Love a certain wine? It could be the marketing you’re tasting.

Sep 18, 2017

If you’re proud of your company’s products or services, you probably want people to appreciate them on their merits, not just their marketing.

We understand that. We also understand that the human mind doesn’t work the way we wish.

That was made clear at a 2012 conference of the American Association of Wine Economists in Princeton, New Jersey. The event hosted a blind taste testing, pitting several famous wines against others that were practically unknown.

It was modeled off another tasting held in 1976. Back then, no one respected American wine, but when Napa Valley wines beat several French vintages in a blind test, it launched the California wine industry. The event has forever been known as the Judgment of Paris.


Photo from the “Judgment of Paris” event in 1976. Some respected wine critics were embarrassed by the results.


This time around, a vintner from Atco, in South Jersey, convinced organizers to replicate the test, except using New Jersey wines. Like the Golden State 40 years ago, the Garden State has a burgeoning wine scene, but it is still widely overlooked.

It didn’t seem like a fair fight. A committee selected French wines ranging from $70 to $650, while the NJ wines ranged from $12 to $50.

The results? The nine-person panel of American, French and Belgian judges returned a statistical tie, with several NJ wines topping the French. The event was called the Judgment of Princeton.

While surprising to many, it wasn’t to economists. A long list of studies have found that marketing elements like cost, labeling and description dramatically change how people perceive wines. Even identical wines are rated differently if priced differently, a phenomenon called the “marketing placebo effect.”


Table from a paper published in the Journal of Wine Economics titled “On Wine Bullshit.” It lists these real wine descriptions to show how little they actually mean.


Long story short: wine tasting shows marketing has a more powerful influence than we often realize. Marketing might not make a poor product palatable, but it can ensure a good product gets the judgment it deserves.


This article was written by Lee Procida. It first appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short.

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