How America’s Favorite Bargain Wine Gets Great Facebook Engagement on a Shoestring Budget

Carlo Rossi posts fake products with a wink

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“It’s kind of a legacy brand, like Heinz ketchup.”

That’s how Libby Brockhoff, co-founder and partner at San Francisco agency Odysseus Arms, describes client Carlo Rossi—a wine brand best known for being plentiful and, most importantly, cheap.

Parent company E&J Gallo Winery, launched by brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo back in 1933, is the world’s largest-selling family-owned winery. But if you’re looking for paid ads promoting their economy brand Carlo Rossi—which has been one of America’s most popular wines since the ’70s—you’ll be disappointed. The brand’s paid media budget is miniscule. 

What’s the key to Carlo Rossi’s success? A robust Facebook presence and a healthy ability to laugh at itself.

One recent theme for the brand’s posts is products that exist only in the minds of the Odysseus creative team. There is no such thing as a “Rossi bath bomb,” and no restaurant or bar on earth serves Rossi on tap. But the brand’s 300,000-plus fans lap it up, and OA claims the client is looking into actually creating some of these products.

“We did an absolutely terrible job in the beginning,” said Brockhoff regarding one of the 6-year-old agency’s first clients. “But what we do really well is work with the consumers. Our whole business used to be talking at people … but now they’re part of the conversation.” 

According to Brockhoff and fellow agency partner Franklin Tipton, the team’s superpower is listening. “At most agencies, the planning department sits on a different floor, works for three weeks, then comes together with creative about five minutes before the client meetings,” Brockhoff said. But Odysseus Arms frequently meets with consumers in settings far less formal than your standard focus group—like bars, for example. 

“When planners do recruiting, they get really sad people in their basements who own pizza ovens, and all they do is respond to focus groups,” Brockhoff quipped. OA, on the other hand, sends creative teams out to chat with Rossi fans who are legitimately interested in the brand. 

“In essence, the social campaign is delivering on Carlo Rossi’s promise—to provide the highest value possible for the consumer in terms of price and reward,” said Stephanie Gallo, vp of marketing at E&J Gallo Winery. “We love them, and they love us back.” 

The client’s ultimate goal is to avoid all pretension, so Carlo Rossi is less interested in impressing ad geeks than reaching “everyday people in Middle America,” Brockhoff said. And while OA invests “way too much creative time” into the account, there’s not much money involved. The team has more than doubled the brand’s fan base without spending a dollar on follows while also introducing the wine to a young audience. 

“The result is grannies in Nebraska talking to urban rap artists,” Tipton told Adweek. “It’s a national table wine convention convening several times a month on Facebook.”

Tipton said OA achieves “Super Bowl-level engagement” on a budget that runs to a few hundred dollars per post. Here, for example, is the Big Game-themed snack stadium.

Brockhoff explains the underlying philosophy this way: “You risk a lot by waiting until the end of the process to find out what people think. This is how we do pretty much everything.”

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.