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Bye-bye lad marketing...

... Hello cultural movements and experiences. Drinks marketing in 2017 is now totally unrecognisable to the type of ads and campaigns that dominated the market in the early Noughties

Simon Couch Wasserman Media Group

Lad marketing campaigns seem a distant memory, with drinks brands having to work even harder to understand the new face of consumer culture to stand a chance of cutting through.

The major brands of the day targeted broad demographics, especially among men, and the role of the brand was largely to create a social occasion for people to bond through, and the sort of marketing used reflected this.

Brands such as Carling, Strongbow and WKD presented ad campaigns based on laughter and banter, or in Strongbow’s case a hard-earned reward at the end of the day. Ads focused on groups of guys bonding over their pints and having a good time.

But our relationship with alcohol is changing. We’re drinking less today than before in the UK – with 66.5% drinking alcohol at least once a week in 2016 compared to 81% in 2005 – and we’re more particular about what we drink. In the age of craft beer and boutique gins, drinkers are simply a bit more sophisticated, and they are looking for brands that speak to them on a more personal level.

It’s no wonder then that more brands are looking beyond their traditional approaches to find new ways of cutting through to drinkers. Humour-driven bloke marketing geared solely at a stereotyped male drinker looks increasingly laboured and, in today’s socially-conscious society, irrelevant. Culture and social positioning are replacing back-slapping humour, as brands seek to make new connections with consumers to show they can add more to their lives than just a joke.

Have a point of view

Clearly, things aren’t so simple anymore. A shift in consumer attitudes means audiences want a brand that represents their views and shows they care about something more than their bottom line. Brands need to find common purpose with their consumers, something that is real and has a point of view on the world.

Heineken’s recent ad encouraging people to overcome their prejudices and communicate more openly was a fascinating example of how brands are trying to insert themselves into new and less obvious settings. The beauty of the campaign comes from Heineken’s focus on alcohol being a facilitator for new conversations, rather than a cheap gag. This plays perfectly into the consumer focus on products adding to the way they interact with the world.

Of course, adding to consumers’ lives doesn’t always have to be worthy. San Miguel’s Rich List campaign ran with the idea that wealth doesn’t always come down to monetary value, but can reside in a richness of experience or personal satisfaction. The beer carried this concept through to the experiential sphere with activations at Somerset House where people could see the work of an artist who made elaborate sand sculptures, or explore a cave.

Tapping into experience marketing

The experiential and brand experience sector is witnessing a huge amount of investment right now, and for good reason. There is nothing more powerful than experiencing a brand, and being immersed in its brand story in the form of a physical, fresh and vibrant setting.

But brands have to deliver something authentic and tangible to get people’s trust. There has to be something real at the core of any experience.

San Miguel isn’t the only alcohol brand that has tapped into the broader trend of the experience economy. Bombay Sapphire created an immersive experience called The Grand Journey that took the story of the brand across Europe. Guests were invited onto a train which ‘traveled’ the world to botanical locations that inspired the famous gin through immersive theatre, Bombay Sapphire-inspired cuisine and projections displaying each region.

While Bacardi has used its association with producer Swizz Beatz to target second wave millennials who just aren’t engaged by traditional approaches. Its No Commission global events created a platform for artists and cultural visionaries to show case their work. The events saw live music, DJ's and art together, with ground breaking acts performing in front of the pieces. The campaign brought the brand into a setting where it became a culture creator of a must-attend event, and not simply a corporate onlooker. 

By fitting into a world view like this, brands can show up seamlessly in consumer passion points.

Help people to explore

Clearly, by delivering experiences and doing social good you can play a leading part in creating a new culture, focused on a new breed of drinker. This audience craves new, richer experiences that give them different experiences that they want to share with their friends. So if you can deliver an integrated campaign that gets audiences talking, and sharing your brand story, then you can boost brand advocacy and in turn more sales of your product.

But brands can also ingratiate themselves with consumers by loosening the reins a little. Today’s drinkers have a strong desire to explore that brands can tap into. They’re interested in chance and an element of risk rather than knowing how an evening will map out. Consumers want to be intrigued and made to feel that they’re not simply opting for a ‘same old’ evening.

Heineken produced an app called Where Next? that used social data to produce a social heat map that showed areas in cities where things were really buzzing. It was a really clever way of inserting yourself into somebody’s evening, in a way that puts the consumer in control, not the brand.

This may be hard for some brands to contemplate, but it’s the world we are increasingly in, and if brands want to be invited into it, they have to recognise their changing role.

27 June 2017