I say this not just as one who is looking back over a long career (40 years, next year). A little over a week ago I worked late into the night during the weekend and also the Friday and Monday that bookended that weekend. I was making shelf talkers for a client. It was one of those déjà vu moments when I looked up and saw what time it was. For years (and I mean “years”) after my son was asleep in bed, I’d get out my pens and paper and art brushes and I’d make individual shelf talkers for the placements I’d made that day. The TV blared, with a very young David Letterman, while I made them. I worked for a small company; no one knew anything about our “brands.” They reality was, they weren’t brands, they were placements sitting on a retail shelf. I had to find a way to move them.
Over the years, copying machines became cheaper to use (this was before personal computers) and so I’d copy in black and white and fill in with colored pens (I still have them and use them). And when I found out about laminating machines, my life changed. They extended the life of a shelf talker by months. I just had to find a way to attach them so they didn’t “fall off” the shelf.
and as a way of extending the conversation from last week’s post) is to give a candid, personal recommendation for the wine to the person who is reading it. Like I said, when I started this, Parker & Company (Wine Spectator, etc.) didn’t have the influence they grew to have (and still do for many people). I’ve utilized scores in some of the recent shelf talks, if only to offer a window into an area of critical expertise, not as a substitute. And then I’ve also made talkers that were only reviews. Those work for certain people, but I always feel a little let down when I make ones like those.
I had a consumer come up to me in a store once, where that shelf talker hangs. “Can I help you?” I asked. “I’m looking for that 100 wine,” the customer said. To this day I doubt they saw past the bright large red number.
Comedy and sarcasm, I have found, does well on a shelf talker. I also learned that women read the whole thing, to the point of not wanting to be distracted. I once went up to a lady in a store where some of my shelf talkers were hanging and asked her if I could help her. “No thank you, these hanging cards tell me everything I need to know.” Like a proud papa, my babies were working. It was a great moment, a moment that confirmed that someone listens, even if they don’t realize they do.
My favorite shelf talker? Hard to say, but I’d have to put my Hare Today-Gone to Merlot one (at the top). I’ve re done it for so many wines – it just works, really well.
One that worked really well for a colleague was E.T., with his finger pointing to the words, “Out of this world,” and then with the wine description below. I’ve redone that one for the 21st century, but my colleague (and later my competitor, still a friend) would make thousands of dollars using that on his shelf talkers – to the exclusion of any other shelf talker. You could go into a famous liquor store near downtown Houston and see hundreds of shelf talkers with E.T. proclaiming “Out of this world” on copying paper that had been copied many times. To the point that the image was almost not there. But this guy was (and is) a super salesman and his loyal following knew that if he put that “E.T – out of this world” talker on a wine they’d know it was OK to buy it. Like I said, he made thousands. I know they work.
In today’s’ world where we have such a disjointed affair with experts and peer recommendation, mixed in with our own personal preferences (and degrees of expertise) it’s humbling to know these little efforts still work for people who aren’t living inside the wine bubble. They just want to know (in 2015 as well as in 1985) what they can take home and enjoy tonight.
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