Getting noticed in the booze business can feel like pitching your voice against the roar of a capacity crowd at Wembley Stadium and hoping to be heard. Alcohol is one of the most dynamic, competitive and fastest moving sectors in marketing, and that is never more obvious than with promotions.
Temporary promotions are pretty much a permanent fixture in pubs, clubs, supermarkets, off-licences, and anywhere else you can buy drinks. During major sporting events such as the Rugby World Cup you practically have to machete your way through a forest of pennants to clear a path to the bar.
With so many drinks promotions running at any one time, the danger is that they all become white noise to the consumer. Some industry observers believe the problem is more fundamental – that it stems from the drinks industry’s attitude to new product development (npd).
Ian Hayes, managing director at brand consultancy CLK, says: “Consumers encounter most new alcoholic drink brands on a Friday or Saturday night when they are letting their hair down and in the mood for a new experience, or just a change from their usual routine. While this hedonistic mindset allows many new brands to prosper, it also means their fame is often only very fleeting.
“The novelty often wears off, and the fickle consumer drops them for the next ‘latest thing’.”
Karl Perry, managing director of sales promotion agency PCG Manchester, agrees: “Manufacturers are giving people far more choice than they want or need.”
Perry, who has been working in the alcoholic drinks promotions business for eight years, was responsible for the present Carlsberg “Lost weekend in Barcelona” campaign which targets student bars on campus. He says the most significant change has been the huge increase in new product development. “Just look at the sheer number of pre-mixed alcoholic substances with myriad flavours,” he says, hinting that he is not a fan of alcopops.
“There are so many that, from both the consumer and the trade point of view, they become wallpaper and people don’t buy into them. Trade customers have no inclination to get behind them and shift stock around to give them prominent positions, when there are always new ones coming in.”
Perry believes far too much emphasis is placed on new and brand development, while not nearly enough attention is given to supporting trade customers and providing them with promotional packages that address their particular needs.
It seems obvious that trade customers – whether in the on trade or selling take-home drinks – have a pivotal role to play in promotions.
They either get behind them, or they do not. They allocate the best points on the bar and display point-of-sale material prominently and effectively, or not. They need to sell a promotion to customers, otherwise the drinks company might as well forget it because all its big idea is going to do is add to the communications clutter.
Disregarding the trade
Yet the drinks trade’s views are frequently disregarded or overruled by brand marketing teams. Perry adds: “We work hard at getting under trade customers’ skin and coming up with promotions they want, which are usually about building traffic rather than encouraging brand-switching.
“But when you seek approval from the brand team, it says ‘no’ because what you want to do doesn’t fit with its own ideas. There is considerable inflexibility and the brand team wins in most cases.”
But surely brand values are more important than delivering short-term sales increases?
“There needs to be a meeting of minds on the core nature of the business,” Perry asserts. “Let’s not get so wrapped up in brands that we forget we are in the business of shifting products.
“Brands help us to do that, but it doesn’t mean all communications have to be delivered in a homogeneous way. We should be identifying consumers and how to sell to them.”
Perry doesn’t just vent his spleen on brand marketers. He believes below-the-line agencies contribute to a lack of understanding and over-emphasis on brands. “We should be trying to find out as much as possible about consumers, but this is rarely done properly.
“Not many below-the-line agencies have planning departments; they rely too heavily on anecdotal evidence, intuition or other unscientific research.
“You need only be a couple of degrees off to miss the target completely.”
Perry speaks from bitter experience. In the early Nineties, PCG developed a promotion for a bottled beer that teamed it with a high-profile and seemingly appropriate charity. “The client loved the idea, but it had no relevance to the end-user,” Perry recalls. So the brand is “right on”, why should average drinker care?
The next promotion was: “Buy two bottles and receive a free copy of a men’s magazine.” Saving endangered species is not nearly as motivating as looking at scantily clad lovelies and features on how to lose your beer-belly, it seems.
Instant-win schemes remain popular in the on-trade, while “the collector” continues to reign in the off-trade.
Instant-win promotions are in keeping with the immediacy and intimacy of the pub environment; they offer instant gratification and there is the perception that you stand a chance of winning.
The off-trade, particularly supermarkets, evokes the feeling that – with millions of cans or bottles carrying the promotion – there is little chance of winning competitions.
Scratchcards are proving to be the most popular instant-win system. Heat- and time-sensitive inks offer a new twist: cards stuck to a bottle or glass reveal a message when they have cooled sufficiently, while time-delay wristbands keep drinkers in a venue for longer by making them wait to see if they have won a prize.
Interactivity is the name of the game, according to Helen Campbell, director of The Marketing Store Worldwide (Scotland), who says active, fun and involving campaigns work far better than static advertising. The agency’s recent campaign for Morgans Spiced Rum exemplifies this. The six-week competition – which ran in tandem with the Old Orleans chain – sought to find the UK’s most talented and inventive bartender. It began with training days, after which bartenders were invited to create their own cocktails, culminating in a final judged by industry experts and Old Orleans customers. The winning combination is being promoted on dual-branded tablecards over Christmas and the New Year.
Interactivity was also at the heart of Strongbow’s sensory brand experience roadshow – managed by RPM and co-ordinated by Triangle Communications. A huge inflatable black and yellow tent toured this year’s music and surf festivals to give punters the sense of being inside a pint of Strongbow. To reach the sampling area, people had to walk through a tunnel split into three areas: heat, chill and mist. “We aimed to give festival-goers a refreshing experience that mirrors the qualities of Strongbow,” RPM director Hugh Robertson says.
In May, 19,000 people sampled Strongbow at the Homelands 1 event in Winchester. About 8,000 pints were sold in a tent and sales of the brand at other bars around the festival site increased by 300 per cent on the previous year.
Bailey’s also took to the road recently with a sponsorship and sampling programme at one-off contemporary jazz events.
The initiative, organised by marketing consultancy Perspectives, was designed to “deseasonalise” the brand, which has traditionally been seen as a Christmas drink and winter liqueur, encourage more male drinkers, underscore its association with jazz music and give it a more informal image. Of the 45,150 people who attended the events, 42,000 sampled the drink.
Arguably the most interactive campaign doing the rounds at the moment is for Taboo. Created by Red Rooster, the ‘”Fifth emergency service” offers to revive thirsty female office workers by sending in Taboo men armed with bottles and mixers.
The Taboo Time team help to get them in the mood for a Friday night on the tiles with cocktails and clothing vouchers, before accompanying them to local clubs and bars.
Setting the interactive pace
In addition to such stunts, the campaign includes interactive free postcards in cinemas; beauty parlours in clubs; dance music programme sponsorship; CDs and other giveaways; sponsorship of Company magazine’s search for the most attractive bachelor; and a stand-up comedy tour.
Lisa Whalley, group brand manager for speciality drinks at First Drinks Brands, says: “We wanted something involving that would boost the brand’s credibility and grab people’s attention.” With bottle-wielding hunks bursting into offices around the country, it is hard to see how it could fail.