Brewing up new ideas to pull students back

Price, offers, marketing and the social experience can all play a part as pubs try to entice students back, but an emphasis on responsible drinking should also be included.


Pubs and bars need to improve their offering to win back students who are drinking at home, a report shown exclusively to Marketing Week reveals.

Although pubs have long been seen as the heart of university social life, many students are bypassing them and drinking at home before going straight to nightclubs, according to the report by which spoke to 2,200 students.

Of those students who consume alcohol at university, 82% say they drink at home, followed by 68% at nightclubs. Only 52% of students who drink do so in pubs. marketing director Mark Edwards suggests living with friends encourages drinking at home. “Students tend to live with their friends and socialise at home, so perhaps there’s no need to go to the pub. There’s probably three to five people at home and they get their beer or vodka in from the supermarket then head into town later,” he claims.

Edwards adds that pubs need to highlight the experiential side of drinking and socialising, saying: “People are still saying they’re drinking to have fun on a night out or to relax. It’s still a huge part of student life. Pubs need to give people a reason to go to these places which is more than sitting down with a pint. They need to make it more fun and interesting to entice people in.”

Edwards cites Brothers cider and Smirnoff vodka as good examples of brands that are reaching out to students with experience-based campaigns. The Smirnoff Nightlife Exchange involved live music events and in-store promotions in 50 countries.

Smirnoff asked drinkers to contribute ideas on what makes their local nightlife unique in terms of drinks, dance, fashion, music and venues. Brothers asked fans to create a new flavour using its Facebook page, with a chance to win not only a year’s worth of cider but also the ‘respect of the nation’. The new flavour created by fans, Rhubarb and Custard, has been made available in Scream-branded pubs, with the aim of drawing drinkers in to sample the new creation.

Edwards says: “Some brands are trying to be more imaginative to create events to get people into pubs and clubs, instead of drinking at home where they are more likely to go for the cheaper supermarket brands.”

Despite the high numbers of students claiming to drink at home before going out, the majority (38%) say they spent between £5 and £10 per week on alcohol for drinking at home, with the second largest group (24%) saying that they spent under £5. Spend out-of-home is larger, with the majority of respondents saying that they spend between £10 and £20 on alcohol per week in bars, clubs and pubs.

The most important influences on students’ choice of alcohol is price (82%), taste (78%) and special offers (67%). The strength of the alcohol is important to 40% of students, the brand of drink is considered by 24% and friends have an influence too, with 17% saying they think about what their mates are drinking.

Only 3% of respondents claim that advertising influences their purchasing decisions. And when just the drinkers were questioned, 74% say they are not actively influenced by advertising when choosing which brand to buy.

Edwards says: “Students are probably more brand loyal than they think, because this is the time when people are starting to develop their affinities with brands. Whether they drink Carling or Carlsberg, they’ll be starting to make those decisions now.

“What we didn’t specifically ask is whether people are happy to buy a bottle of Sainsbury’s own-label vodka or whether they want Absolut. But what the survey seems to show is that people are going for the cheap option and are happy to buy own-brand rather than the one that looks cooler on the shelf.”

Vodka is the most popular drink among students, with 67% of respondents claiming it to be their drink of choice at university. It is closely followed by cider, alcopops, rosŽ wine and white wine. Lager is only sixth most popular in the survey, but jumps to first place (two percentage points above vodka) for male respondents.

“Vodka is seen as a standard spirit, the one that people start with. It’s got youthful connotations, not like whisky, gin or rum, which you might think are something that your parents or grandparents drink,” Edwards says.

“The combination of vodka and Redbull has played a huge part in that as well, as there are so many promotions going on where you get it cheaply. The spirit’s popularity is partly promotions-driven and partly because of its strength with mixers.”

Although the popularity of vodka among students may not be a new phenomenon, the report reveals that students’ favourite tipples have changed quite a lot in the past few years, claims Edwards.

He says: “A lot more people are drinking cider. It has to do with the marketing, with brands such as Magners and Bulmers making it seem a lot cooler to drink cider, especially in the summer. Cider used to be seen as something that farmers or teenagers drank before graduating to beer, but now it’s not socially shameful to drink cider in your early-20s.”

