In addition to linguistic labels, there’s another type of label that interests me: the one on a bottle of wine. They’re often creative and innovative, and wine labels can have cognitive effects beyond simply informing consumers about the bottle’s contents. Evidence suggests that labels affect consumers’ memory of a wine, their purchasing decisions, and even their perceptions of the wine.
Much of the reason that creative wine labels have taken off is that they have powerful effects. One such effect is, perhaps not surprisingly, on people’s memory of the wine. Kristin Appenbrink describes a study in which the researchers showed 11 participants 12 bottles of wine, 6 with graphic labels, and 6 with traditional ones. The next day, they showed the participants the same 12 bottles, but with 12 additional bottles. Participants were asked to choose the 12 original bottles, and overall they remembered 94% of the bottles with graphic labels, but only 68% of those with traditional labels. A graphic label appears to be the key to being remembered, at least for a wine.
Labels also have a power that links more directly to profit, one that influences consumers’ decisions to buy the wine. Because many consumers are easily overwhelmed by the enormous array of choices, the labels on bottles are the only way that one bottle will attract the customer’s attention. In an article titled “People buy the label, not the wine,” Ortrun Reidick argues just that. He gives one example of a wine label that features a flying pig. Because consumers expect the front label to emphasize some feature that’s relevant to the wine, a bottle featuring a flying pig catches their attention, as they wonder what the weird label has to do with wine. The back label sheds light on the connection: “We think you’ll stand more of a chance of seeing a flying pig than a better wine at this price…” Reidick paraphrases the text: “‘Buy me, I am cheap and good!’” In this case, the flying pig label is likely to have piqued the consumer’s interest enough to convince him to buy the wine.
The most surprising effect that wine labels have over their consumers is the ability to alter their perception of the wine’s quality. In one study, a group of researchers presented 41 diners in a restaurant with the exact same bottle of cheap Cabernet Sauvignon, but half of the bottles claimed to be from California, the “favorable” location, and the other half from North Dakota, the “unfavorable” one. Participants drinking the wine they believed to be from California rated not only the wine as tasting better, but also rated their food as higher quality, ate 11% more of their meals, and were more likely to make return reservations at the restaurant than diners who were given the wine supposedly from North Dakota. This study shows that the expectations people had of a wine’s quality, based on the information they got from its label, affected their perception not only of the wine itself, but also the food they consumed with it. Studies like this one suggest that labels may have a greater function beyond appealing visually.