In just a matter of days, Americans will partake of that always festive, sometimes sloppy tradition of popping open a bottle of champagne. Nobody knows how many of us will have a sip of bubbly this New Year’s, but the best estimate stands at 360 million glasses. The French champagne commodity folks tell us that the U.S. imported 17.7 million bottles of champagne in 2013 alone. And while David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox chugged a $100,000 bottle of Armand de Brignac during that little World Series party in October, most of us will invest around 50 bucks for a bottle of Moët & Chandon. With its sales up 6 percent—and a recent deal naming it the official champagne of Times Square 2014—Moët is the top-selling champagne in America.
Which is not to suggest that selling champagne in America is easy. It is not—not even for a giant like Moët. According to veteran alcohol-industry consultant Arthur Shapiro, champagne makers “have tried for years to get people to drink champagne for more than just weddings and New Year’s, but they didn’t succeed because of the cost.”
Or at least the perceived cost. The fact of the matter is that a perfectly good bottle of sparkling wine (the name bubbly takes when it’s not from France) can be had for 15 bucks. But the perception is that good champagne is expensive—an idea that brands like Bollinger (at $650 a bottle) and Krug ($750) do little to discourage. For a brand like Moët, then, an ongoing marketing challenge has been to make the product more accessible to the average American—a task to which these ads are devoted.
Dom Pérignon has long been the marquee brand of the Moët cellars. Trouble is, Americans know it’s fancy as surely as they know they can’t afford it. But in this 1968 ad, Moët decided to use the Pérignon name to promote the workhorse brand Brut Imperial, nudging them together and promising that Imperial was “made in the same great tradition.” It’s a subtle but effective price cue, Shapiro said: “They were trying to present a more affordable champagne with the provenance of Dom Pérignon—it’s called borrowing credentials.”
Jumping ahead 45 years, affordability and accessibility remain the themes of this ad for Chandon California Brut Classic. The reason you don’t see the word “champagne” owes itself to a shrewd move Moët made in 1973 when it purchased a tract of land in Napa Valley, Calif. Since then, the proud French cellar has produced Chandon—the American sparkling wine that still drips with those fancy, old-world associations but won’t cost you a week’s pay.
“In the 1968 ad, Moët is telling the consumer that if he trades down, he’s getting the same tradition but at a lower price—and it wouldn’t surprise me if they were saying: Go to Domaine Chandon and we’ll bring the price down even further,” Shapiro said.
He’s right. These days, while Moët’s Brut Imperial sells for $49.99, Chandon Brut Classic can be yours for $19.99—at Target, no less. Now, who can’t afford that?