Have you noticed that millennials are drinking less than previous generations?
We’ve been tarred with a big black brush for putting nightclubs out of business, the decline of the Great British pub, and shunning big brands in favour of something more artisanal, more ‘authentic’.
It’s not that we don’t like booze (you’ll still see inebriated millennials out and about) – some of us are just after something a bit different. We’re not always up for getting wasted and waking up Sunday lunchtime feeling like our minds and bodies have been infiltrated by a swarm of angry bees. We don’t wear a hangover as a badge of honour as much as something to be pitied.
It’s common speculation that we don’t want to act how our parents did. But surely it’s more complicated than that? We live for instagrammable, like-worthy experiences – so we actually want to remember what happened the night before. We’re also a lot more health conscious than previous generations. We’ve seen first hand what binge drinking does to people long-term, and the internet is constantly bombarding us with fitspo, vegan diet tips, and nefarious healthy living inspiration. But most of all, we don’t want our social reputations and future prospects to go down the toilet if we start acting like idiots.
When you do find us imbibing a beverage, it’s highly likely to be an artisanal, hand-crafted cocktail – or we’re drinking at home because going out is too much effort. Or possibly, we’re at some sort of indescribable, once-in-a-lifetime event, too busy taking selfies to think about what drink we’re getting next.
So here’s the question: In a world where we’re drinking less, and hankering over high-quality, small-batch labels, what should brands be doing to connect with us?
Here are 7 things:
A major problem facing big spirit brands is their size. Seeing product recalls, ingredients scandals, and the ‘we’ll stop at nothing’ greed of corporations to turn a hefty profit, we’re more wary of big brands. This means we’re also more clued up about products – picky about ingredients, interested in process, and we want to believe that our drink has been distilled by a wise artisan who cares passionately about their craft. And thanks to social media, we’re also far more likely and able to tell our friends about it.
And as we turn towards these smaller, high-quality independent names – we’re actually drinking less, but spending more on what we drink*.
But there is still an opportunity for bigger brands to regain that trust – to build an enticing story of provenance and process that can give our new generation of ‘woke-drinkers’ something to talk about. They need to connect more with their local communities, and help grow their roots through local initiatives and events, show off their processes. Done well, this can make your brand feel part of culture – it could become a local tradition, something to take pride in and also give your brand a more authentic feel.
Some brands have already picked up on this – like Glenfiddich, who collaborated with a craft brewer and an ice winemaker to create a unique whisky with an unusual finish, giving it a limited, small batch feel, and unusual production methods you could impress your friends with. Budweiser has taken a simple approach to provenance, by changing their labels in the US to show you exactly where the beer was brewed, giving it more of a small batch feel.
2. BE MORE HUMAN
Brands need to take a long, hard look at the qualities they bring – good and bad. Let’s face it, alcohol isn’t exactly good for you, and brands need to start showing that they understand and care about this beyond a ‘drink responsibly’ line tagged on a bit of content.
In fact, the old aspirations and status of ‘getting wasted’ are slowly dissipating. It’s now about getting a buzz from the experience and rituals of drinking, rather than the drink itself. Alcohol ads have always been well regulated and restricted, but where we used to ignore moderation, maybe it’s time to embrace it? The Lagavulin ad, simply called ‘Yule log’ was a 45-minute silent dram with Nick Offerman, where he comfortably stares at you for the duration. This might sound creepy, but the way it’s been produced makes it incredibly cool. There’s immense comfort in his slow appreciation of a good whisky, to the hygge effect of the cosy room and roaring fire, and solace in the quiet, contemplative, ‘no effort required’ nature of this clever bit of content. Heineken has also created a jazzy, powerful ad ‘Moderate Drinkers Wanted’ which shows the unattractive side of inebriation, celebrating moderation. It can be done, and done well.
3. GET US OUT THE HOUSE
Recent stats show that 28% OF Millennials can’t be arsed to leave the house to drink, and would rather stay at home.
Brands need to think about how to motivate people and get them excited enough to go out. Facebook events could help – these are mainly groups of already engaged audiences and enable brands to tailor content around an event. From Post Polls (If you do a poll, make sure it affects the outcome of the event), Memes, Competitions, teasers, online experiences, it’s worth getting people excited and geared up for a magical evening, and starting the event early.
The best example that comes to mind is Secret Cinema (if you haven’t been, go – you’ll remember it for the rest of your life) – the world-famous events company finds inspiration in cult films, builds immersive movie sets full of actors and invites you to be part of the story. Every single event is preceded by social immersion into the world of the film – you might join a secret organisation on Facebook, proclaim your character’s attendance on social, chat with other people attending the event, and pick up on little clues as to what might happen when you get there. It never fails to make sharing content around the event fun and exciting. Something which booze brands could definitely do more of around their events.
Equally, it’s worth incentivising consumers to share their content during the event. You need to make sure everyone’s using your hashtags, and you either offer to share the best on your feed to help them pick up more followers, or have an unusual, conversation-starting prize.
