The culture wars come for Chardonnay

Plus: State of The Boozeletter™, hard seltzer "families," bar tab Venmo part infinity + more!

Reagan struggled with the concept of “trickle-down economics” until Milton Friedman poured a decanter of Zinfandel on his head. Many people don’t realize this.

You’ve probably heard of the “conservative coffee” boom/grift, in which roasters and even retail locations use right-wing culture war tropes to market themselves to conservatives who feel alienated by Starbucks because the baristas won’t say Merry Christmas, or whatever. It’s big business: in 2020, Black Rifle Coffee Company, the most prominent player in the right-wing coffee field, pulled down $163 million in sales revenue.

With that much money to be made hawking liquid freedom to a thirsty Republican base, it was only a matter of time before enterprising hustlers in other, higher-pricepoint beverage categories got in on the hustle. And lo, earlier this month, the American drinking public was introduced to We The People Wines, a direct-to-consumer brand created by a Republican marketing operative “to reflect what we see as the exceptionally diverse identity of Conservatives across the country – diversity of thought, diversity of experiences and diversity of everything that makes up our society.” How will a private-label wine brand accomplish such lofty political and intellectual goals? By posting, of course.

Earlier this month, the company went semi-viral with the ad above, a grab bag of conservative bugbears and jingoistic imagery narrated by Ronald Reagan, who is dead. It’s a lot to take in. By my quick tally, the video has been viewed over 1.5 million times so far across social media platforms, including 721,000 views on Twitter, and 680,000 times on Rumble, the right-wing YouTube knockoff that, in the words of Trashberg’s Ashley Feinberg, “consists almost entirely of deranged right-wing rants sandwiched between viral videos of dogs licking each other’s genitals.” This is the platform Donald Trump, Jr., relies on to post sweaty vlogs about “woke generals”, critical race theory, and people his dad talks to instead of him, so while mainstream brands might consider Rumble a controversial place to publish their commercials, it only stands to reason that a company courting conservative cash would include it in their marketing blitz.

Honestly, I thought the views would be higher for We The People’s ad. Right-wing outlets like The Daily Caller and covered its release with breathless delight, and a bunch of people had fun dunking on it on Twitter, which likely inflated the totals with hate-views. And the company is spent money pushing the spot on Facebook and Instagram, too; their numbers would be even lower otherwise.

Does this mean $30 bottles of California Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are a bridge too far for rank-and-file MAGA types who’ve been conditioned to believe wine is the beverage of satanic coastal elites, and see red at the mere mention of true-blue California? Who knows, man. Views don’t directly equate to sales, after all, especially not in the mostly uncharted world of DTC partisan booze.

Still, the company’s CEO, Republican consultant Ryan Coyne, thinks that the breakout ad’s modest success bodes well for the brand’s prospects:

The success of this video illustrates in very clear terms that going out and unifying people and taking on wokeism directly” works, said Ryan Coyne, founder and CEO of We the People Wine and Olympic Media, told the Washington Examiner. “Saying, ‘No, America is the greatest country in the world, and we're here to celebrate it, you're never going to convince us otherwise’ ... There's a clear desire in terms of the marketplace.”

Coyne told the Examiner that the company is aiming to sell a million cases of wine per year. (For reference, popular supermarket brand Josh Cellars sold around 3.4 million cases last year; Franzia, the world’s biggest wine brand, did around 24 million cases.) Whether We The People Wines can post its way to that kind of sales volume remains to be seen. Just last week, with the United States’ chaotic withdrawal from its forever war in Afghanistan dominating headlines, We The People dropped another video accusing President Biden of “[a]bandoning our citizens in a terrorist-ridden country.” To date it’s racked up under 25,000 cumulative views across all platforms.

📫 Good post alert

Hot dog! If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out the Fingers interview with Brandon, who runs the excellent Twitter/Instagram account @picturesofdives. He’s one of my favorite guests so far! (Speaking of which, if you have suggestions for future Fingers interviewees, let me know!)

🎙️ Bonus pod - So a Republican walks into a brewery…

Last week’s newsletter drove Fingers’ third-highest day of web traffic ever, which is a) pretty cool; and b) the nudge I needed to record an audio version of it for anyone who didn’t catch it the first time around and/or hates reading. Listen here.

