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Digital Marketing in the Drinks Industry

April 10, 2017

It’s a good time to be a drinker.

There’s been a surge in interest in different alcoholic beverages over the past few years. People want to explore different types of drink. There’s been a boom in craft beer, gin and whisky. What’s more, it’s changed the cultural make-up of the country with micropubs popping up in disused laundrettes or sheds, replacing traditional pubs that closed down because of all kinds of reasons: the growth of chains, people opting to drink more at home, or the financial crash.

So how are drinks promoted in 2017? What are some of the digital marketing tricks being used? Let’s whizz through a few things that have caught my eye over the past few years – because there are certain traits that are transferable to other industries too.

Content tactics: documenting the process versus lifestyle branding

Broadly speaking, money is spent on either telling stories or talking about ingredients, but the same old rules apply. The brands that succeed know their audience, create good content to connect to that audience – which may or may not occupy different marketing channels – and deliver that content consistently. Money is spent on content though – be that money in budgets or time in creating organic content in-house. The important thing is to put stuff out there.

The content itself? Well, that depends on the drink.

Some drinks are phenomenal, superbly crafted liquids using amazing inputs; it makes sense for those companies to talk about the provenance of those inputs because that’s the selling point in an of itself. Think of the wine trade, organic growers or biodynamic vineyards who are happy to show the world what goes into their products and how they’re made. Transparent. Open. The inputs are the selling point itself and tap into a certain type of consumer’s mindset. This works even in the craft beer movement, which loves to talk about what goes into those products and what crazy ingredients they use to get the flavours they want. Though it comes across as anti-marketing, it’s just good old-fashioned documenting, a marketing tactic that can work in any industry. But the product needs to be strong to start with.

Brands that don’t want to share what goes into their products – because sometimes the ingredients are inferior, but they’ve also got shareholders to please – are more concerned about telling interesting stories on a grand scale. In this sense, drinks occupy a similar space to perfume, or fashion, as people identify with branding. (And we’ve done gin branding in the past!) Drinks become lifestyle products, tapping into the mindset of a different consumer: one who does not know, or does not care, about the details of what they’re drinking, but want something that tastes good and identifies with the lifestyle presented to them.

Storytelling & Celebrities

Taking an industry I know rather well – whisky – drinks giant Diageo has taken a few approaches utilising video content impressively. Whisky has historically been marketed as a premium, lifestyle product for over a century, but now we’re in the world of super-premium products such as Johnnie Walker Blue Label. They wheeled out Jude Law to make a couple of short films based on ‘the Gentleman’s Wager’ concept, where two rather wealthy individuals make bets over vintage yachts or cars.

The thing is, this is premium content. A short movie, in fact, starring an A-lister (at least I think Jude Law is still A-list). It must have cost a small fortune, but the aim was to entrench Johnnie Walker Blue Label deeply into the luxury market.

Speaking of celebrities, Diageo also utilised sports star David Beckham to sell their Haig Club whisky, which was an attempt to bring newcomers into the marketplace – particularly younger drinkers. (Many newcomers deemed the first release too expensive, and regular drinkers didn’t like it, which goes to show that no amount of marketing can work if the product is not right.)

Finally on this point, and as a real wild-card move, why not make Matthew McConaughey your creative director, like Wild Turkey Bourbon did?

Honest Organic Content Works Really Well

cotswold distillery facebook

You don’t have to be a drinks giant to be impactful on social media.

Take photos – using a photographer or even your own iPhone – and let people into your world through honest organic content. Upload a cheeky video. Post an event. It’s not rocket science, really – it’s what social media used to be about in the first place. Many drinks brands are gently spreading their products through word-of-mouth reach augmented by a decent, gentle, insightful social presence. The companies that do it well are showing high levels of engagement that the bigger brands would have to pay for (proportionally speaking). They do it by documenting their process, authentically.

I’ve picked a brand at random – the Cotswolds Distillery. They make gin, whisky, and all types of drinks. They’ve got good levels of engagement on their social media pages and they’re not doing anything outrageous. They’re simply documenting their process, their own internal story, consistently; sometimes connecting with the local community, sometimes showing what’s going on behind the scenes. What’s key to this is that there is not a huge amount of the ‘big sell’ either – and that’s an important point about organic posting. We spend our time on social media not to be hammered with adverts, but just to get some insight about a brand we’ve seen or experienced. Drinkers follow a page because they’ve already bought in: they want to see more, so show them behind the curtain.

Just compare that with the insincere posting from giant beer brand, Carlsberg, which despite the huge follower base, has – strangely – even less interaction from its users than a picturesque little place in the Cotswolds. It’s perhaps because the bigger brands tend to function with bigger, more mass market advertising in mind. (You’ve seen our Guinness post right?)

Experiential marketing

suntory cherry blossom bar

I believe experiential marketing used to be called ‘events’, but hey, life moves on and experiential it is these days.  Japanese whisky manufacturer, Suntory, created a handmade cherry blossom installation at a bar in London to promote their blended whisky: Hibiki Japanese Harmony. The whisky’s great, by the way, but what about that installation? It’s amazing to look at, but guests (key influencers) were invited along to immerse themselves in an experience whilst interacting with a product. It’s something that the drinks industry can do increasingly effectively these days, and inviting influencers along means a good few ripples throughout social media.

Create havoc

Riding the maverick brand archetype, Brew Dog basically entered an industry that was, indeed, stale, boring and – if you believe the marketing – largely tasteless. (Decent beer was around, but it was difficult to find.)

Brew Dog used to be the famous example of tearing up the rules: creating havoc, making noise, through both digital and traditional PR. They created numerous stunts, some of which worked more better than others. They were most effective in winding up the media by releasing super-strong beer. They also do things like create a really good working culture for their staff, such as giving time off for when they get new puppies. (Hey, we do good things too!)

Trailblazers, in respects, but I suppose they’ve matured as a brand lately and creating stunts can become very tired over the long term. But what does this do? It gets you noticed. It gets you column inches. It gets your brand out there.


There we go. A whilst-stop tour of a few tactics and traits of the drinks industry. At the heart of it though is creating a good content strategy. What do you want to say, how do you want to say it and tell it to the right audience. Tell it honestly, if you want, or spend a fortune to make it look as slick as you can.

But the take-away is that you can create impact without breaking the bank.




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