4. LET YOUR CONSUMERS STEAL FROM YOU
Many brands create their own merch, but how many of them are so good at it that it creates an army of petty thieves or “lateral salesforce”? Getting quality branded merchandise into people’s homes gives them a constant reminder of the brand, and can also act as a conversation starter with guests and potential new consumers. And in light of the fact that many people prefer to stay at home to drink, it’s more important than before.
Take the Hendrick’s Tea set for example – serving your friends a cocktail from this rare and unusual teapot never fails to incite a comment or a quick social post. It also taps nicely into the new home-drinking trend with some inspiration for mixology.
Or perhaps, you could let them steal your expertise? The Smirnoff Instagram your fridge campaign came with a simple challenge – share your fridge content, and they’ll send you a bespoke cocktail recipe with what’s available. With an exponential rise in artisan cocktails, could brands help us make more of our ingredients at home? A monthly cocktail prescription, perhaps?
5. WE THINK, THEREFORE WE ‘GRAM
We worked with some influencers for Aperol Spritz a few weeks ago, at the Big Spritz Social. One of the main features was an orange canal big enough to row a boat across. We were amazed by just how many pictures the ‘creators’ took around the canal before they even had a sip of Aperol – just to get that one perfect shot. It’s not dissimilar for your spirits consumer either. We’ve all been through the ritual of taking a picture of our concoction at its most perfect – garnishes and all – and the more you can help make that FOMO inducing, the better.
In fact, the younger generations are buying into the experience economy more and more. They’re spending less money buying things and more money on doing things. Experiences are seen as status symbols, and it’s no wonder. A trip abroad, or experience can easily provide them with more content than material goods, some memorable highlights to add to their social feed.
But, as well as making sure your signature serve is enough to bring on a bout of jealousy, you need to think about the environment they’re drinking it in. You might not have an orange canal, but there are other ways to make smaller, memorable experiences in bars. We worked with Hendrick’s gin recently to make harmonious music with cucumbersbehind the bar – letting people create their own musical tracks by touching sound-inducing cucumbers while enjoying a cocktail. And sending them their track afterwards to share on social. Chivas created an ‘Ice Press‘ – a wonderful bit of kit that transformed a block of ice into a perfect sphere for the perfect dram. So you just need to make sure that every time they enjoy your brand, they don’t just drink it – they experience it.
And don’t just think about this as an opportunity for a static gram. More and more people are taking boomerangs, using Instagram stories, Snapchat filters etc. So your environment needs to help them play with all those features.
6. THINK LATERALLY ABOUT INFLUENCERS
Every booze brand knows it’s best practice to engage influencers within or parallel to the category, but real cut-through comes from looking further afield and tapping into lateral passion points and interests.
To do this successfully, you need to know what your consumer’s passion points are outside of the category – and a lot of the time, it’s not as obvious as you’d think. Take, for example, the recent campaign from the Ardgowan Distillery – where a trio of Arctic explorers were challenged to hike to the South Pole for Hogmanay and partake in the world’s most southerly dram – only using renewable energy. They might not have had the biggest following, but the campaign tapped into the audience’s maverick side and it became a much wider, PR-able story.
When you do start working with these more relatable influencers, you’re going to have to be brave because they’ll want to do things their way. No one knows their audience better than they do – what they’ll respond to, what makes them click that like button. So give them some creative leeway to show their passion for your brand.
7. TURN BARTENDERS INTO YOUR PERSONAL INFLUENCERS
Only one person is standing between your discerning drinkers and your product in a bar – the bartender. They’re not the subservient agony aunt of yesteryear, just waiting to hear all your problems. They are (for the most part) ambitious experts who can keep you ‘in-the-know’ about the latest trendy cocktail or spirit. You need to get them on side so they can help get us millennials excited about your brand.
But you’ll have a lot of competition. The mindset for many bartenders is to work behind the bar for a while, build up a social following, and become a brand ambassador or start their own business. They’re hungry to become the influencers of the booze world.
We’ve always treated bartenders like influencers – getting them involved in the creation of signature cocktails, events, making sure they always have a show or a story for customers.
It’s worth helping them make the most of their own social channels too (Whether it’s for the drinking establishment or the bartenders themselves). When we started training up the Glenfiddich Ambassadors, we showed them how to effectively use social channels, provided them with assets and copy, identified people they should be following and engaging with, and even kept them up to date with different functionalities. It might sound like a lot, but the more you connect with them, the more likely they are to recommend your brand.
While engaging full-time professional bartenders is great, don’t forget about all those people who don’t treat bartending as a career. There’s a bigger opportunity for something more than the usual cocktail competition that aligns with everyone’s values – maybe an entrepreneurial challenge – something which focuses on their side hustle and gives them a bit of creative fodder.
Now, who fancies a handcrafted, small-batch dram of whisky?
Meet The Expert
Partner and Managing Director, Gravity Thinking