Alcohol brands: Adapting your strategy post-lockdown

As life starts to open up again, alcohol brands are once again having to pivot their marketing to reflect the way we’re slowly emerging from lockdowns across the world. At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw alcohol brands shift their marketing campaigns to focus away from going out to staying in, but drinking responsibly. Now, they’re starting to encourage people back out again – within the restrictions in different regions. 

People’s experiences of the pandemic are vastly different, depending on location and impact – and that’s a challenge for alcohol brands whose message in the past has largely been around bringing people together in bars, pubs, restaurants and parties, focusing on socializing and having fun together. Now, they’re starting to show us that those times could be around the corner again – but with a few marked differences. 

Our team discussed the key trends shaping the social media content for alcohol brands in markets where lockdown is easing. 

Trend 1: Getting people back out there for the summer – but at different speeds

In the US in particular, the focus for alcohol brands is on getting people together again. Restrictions are easing up, and brands are celebrating a return to some sort of normality this summer – music festivals, parties, bars, clubs – and, of course, July 4th celebrations with friends and family. The tone is upbeat and forward-looking, with some brands coming up with innovative and fresh ways to kick off a long summer, partnering with music artists and even creating their own summer soundtracks. 

Elsewhere in the world, the message is more cautious. In the UK, for example, local communities are thriving, and people are going out in smaller groups, closer to home. There’s a tinge of nostalgia, of looking forward to getting back what we’ve been missing (this is why the Guinness ad was so brilliant, switching up its iconic brand imagery, to the sound of Jack Savoretti’s version of You Are Always On My Mind).

For people who can’t travel abroad or go on vacation this summer, alcohol brands adding a splash of summer to our gatherings at home via their social media channels will be as welcome as a cold beer on the beach. 

Trend 2: Localizing your message by market 

Because we’re all coming out of lockdown at different speeds, ensuring your message is relevant to different regions/States/countries is more important than ever. In regions hardest hit by the pandemic, and where social distancing has been strictly observed, there is still some residual anxiety about returning to crowded places. In others, people are desperate to get back to normal. Appealing to differences in location, age, and experience requires localized or personalized messaging, and empathy to understand not everyone is feeling the same. 

Trend 3: Supporting new habits

We’re all drinking differently. This beautifully shot Heineken ad celebrates the resilience of people who will find ways to connect with each other even while under COVID  restrictions. We’re buying more pre-mixed drinks and canned drinks than ever before, as we’ve switched from drinking in bars to drinking at home or outside, in small groups with friends. 

And we’ve been learning new skills in the kitchen. Cooking from scratch has increased while restaurants have been closed, and food videos are thriving on social media.

Restaurants and bars have switched to delivering recipe kits – and the same goes for alcohol brands.

Fancy and elaborate cocktails aren’t just to be drunk in bars any more, they’re also for home. There’s a real opportunity on social media for brands to help consumers create the perfect cocktail, at home through custom content tailored to the social platform (of course, no TikTok yet for alcohol companies!).

Trend 4: Sustainability initiatives – and action

COVID has really brought home our place in a global community, and the impact we have on the world around us. Research by psychologist Esther Peral tells us that we’ve moved from a production economy in our grandparents’ generation, through to a service economy (our parents’) and now we’re in the identity economy. We want to become the best versions of ourselves. We can choose who we want to be, choose our own identity. We have a chance to reshape our future in the post-pandemic world. Our contribution to socio-political awareness such as climate change – and that of the brands we choose to associate with – matters. 

As a result, we’re seeing more alcohol brands publishing sustainability pledges, such as the Johnnie Walker Next Steps Initiative to become net-zero carbon, and its partnership with the RSPB in Scotland. Jim Beam has invested $1 billion in sustainability, diversity and responsible drinking. Consumers want to know what alcohol brands are doing to be more socially aware, and social media campaigns are starting to reflect this. 

Trend 5: A focus on healthier alcohol consumption 

The pandemic made us realize the importance of health; low and no-alcohol purchases have increased and alcohol brands are diverging into healthier alternatives. In the UK, sales of non-alcoholic or low-alcohol drinks are skyrocketing. Scotch whisky brand Ballentine’s has launched a reduced alcohol version of its whisky. Hard seltzers, a huge growth area (especially in the US), market themselves as being a low calorie alternative to more traditional tipples. How to drink responsibly and make healthier choices remains a key focus for alcohol brands in their social media. 

Trend 6: Backing the vaccine push

In the US, we’re seeing an increasing number of alcohol brands backing the vaccine drive – with varying reactions. Some brands are offering free beers for people getting the vaccine – but if that’s your chosen path, be prepared for the backlash on social media, particularly from those who can’t get a vaccine. People who are hesitant say that they feel coerced. People who can’t get vaccines feel it is unfair. And some scientists have expressed concerns about people receiving payment in exchange for being vaccinated.

Trend 7: Supporting the industry 

If we want our local bars and pubs to survive in this difficult climate, they need support – and this is where many alcohol brands have been jumping in. Having done their bit at the start of the pandemic to support COVID relief efforts (many alcohol brands used their plants to produce hand sanitiser, for example), brands are offering their support again, this time to a hospitality industry that is struggling.

As work culture changes, and more people work from home at least some of the time, local communities are thriving – and the local bars, pubs and restaurants have always been an important part of those communities. Alcohol brands that support those local venues immediately tap into a well of empathy and understanding. 

Carling, for example, is running a campaign to “support your local” in the UK, while Stella Artois is tipping £1 for every pint served in a pub. Diageo (a client of The Social Element) has launched a £100 million recovery fund to help pubs and bars around the world recover from the pandemic. Alcohol brands are doing what they can to encourage our emergence from the pandemic, and support the venues that for years have supported their sales. Overall, advertising for alcohol brands is up on last year, as we start to see the green shoots of recovery. The overall message for social media campaigns across the board is one of cautious optimism, of looking forward, and to reminding us all of the power of community, friendship and togetherness.

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