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Unbottling the secrets of amazing experiential drinks marketing

Meredith O’Shaughnessy, creative strategist and award-winning experiential marketer at Meredith Collective, shares her top tips

Face-to-face marketing has always been a mainstay of the drinks industry, but in order to drive loyalty brands must go beyond simple sampling and take advantage of today’s experience consumerism as championed by the likes of Secret Cinema or prime partnerships such as Malibu and Ibiza Rocks. With experiential spending increasing quarter-on-quarter it’s fast becoming a trusted method for driving sales, awareness and brand advocacy. 

With 74 per cent of consumers more likely to purchase products that are promoted at live events, and 70 per cent more likely to become regular customers after finding a brand at an experiential marketing event, what does it take to turn the tired pop-up into a full blown share-worthy experience? 


  1. Forget mass market

In the new experience economy, experiential is not a mass-market play. It’s a highly targeted approach that must speak to and zero in on an audience, on its terms. 

For example, fashion designer Jonathan Anderson and e-commerce platform Clos 19 teamed up with Ruinart Champagne to create a pop-up hotel in Notting Hill, London. Open for only 10 nights, the one-room Hotel 1729 offered dinner, bed and breakfast and Ruinart champagne on tap. Anderson, creative director of luxury fashion brand Loewe, took inspiration from the House of Ruinart in Reims where he explored the vineyards and cellars. The goal was to take customers on that journey, telling the history of the brand throughout their time at the hotel. The experience was priced at £1,200 for two guests, but the lucky two were able to invite up to six guests for dinner to share the experience with them.

This luxurious, exclusive experience spoke to its audience of discerning, lux-seeking connoisseurs creating a buzz of exclusivity that reached beyond the small number of guests lucky enough to afford it.


  1. Emotion fuels engagement 

Emotion marketing goes hand in hand with experiential - the very point of an experience is to elicit an emotion, whether surprise, humour, wonder, excitement, nostalgia or curiosity. Once you’ve honed in on your audience, the next question you want to ask is what do you want them to feel? For example, an established brand might want to turn the tables on existing conceptions with a counterintuitive experience that invites both surprise and nostalgia. 

Grey Goose turned the tables on its image as party fuel to take consumers back to its roots, opening the Grey Goose boulangerie, an artisan bakery serving bread made from the same wheat used to create its vodka. The award-winning concept used counterintuitive surprise to truly tell the brand’s story without reverting to tried and tested tastings:

Rather than throwing yet another party, we set out to make the intrinsic story absolutely fundamental to the experience. And what could be more disruptive than a vodka brand opening a boulangerie?

Another brand turning well-worn tropes to surprise is Brewdog, whose launch of its alcohol-free pub for Dry January, Brewdog AF, inspired headlines and generated buzz for its alcohol-free beers. Not so dry, it offered a “Drink All You Can Jan”, giving drinkers unlimited refills of its alcohol-free beers in all bars.


  1. Partnerships win prizes

We’re quite used to the idea of drinks brands partnering with festivals or sporting events to drive association. Similarly there’s been an explosion of drinks brands partnering with restaurants in recent years to deliver pop-up eateries, for example the recent success of the Nyetimber Terrace at Rosewood which saw Holborn Dining Room’s executive head chef Calum Franklin create a special menu of dishes perfectly paired with Nyetimber, served in a dream-like wisteria garden in the heart of London. 

While there are clear benefits to such partnerships, drinks marketers should look further afield for inspirational partnershipss - for example, the at-first-glance odd pairing of Campari and Whirlpool at my pop-up experiential Dirty Laundry. Converting Whirlpool machines into large-scale cocktail shakers, serving specially designed drinks from detergent bottles, we brought together the two brands in a curious, surprising, incongruous experience that played on kitsch nostalgia. For Whirlpool the brand association with Campari-cool elevated it beyond white-goods reputation, while Campari shared centre-stage buzz around the inventive take on cocktail making. 


  1. Encourage play so you can learn

Finally, make sure that you learn from the experience - and I don’t mean seeking to find mistakes! One of the most valuable lessons you can learn is from watching how your guests interact with the space and the product. Encourage them to get creative, note what they photograph and how they talk about the brand experience, in person and on social media.

Incorporating play into your experience is a valuable tool in this regard. For example, skincare brand St Ives’ ‘Mixing Bar’ in New York gave customers the chance to make their own bespoke face scrub. The popularity of certain ingredients led them to design and launch a new product - an unexpected outcome released from the immediate market research the event allowed for. 

The lesson: let your audience experience your brand on their terms, trust their interaction and design experiences that give back way beyond bums on seats. 


8 February 2020 - Meredith O-Shaughnessy