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Friday, February 23, 2024

Under the influence

In the murky world of alcohol consumption, marketing can serve as a real vehicle for change, writes James Wilkinson

In recent years, the UK has witnessed a remarkable surge in the low and no alcohol market, with consumption increasing by 9% in 2022 vs 2021. Furthermore, it is set to see a volume growth of 7%, 2022-2026. This trend reflects a broader cultural shift towards more mindful drinking choices, propelled by an increase in the awareness of health and wellness.

However, as the low and no alcohol market continues on its upward trajectory, a paradox emerges: the consumption of alcoholic beverages in England has increased significantly, exacerbated by the challenges posed by the pandemic and lockdowns. This raises important questions about the absence of a harm prevention strategy specific to England and the government’s stance on this issue, particularly when compared to other regions of Great Britain.

This lack of strategy raises the important question of how marketing can play a pivotal role in promoting positive change.

The role of marketing in changing perceptions

Marketing is a dynamic and influential tool, and as such it can play a dual role in reshaping the landscape of alcohol consumption. On the one hand, it acts as a catalyst for generating demand and sales, while on the other, it serves as an educator, disseminating information and changing perceptions among mass audiences. A great example of this is the normalisation of low and no alcohol options.

Historically, choosing a soft drink over something stronger during social gatherings could often invite raised eyebrows, and even unwanted comments. Whilst alcohol brands introducing wider ranges of ’low and no’ options – usually with barely noticeable differences in packaging – has reduced some stigma around going alcohol free, there is still a long way to go. To effect change, marketing must emphasise the advantages of low and no alcohol products – like the health benefits and potential money saving – as well as addressing the very concerns that deter consumers from making the switch, such as societal norms and pressures.

Given these modern times that necessitate change, marketing has taken on a role as a powerful tool of activism. This is especially evident for major brands like Peroni, as they seamlessly integrate low and no alcohol options into their mainstream campaigns. These brands are not merely paying lip service to the cause; they are investing substantial resources to promote the success of these alternatives.

This shift signifies a monumental change in consumer perception. Low and no alcohol choices are no longer relegated to the fringes; they are becoming integral to brand identities and consumer choices. However, this paradigm shift is still in its infancy, and much work remains to solidify the low and no alcohol category’s place in mainstream consumption.

Collaboration for change

Collaboration between organisations is vital. To a certain extent, organisations in the alcohol sector have a social responsibility to unite and marshal collective efforts that influence government policies and promote responsible drinking. Through these partnerships, a deeper understanding of the complex nature of alcohol harm reduction comes to afront, particularly around the diverse needs of different communities. For example, data shows that up to 25% of the LGBTQ+ community has a moderate alcohol dependency compared to 5-10% of the general population, therefore a collaborative approach between LGBTQ+ community organisations as well as alcohol harm organisations alongside relevant marketing tactics is needed to speak to these communities to respond to the challenge at hand.

Campaigns aimed at raising awareness about low and no alcohol options have yielded promising results. Particularly noteworthy is the above-average engagement rates among audiences aged 18-34, as well as heightened engagement in more deprived areas. Statistically 3% of drinkers in the most deprived areas of the UK say that they or someone else had been injured as a result of their drinking compared to 9% in the least deprived areas. Notably, campaigns emphasising the benefits of switching to alcohol-free choices, promising to avoid hangovers and enjoy a healthier lifestyle, have resonated significantly with the target audience. These campaigns demonstrate the effectiveness of marketing in not only generating awareness but also as a vehicle for tangible behavioural change.

To effectively address alcohol harm prevention through marketing, marketing efforts need to be inclusive. Acknowledging and confronting the unique challenges faced by minority communities and underserved areas is essential, and brands need to collaborate with the right networks and groups in order to reach these communities. Inclusive marketing campaigns must go beyond mere representation; they need to provide a sense of support and resonance for individuals striving to adopt healthier drinking habits.

A cultural shift

Marketing, when thoughtfully integrated into mainstream media, movies, music videos, and daily life, possesses the transformative power to normalise low and no alcohol products. In the past, pop culture has glamourised alcohol and excess. From music videos boasting champagne and wild parties, to movies and TV shows depicting the drama around underaged drinking, blackouts and hangovers.

But shouldn’t sober be sexy too?

The normalisation of that is crucial, as it shifts these products from being considered niche to being viewed as standard choices as well as influencing behavioural changes.

But it’s not just traditional media that has a part to play – social media has been a significant driver for more sober living, too. This is being accelerated by the growing awareness of the health benefits associated with consuming low and no alcohol beverages. The growing prominence online of initiatives like #DryJanaury and #SoberOctober have been pivotal to the cultural shift we have seen over recent years and changing attitudes towards alcohol consumption. According to Forbes, Gen Z are drinking on average 20% less alcohol than millennials – who are also drinking less than previous generations. Together, these factors represent a unique opportunity to reshape the culture of drinking in the UK.

Marketing stands as a formidable instrument of change, capable of reshaping society’s perception of alcohol and fundamentally transforming drinking habits. As the low and no alcohol market continues its ascent, it offers a unique and promising window of opportunity to redefine responsible drinking in the UK.

Through collaborative efforts, the integration of inclusive marketing strategies, and an unwavering focus on the many benefits of low and no alcohol choices, we can embark on a transformative journey where healthier drinking habits are able to thrive. Simultaneously, there is an encouraging prospect of the government assuming a more proactive role in shaping harm prevention strategies related to alcohol.

The collaborative work of organisations and the mounting evidence of the positive impact that marketing campaigns do have are compelling factors that may sway policymakers towards a more assertive stance on alcohol harm prevention. With the shared efforts of various stakeholders, we can envision a future where responsible drinking is the norm, and low and no alcohol choices are celebrated as symbols of a healthier and more mindful society.

In a world where health and well-being are increasingly prioritised, with younger generations making more conscious choices, marketing can be the driving force behind the transformation of drinking culture. It has the potential to make responsible choices not only acceptable but also celebrated, marking a significant step towards a healthier and more responsible drinking future for the country.

James Wilkinson is Marketing Director at CTI Digital

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