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Last Orders or Popping Corks? Ten Ways the Alcohol Category Can Bounce Back Post Covid
London, UK
Harbour Collective's Kev Chesters and Kim Walker look at ten opportunities for the alcohol category after the Covid-rollercoaster

The last two years have rocked all our worlds; and not in a good way. But, for the alcohol category, the world turned on its head perhaps more than in any other industry.  On trade moved to off trade overnight. Hospitality became home-spitality. Cocktails became cocktail kits as bars moved from out out to very much in. Especially in Downing Street, it seems.

Winston Churchill once said that we should 'never let a good crisis go to waste'. And a life coach we know (far less famous, but far more alive) tells us on a regular basis that in challenging times the best way forwards is to find the gift and opportunity in the moment. 

The current cultural climate provides multiple gifts and opportunities for alcohol brands to make the most of. At Harbour, we’ve been canvassing the wide and deep experience of our Harbour Collective partners on the topic and have distilled ten top tips for any alcohol marketeer out there trying to figure out the way forwards in a post-covid world.

1. Learn from eggs and beef.

For the off trade, more than anything, it’s about rebuilding trust again in going out. As we entered 2022, there was a 25% decrease in desire to visit bars. Alcohol brands seeking to rebuild consumer confidence in socialising post-covid could learn a lot from the UK Egg Salmonella (1988) and Beef BSE (1990) crises and how confidence was restored back then. It’s about uniting as an industry to meet the common threat, slowly. Nudge; don’t push. Focus on the glass half-full positives of socialising again. 

2. Say my name.

Brands matter when building trust. Remember the power of brand and name. Over 75% of drinkers still prefer their drink in a branded glass. Make the most of the highly branded world of alcohol by making your brand steal-able. Make your brand easy to call at the bar. And leverage branded opportunities in offline and online worlds. Invest in your brand and reap the reward.

3. Be more house burglar. 

Maybe take advantage that out-out has become more in-in. Alcohol e-commerce is expected to grow by 66% by 2025. So, get obsessed with tactics for getting into peoples’ homes, just as a house burglar might. Maximise the off-trade entry points by getting into the front door, into the at-home bar and into the cocktail glass. How do we become a great visitor to people’s in-home entertaining?

4. Reinvent the art of celebration.

Our ability to celebrate got a little blurry there for a while. 70% of US professionals who worked from home during covid now say they regularly work weekends. Days have turned into nights, weeks into weekends and we find it harder to demarcate the moments that matter. Help people to reconnect post-covid by celebrating the familiar rituals of old and creating new rituals relevant for the now. Find glory in the return of normal.

5. Find fun in purpose.

61% of young US adults reported feeling ‘serious loneliness’ during the pandemic. As we ‘vibe shift’ to a more joyful existence, alcohol brands can be purposeful in a way that genuinely makes people feel good. Alcohol brands can help us reform our most important connections. What can be more purposeful than connection in the world of today? Stop being so serious and….

6. Lighten up.

There wasn’t a single advertising campaign in the WARC Creativity Top 10 ads in 2021. In a serious world, alcohol brands can cut through by focussing on being entertaining. Stop talking about yourself. Focus on what people buy, rather than what you sell. Help life get back to normal and feel good. 

7. Turn trag dad back into cool guy.

31% of Gen Z want to reduce their alcohol intake. Alcohol has become the tragic older guy telling dad jokes in the corner. Avoid this trag dad trajectory for the new generation by stopping the alcohol dad dance at their disco. Avoid binary labels or choices. Embrace new trends. Think low-ABV, think no-ABV, think about acting for the now, not the then.

8. Don’t look back, you’re not going that way.

Alcohol brands get a bit obsessed with history. 94% of people would choose a brand that has a clear purpose over a competitor that doesn’t. So, alcohol brands can communicate how they improve lives now and into the future, not just in the past. Look forwards as well as backwards as you toast your brand’s history as well as your audience’s future. This is how to avoid the trag dad trap and stay relevant.

9. Do it in the dark.

Three out of four Brits now back new and increased controls on alcohol advertising. In one of the most regulated industries in the world, alcohol communications need to be even more creative to cut through. Earn attention through your brand’s behaviours as well as it’s communications. Be in the spaces and places your audience are. Break the rules of your category, not the rules of law.

10. 0% ABV ≠ 100% creativity.

40% of global consumers want to decrease alcohol consumption for health reasons. As the low ABV movement explodes, it feels like low ABV communications are about what their products lack, not what they enable people to do. So don’t juniorise your big growth bullet, put your best people on it. Focus on audience wants, not their needs, from low ABV. Find the opportunities they crave, not the compromises they feel compelled to make.

Of course, we can only scratch the surface here. There is so much more to talk about and talk over when it comes to how the alcohol industry and its brands can emerge stronger from this period of challenge. It would take longer than the five minutes it took to read this to be able to work through some of the clear and simple actions brands need to take to get back on the path to success.

Perhaps we should have a drink and discuss it. Find us here

Photo credit: Mentatdgt

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