modern technology solutions. In addition, businesses have quickly become more willing to seek out new and different sales and marketing channels in an effort to reach new audiences.

New wine and spirits industry brands are, unsurprisingly, at the forefront. They’ve come of age in a digital era and are working with modern and flexible technology and tools from day one, rather than having to dismantle old systems and rebuild. Even small businesses today, can easily launch their own affiliate programs using low cost and easy to manage software apps available via their website platforms.

Maker wine has built up a community of "can fans" through its affiliate program. Pictured: 2020 Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc by Chris Christensen / Courtesy MakerWine.com
Maker wine has built up a community of “can fans” through its affiliate program. Pictured: 2020 Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc by Chris Christensen / Courtesy MakerWine.com

Sarah Hoffman of Maker Wine, a premium canned wine company launched in 2020, recently initiated their new “Cannoisseur” affiliate program. “We’ve seen the incredible value that authentic endorsements from creators and influencers can bring,” says Hoffman.
An affiliate program allows us to track the efficacy of these efforts, build a community of ‘can fans,’ and ensure that creators are being compensated for the new business they are bringing to Maker.”

Digital marketers and public relations agencies are also starting to have conversations related to affiliate marketing with their clients and potential clients. “As someone working in the PR space with wine and food clients, I have seen the interest grow for affiliate marketing— especially since 2020,” comments Laiko Bahrs, of Laiko Bahrs Communications. “Smaller brands are becoming more aware of affiliate marketing, and are making plans or considering investing in new online marketing and advertising channels. And this now extends to potential integration with their product publicity strategy.”

While the majority of wine industry businesses do not yet have an affiliate program, the trend towards this form of online advertising appears to have finally arrived within the wine space, as evidenced by the growing number and the diversity of brands launching programs—including prominent companies such as Stags’ Leap Winery, HALL Family Wines,  Maker Wine, Bounty Hunter Wine, Treasury Wine Estates, and Coravin—over the past 2-3 years. And given the wine industry’s shift toward more ecommerce-driven sales, it may just be a form of advertising we’ll see increase in 2022 and beyond.

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Brooke HeronBrooke Herron is a Sonoma County-based OMCP certified digital marketer, online sales strategy consultant, and part time freelance writer. When she isn’t conducting digital audits or working on client marketing projects, Brooke writes for a variety of publications including Decanter Magazine, Somm Journal, The North Bay Bohemian, and a few others. In her spare time she can be found on a hiking trail or somewhere with an ocean view.

IG: @adifferentkindoftravel                      LI: @herronbrooke

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