The beer, wine and spirits industry is one of the most active when it comes to brand-building and advertising. From Absolut to Bud, the industry has produced many of the most iconic ads. They have also been smart and creative when it comes to efforts more “guerilla” in nature. This may date back to the late 19th Century when Pyotr Smirnov hired groups of people to theatrically demand his vodka in their local bars.
Over a hundred years later, Smirnoff Vodka teamed up with Wieden + Kennedy to create an urban art project in Sao Paulo. Local artists painted highly stylized and artistic graffiti on buildings across the city. The art was only visible at night under black light that were activated at random to illuminate the creations. In 2012, Absolut Vodka created 4,000,000 uniquely decorated bottles each featuring artwork created with splash guns, 38 colors and 51 pattern types. Absolut estimated it would take 94 quintillion bottles before two similar ones were ever created.
The industry has always been a big spender in advertising. Now a study from The University of Texas on the impact of alcohol advertising raises interesting questions. Researchers found that alcohol ads have increased an amazing 400% over the last 40 years. However, people are not drinking any more. It seems that the advertising spend works only in driving choice, not increased consumption. For society’s sake that is probably a good thing but for advertising effectiveness it suggests less may be more.
The report is blunt, “Relating these findings to previous research reveals a consistency in that there is either no relationship or a weak one between advertising and aggregate sales. Over this time period, beer sales have exhibited a downward trend since the early 1990s, while wine and liquor have increased their share of total alcohol sales. This is despite large increases in advertising expenditures across all three categories of alcohol.”
This helps support the argument that ads cannot be blamed for over drinking. However, there is one demographic where the industry must be aware of its influence. A study released this year in the journal JAMA Pediatrics shows that alcohol advertising that reaches children and young adults helps lead them to drink for the first time or, if they’re experienced underage drinkers, to drink more. “It’s very strong evidence that underage drinkers are not only exposed to the television advertising, but they also assimilate the messages,” says James D. Sargent, MD, study author and professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine. “That process moves them forward in their drinking behavior.”
The industry is under constant scrutiny and faces calls for reforms related to their marketing
efforts like tobacco before it. Recent concerns have covered the targeting of women and adolescent African-Americans. Yet with no evidence of increased consumption, where ads have a role is in brand preference by informing consumers of competitive information such as pricing and availability. This is helpful not evil.
It seems that established brands should be sharing and creating dialogue around more tactical benefit messages rather than broad positioning. Both consumer and the industry have to be responsible when it comes to alcohol. A big part of that is being better informed which was why advertising was invented in the first place.
Related Content: Swystun Communications’ report on Wine Branding.