Price is also a huge factor in students’ buying habits, as well as offers, which might go some way to explain why they are buying alcohol at supermarkets for drinking at home.

Edwards explains: “More than 90% of students feel they should get special deals every time. Students do loads of research to get the cheapest deals and search online for vouchers. They never want to pay full price for things.”


But despite their sensible, discount-savvy shopping habits, the report also highlights a more worrying side of student drinking. According to the survey, 32% of students worry that they might be putting themselves in danger because of heavy drinking and 38% have given up alcohol for a period of time.

Alarmingly, 63% say they have experienced memory loss or blacked out due to alcohol consumption, 37% say they had not known how they’d got home, 22% had a sexual encounter that they later regretted and 8% say they got naked in public. Also, 21% of students say that their university education was suffering ‘a little’ because of the amount they drank.

Edwards says: “There need to be more campaigns at universities to try to educate people about some of the safety aspects of drinking, including personal safety and health, or there’s got to be some kind of cultural shift which is going to take a long time to happen.”

More than 50% of students feel it is fair to label younger drinkers the ‘binge drinking generation’, but 41% disagree.

“You only have to go to any city centre on a Saturday night at midnight and you can’t deny there is a binge drinking culture in Britain. Many students feel that this is not a student thing but a British thing and they think it’s unfair that they get stereotyped as heavier drinkers. Sixty-one per cent drink regularly and only 30% say they drink more than 21 units a week, which is lower than expected,” says Edwards.

And so here is the rub. The challenge for both pubs and drinks brands is to appeal to students and increase sales but at the same time encourage responsible drinking. The considerable concern among the student community about the negative effect of excessive drinking suggests that responsible drinking campaigns could hit a nerve with students. But Edwards says that brands must communicate carefully.

“You don’t want to be this nanny nagging people about what they should do, and it won’t work anyway because people won’t listen,” says Edwards. “But drinks brands do have a responsibility because students are their customers of tomorrow and these are the people who are going to be making them lots of money.

“Beyond just putting a logo on a bottle that says ‘Drinkaware’, which is a bit meaningless, brands should be ploughing some of their profit into educating people into drinking responsibly.”

Edwards suggests that as well as spending more money on advertising, drinks brands should have a greater presence on campuses, and encourage student brand ambassadors to talk about responsible drinking as well as promoting the product. He says: “It’s not saying to people ‘don’t go out have a good time’, it’s about encouraging students to look out for themselves and each other in a social way.”



Kristy McCready
Communications partner
Molson Coors

There are some worrying figures in this researchbut there appears to be a general pattern linking all of them together. With students drinking cheap, strong sprits like vodka at home before going out, it’s little wonder 59% have had memory loss or blacked out. This propensity for ‘pre-loading’ is an irresponsible way to drink alcohol and can turn a night out into a complete nightmare.

Respect for alcohol is one of the main principles running through Molson Coors. We believe that beer and all other forms of alcohol should be enjoyed responsibly and bought on the basis of brand preference and taste, not solely on price. As an example of our commitment to this, we are investing more than £1m every three years in alcohol education activities via Drinkaware.

Fundamentally, a ‘culture of moderation’ is the only credible route to improving our society’s relationship with alcohol and it is about what actions all parties can take – producers, retailers, consumers and policy makers – to achieve this.



Nigel Pollard
Head of communications
Heineken UK

Drinks producers have a critical role to play in promoting moderate alcohol consumption – and we need to show that responsibility is desirable.

We have a responsible marketing policy that provides rigorous guidelines for everyone involved in marketing and selling our brands. This ensures that our brand communications do not contribute to excessive consumption.

Beyond this, we see positive evidence that the industry can work together on self regulation. We are an active supporter of organisations such as Drinkaware and the government’s Responsibility Deal. Our Christmas 2011 Heineken ‘Sunrise belongs to moderate drinkers’ digital activation (MW, 15 December) shows our desire to invest in responsibility communications.

In 2012, we will again harness the power of major marketing platforms such as our sponsorship of UEFA Champions League football to engage with consumers and seed our responsible drinking messages.






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