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Experience and timing is key to NOLO offerings

With a quarter of Brits embracing no- / low-alcohol alternatives, timing and experiential marketing is key for establishing brands in the hearts and minds of today's drinking consumers

Liz Richardson HeyHuman

Almost a quarter of Brits have embraced low-alcohol alternatives, and nearly every major alcohol brand is playing in the space. Earlier this year, Heineken launched its biggest investment in the NOLO sector to date, whilst Pernod Ricard has become the latest spirits producer to move into NOLO with the launch of ‘Celtic Soul.’

NOLO is having a moment, however the stats for new product launches across any category/industry tell a dismal story. Most fail at an early stage and many lay the blame at the door of the marketing department.

Clearly the product needs to be great, but that isn’t enough. Brands also need to invest in building awareness to guarantee market success.

The importance of experiences

People generally only engage with products they know, so experience-led campaigns (e.g. sampling campaigns, or immersive brand experiences that bring consumers face to face with the product in an innovative, creative way) are a great method of building awareness.

A case in point would be the work that Campari has done to build the Aperol brand in the UK, engaging directly with consumers at a time and a place when they are most likely to be receptive to a cocktail. Plenty of people will have had their picture taken on one of the brand’s orange cycles, wearing their orange sunglasses, which they then shared on social with the relevant hashtag.

Nowadays, even the most casual of cocktail drinkers would likely list ‘The Aperol Spritz’ as a definitive summertime tipple, right up there with the traditional pitcher of Pimm’s during Wimbledon season.

Advertising through traditional media (billboards, TV ads etc.) accounts for just 10% of Campari’s overall marketing spend. Instead, Campari focuses on driving awareness through experiential activity, events, and digital and social media – and the strategy is clearly working.

Aperol is far from the only brand to have built its name in the UK through experiential, with the likes Fever Tree, Tenzing, and Patrón having enjoyed success with similar experience-led approaches. Through our own work for Diageo, where we’ve helped to launch new products for its Guinness brand in Africa, we have also seen how important a targeted sampling strategy can be in skyrocketing brand awareness.

Timing is everything

There’s no doubt that experiential marketing is an incredibly effective method of driving brand and product reappraisal – something that is particularly important when it comes to launching a new product in a category like NOLO, which is still in its infancy. However, timing is crucial.

You can’t expect an experiential campaign to work when there is zero brand awareness because consumers probably won’t engage. Yet it needs to be done early enough on in the marketing cycle to make sure that your new product is getting awareness from word of mouth recommendations. 

With the launch of a new product from an established brand owner, we have seen that the optimum time for an experiential campaign should come two-three weeks after awareness for the product has been built through an initial billboard or television campaign. With a product from a start-up, or lesser known brand owner, it’s likely that the experiential spend shouldn’t come until even later in the marketing cycle.

You see, there is no point in blowing your budget on a pricy experiential campaign unless your distribution network is set up to effectively capitalise on the increased interest in your product. There’s no point in using experiential to broker a relationship with your target audience, unless that same target audience can then easily purchase your product.

How to deliver effective experiential

It’s also important, when considering an experiential campaign, to ensure that you show up in the right way.

Regardless of the category, a brand should always seek to own the space where it’s running its activation. It’s about understanding who exactly you want to target and pin-pointing where you are likely to find those individuals, at a moment in their day when they have time to stop and listen. Smaller, more niche locations, can often prove a better option than high-footfall locations like busy railway stations – especially if you’re a challenger brand in an emerging category like the NOLO space.

NOLO brands could learn a lot from Swedish oat drink company Oatly – a challenger in the rising dairy-free space. Earlier this year the company activated a straight-talking ‘ditch milk’ campaign at the London Coffee festival. The brand owned the (relatively niche) event by investing £250k in a targeted OOH spend.

Activations like these show how targeted experiential can deliver the highest rewards. Through our work for brands throughout the drinks space, we have seen how experiential activations like these also generate far more momentum over social channels – something which will ensure that your activation will live beyond the day that it’s delivered.

Right place, right time

At a time of tightening budgets and Brexit uncertainty, brands are more cautious with their marketing spend than ever, but this shouldn’t stop them from committing to an experiential spend as there are clear business benefits on offer.

However, unless you are able to do an experiential campaign right, and at a time that is going to effectively sync in with your new product launch, then there is no point doing it at all. 


27 November 2019