Jess Jackson, founder of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates (K-J), a Fulton, CA-based winery, was looking to enter the growing "critter" wines market.
Critter wines, which depict a range of animals from penguins to pigs on their labels, are value wines aimed primarily at young adult consumers.
In launching Dog House Wines, Jackson partnered with Fineman PR to develop an initiative that would target trade and consumer press, as well as consumers.
Aside from trying to introduce a new product into an already cluttered market, Jackson and Fineman PR had another hurdle to overcome.
According to agency president Michael Fineman, critter wines had gained a reputation among wine writers as low-quality wines. "Wine writers," Fineman says, "a major source of wine recommendations for wine consumers, largely ignored critter wines."
Jackson and Fineman PR knew that in order for Dog House Wines to stand out, not only would the wine have to be a quality product, but it would also need a hook to grab the attention of the press and consumers. They decided to focus on humor and cause marketing.
There were three components to the strategy. "We wanted to impart the product's personality, appeal to the large market segment of pet owners, and attract media attention," Fineman says.
The PR team accomplished all three by issuing a press release to wine writers in trade and consumer publications, donating revenue from sales of the wine to the Guide Dogs for the Blind organization, and sponsoring animal events in New York and California.
In May, Dog House Wines issued a press release to wine writers announcing the product's release that month and details of the donation program for Guide Dogs for the Blind.
The release included a sidebar containing tongue-in-cheek tips for consumers on new ways to view and use the dog house. One tip: "Your significant other has left you. You have been told not to pick up the trail. Find a space with padded walls. Howl."
The media also received samples of the wine for tasting.
In an attempt to reach out to consumers and dog lovers, Dog House Wines announced that it would donate 50 cents from every bottle of wine sold to Guide Dogs for the Blind, with a minimum pledge of $25,000.
Dog House also served as the exclusive wine sponsor of the Hollywood Paws of Fame event in New York City in October. The event, thrown by the Young Friends of the ASPCA and The New York Dog Magazine, aimed to raise awareness for the ASPCA. Jamie-Lynn DiScala of The Sopranos hosted.
The PR push generated news coverage in a wide range of trade and consumer publications, which Fineman says had a positive effect on consumer demand.
"Within a month of our initial efforts, Dog House had to double the amount of wine it originally intended to produce due to the demand," Fineman says.
In addition, a $35,000 check will be presented to the Guide Dogs organization this month.
Dog House received coverage in Wine Spectator (including a mention as "Wine of the Week"), Wine Business Monthly, Chicago Tribune, The Tennessean, Metrowest Daily News, Dallas Morning News, Indianapolis Star News, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Santa Barbara News Press, and Dog & Kennel.
"The first round of stories built momentum, and soon after, media from untargeted markets were calling to get more information," Fineman says. "Even bloggers were talking about the wine."
George Rose, VP of PR at K-J, says plans for a radio-based PR effort are in the works. "We're looking to expand our reach into off-premise locations," he says. "We're currently speaking with Target about this. Other stores have been calling us about potentially carrying the product."
Rose says there's a strong possibility Dog House Wines will hit grocery store shelves sometime this year.
PR team: Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates (Fulton, CA) and Fineman PR (San Francisco)
Campaign: Launch of Dog House Wines
Time frame: April to December 2005