Check out previous audio versions I’ve published:

You can now also subscribe to The Fingers Podcast on Apple and Spotify. Please do!

💩 Digital media’s bar tab Venmo season is here again

Speaking of forever wars: about a year ago in my first piece for VinePair I detailed the curious practice of “bar tab Venmo,” in which digital media companies lay off workers and other workers send them money for drinks, as though that will fix anything about this big dumb industry. Well, here we are again. Last week VICE—a well-funded digital media company that has produced both vital journalism and the founder of the Proud Boyslaid off a bunch of its editorial staffers and cheerily announced a strategy that sounds suspiciously familiar to last decade’s devastating “pivot to video.” Awful.

For those of you who are not in this perennially imploding business, these two tweets from Discourse Blog’s Rafi Schwartz pretty accurately sum up the experience of a big industry “layoff day”:

Layoffs have been a constant threat in the digital media industry for basically as long as it’s been an industry. There are reasons for this that I (and so many others) have outlined ad nauseum, so I’m not going to bother litigating the specifics of VICE’s latest reorg other than to say they sound typically stupid and arbitrary and unfair. Late last week, Ryan Broderick, who writes the very-good newsletter Garbage Day, published a smart essay expanding on that:

[E]very 16 months, one of these sites will contort itself into a ridiculous reorg because it has let investors or online platforms or advertisers convince it that it needs to produce every single kind of internet content that exists…

Layoffs will continue, companies will fold, and the ones that don’t will only become stranger and more grotesque content farms as they’re slammed together by private equity firms or mergers: “We subsidize our YouTube documentaries with Amazon links for dildos and run a tarot card Instagram! Our tech review site is only financially solvent because we have an HBO show no one watches! We own an Eastern European Facebook page network that focuses on classic cars and algorithmically-generated DIY hacks that don’t actually work which distributes a podcast we produce with Trisha Paytas!”

Grim stuff. Anyway, solidarity to VICE workers who got laid off, and if anyone has seen a Venmo fund going around, let me know.

📈 State of the Boozeletter™, “I’m back baby” edition

In happier news, I’d like to extend a warm Fingers welcome (whew, what a phrase) to the 78 new subscribers that have come aboard this month. I’m so goddamned happy you’re here. The Fingers community is growing by the day, and it’s so cool and validating to see, particularly given the garbagio nature of digital media these days. I appreciate the hell outta each and every one of you for welcoming me into your inbox. If the feeling is mutual, wouldja do me a quick solid by telling your followers to subscribe?

Share Fingers

This project can only continue with your support, so please consider sharing Fingers with your friends (whew x2) so they can join our drunken, class-conscious ranks and keep the good times rolling. I’d be ever so grateful if you did. Onward!

🧾 The bottom shelf

  • “Hard seltzer families” beat Bud Light: That’s not “families who drink hard seltzer,” as much as I wish it was. It’s Good Beer Hunting data dog Bryan Roth’s term for seltzer brand portfolios (i.e., all White Claw products, all Truly products), and per his analysis of IRI scan data, off-premise sales of those FMBs overtook Bud Light’s for the first time. Yes, YTD, and yes, football szn cometh, but still: it’s a brave, bubbly new world, people.

  • Proud Boys’ White Claw-loving leader sentenced: Enrique Tarrio, the onetime chair of Trump’s favorite far-right militia who went viral last year for screaming “MANGO WHITE CLAW” into Andrew Callaghan’s All Gas No Brakes mic at an Oregon rally, pleaded guilty and was sentenced last week to five months in jail for various misdemeanors he committed and pleaded guilty to earlier this year. Apparently the judge was not swayed by his “ain’t no laws” defense.

  • Midwestern craft beverage union news: In advance of Labor Day, here’s some lovely labor news courtesy of the workers at Colectivo Coffee and Fair State Brewing Cooperative. The former won their hotly contested union election last week by just seven votes found on contested ballots; the latter ratified their first union contract. Congratulations all around.

  • Tony Hawk’s bloody water board: Liquid Death, an up-and-coming canned water brand marketed to straight-edge skaters concerned about single-use plastic and other people too I guess, teamed up with Birdman—the white one—to sell 100 decks painted with blood straight from the iconic skateboarder’s veins. Gross? Absolutely. But the gimmick sold out in minutes at $500/deck, proving… something? Maybe? Dad?