The Washington State Wine Commission is using the edgy humor of a fictional wine personality The Recommendeuer in a new iPad app to educate the nation’s top wine influencers about Washington’s wine industry.

The national marketing campaign, launched in late October, represents a major shift in the Wine Commission’s focus, said Steve Warner, president of the Seattle-based marketing and research arm for the state’s wine grape growers and wineries. Warner, who’s been at the helm of the Wine Commission for less than two years, said that past marketing efforts focused on consumers and the wine trade, blitzing targeted metropolitan areas each year with wine tasting events, outreach to restaurants, in-state events like Taste Washington, and more.

With such a limited budget, the Wine Commission board believes it can be more effective by focusing on trade and media representatives who influence consumers, he said. “But it’s an extremely crowded and noisy market, with wines from around the world vying for attention of wine influencers. It means that we have to do something very different and creative to reach them.”

That’s where The Recommendeuer comes in.

Actor and comedian Greg Proops of “Whose Line is It Anyway?” plays the somewhat-stuffy wine professional who’s an expert on Washington wines and is not shy about recommending them. The iPad app features Proops donning a plaid suit and swirling a wine glass, playing The Recommendeuer in a series of video vignettes. The interactive app delivers in-depth information about the state’s wine industry in a funny and nutty way. It provides statistics, a history of the state’s wine industry, maps of the 13 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), profiles of growers and winemakers, and information on the geology of the region and varieties grown. It also recommends wine and food pairings.

In rolling out the campaign, the Wine Commission sent about 100 mini iPads loaded with “The Recommendeuer” app and a personalized message to top U.S. wine retailers, buyers, journalists, and other wine influencers. The marketing campaign also includes a Twitter feed (tweets) from The Recommendeuer.

The concept was developed by GreenRubio, an integrated marketing agency headquartered in Seattle.

Campaign goals

“First, we wanted to catch the attention of the wine retailers, buyers, sommeliers, and wine writers, all of those influencing buying decisions,” Warner said. “And, secondly, we wanted to do it in a manner representative of the Washington wine industry. Washington State is serious about producing premium, critically acclaimed wines, but known for being a down-to-earth and fun-loving wine community.”

The Wine Commission considered the success of other campaigns centered on a brand’s persona, such as Dos Equis’s Most Interesting Man in the World, Old Spice’s Man Your Man Could Smell Like, and the Paso Man, who speaks for California’s Paso Robles wine country.

Warner believes that The Recommendeuer app has something for everyone and its humor does a great job of portraying the personality of the state’s wine industry. It was designed to appeal to industry professionals as well as wine-loving folks.

“We wanted the app to be unlike anything that anybody has ever done,” he said. He sees it as a central repository for everything useful about Washington wine, from harvest data going back nearly 30 years to diurnal temperature charts showing the highs and lows of temperatures during the growing season.

He acknowledged that the campaign does push the boundaries, and some in the wine world may be offended. “But the board was fully supportive and agreed to take the risk.”

Warner noted that one of the great things about the app platform is the ability to make changes. “It’s totally updateable, and we can push the new information out with an app update,” he said. When the app was developed, wine grape acreage in the state was estimated at around 43,000 acres, a number that since has grown to 50,000 acres. Being able to make such changes will allow the Wine Commission keep the app current.

The app is currently available only for iPads, although a mobile phone app is being developed and should be available by the end of the year.

The Wine Commission is promoting the app to the wine trade as per its marketing agreement with Proops, but anyone can download the free app by searching Washington wines at the iTunes AppStore.