Alder Yarrow of Vinography and Tyler Colman of Dr. Vino both posted today disparaging the value of medals from wine competitions based on a study published in the Journal of Wine Economics by Robert Hodgson professor emeritus of oceanography at Humboldt State University.

I commented on both posts from the perspective of a marketing guy. Bottom line, while Dr. Hodgson’s paper makes a compelling point, it ignores the more practical side of the business.

In the U.S. the three-tier system has effectively put a roadblock in front of products from new or small producers. Without the leverage of the big multinationals at the distributor and by extension the retail level, the big challenge is not to produce a quality product; that’s simple (but not easy!). Rather it’s how to get through the distributor and retailer gatekeepers to get the product on the shelf and in front of the consumer.

And in both spirits and wine, a medal–whatever its provenance–is often an effective tool to get the retailer and distributor to take on the product. It is third party validation of quality that a small supplier can bring to bear that his own economic clout can’t.

So at the end of the day, do medals mean anything even if they are not statistically valid evaluatons of product quality?

Call me narrow minded, but my answer is yes. So we recommend our clients take the practical conclusion from Dr. Hodgson’s paper…that winning a Gold is a matter of chance as much as quality…and enter as many competitions as they can, and promote the gold medals they get to the trade. And once they get a gold…don’t enter the competition again.

Need proof of this strategy? Look at Grey Goose. They won a gold from the BTI in 1998 and rode that medal to a $2 Billion sale. Valid award? Maybe. Good marketing strategy? You bet!

So, my POV is that in today’s marketplace, a gold medal is a necessary but not sufficient tool. What Grey Goose did was brilliant for its time, but its not a repeatable strategy by new competitors.

The role of a medal in today’s market is more for the trade than consumer…a tool (just one of many you’ll need) to convince a distributor or retailer that your brand warrants a place on the shelf.