YPULSE; Apr 27 2020 COVID-19 Food & Bev

Quarantines will end, but these winning campaigns from alcohol brands could change marketing for the industry…

If there’s one thing that’s certain—it’s that alcohol is having a moment during the COVID crisis. The industry is feeling the effects: according to a Nielson report, beer sales rose by 2.3%, spirits by 4.9%, and wine by 1.7% at liquor, grocery stores, and convenience stores during the first week of March compared to last year. Even sales for Corona Beer have gone up by 39%—it has become a hit during Zoom happy hours. People across the country are “stocking up on alcoholic beverages” due to the Coronavirus—and a third of quarantined 21-39-year-olds tell us that they have been drinking more because of Coronavirus. 

But alcohol brands aren’t resting on their laurels. Local distilleries and players alike have been helping out and showing young consumers they care by producing hand sanitizers, but they’re also getting creative with their marketing. With young people staying out of bars and away from sporting events, some of their most common touchpoints have disappeared—and the “new normal” could be ushering in a new future of marketing for the industry. Brands are shifting tactics and finding ways to make a difference, provide moments of connection, create pure content, and more. Quarantine campaigns for bev alcohol brands have pivoted the industry from partying to positivity. Here are some of the ways that alcohol brands have been winning quarantine marketing, and what it could mean even after isolation has ended:   

Hosting Virtual Events

The COVID crisis continues to impact Gen Z, with some of their major big events and milestones being canceled. Anheuser-Busch’s Natural Light is one of the brands stepping in to provide alternate ways for them to celebrate, by giving the class of 2020 a version of the graduation that they’re missing. On May 14, the beer brand will be hosting a virtual college commencement ceremony on Facebook Live to celebrate graduates around the world and “boost spirits.” The event will feature speakers including Mark Cuban, actress Jane Lynch, and Barstool Sports CEO Erika Nardini. Busch Beer is also helping young drinkers who miss their post-work happy hours by hosting their own “Trivia Happy Hour” on Facebook Live. The weekly event boasts prizes like NASCAR tickets and flat screen TVs, and to make at-home drinking easier, they’re providing discount codes to alcohol delivery service Drizly for two hours before each stream. (It also has a charitable twist, see below.) Bringing people together has always been a theme of marketing for this industry—but now, and going forward, that connection won’t always be in-person. Post-quarantines, alcohol brands will likely continue to sponsor and create virtual events. It makes sense: Pre-pandemic, young consumers were already shifting how they drink and even before bars were forced to close down, young consumers were doing a lot of their drinking from home. Many will likely be hesitant to return to their pre-COVID levels of public partying, so creating or tapping into at-home versions of these events will be a must going forward.

Helping Newlyweds

With many soon-to-be newlyweds postponing their wedding plans or moving them online, alcohol brands have stepped up to assist them in various ways. Busch Beer is offering free beer to the first 250 couples who had to cancel or postpone their weddings. To obtain their free beverages, couples must post a photo of themselves along with the hashtag #BuschWeddingGift and #Sweepstakes to win. Stella Artois is also focusing on newlyweds, offering to pay for the weddig of one couple who got engaged while social distancing. They even tapped Lauren Speed-Hamilton and Cameron Hamilton from Netflix’s much talked about Love is Blind to do an Instagram Live session to share tips on how to maintain long-distance relationships. Couples can use the hashtag #Wedding Contest on Twitter between March 13 and May 25 sharing images of their engagement and the Hamiltons will choose the winning couple. Finally, Miller High Life is the latest brand assisting engaged couples by offering three “Wedding at Your Doorstep” prizes, which include an officiant, a photographer, beer as well as $10,000 toward cancelled weddings and honeymoon costs. Couples can enter by writing a short statement explaining how their 2020 wedding plans were impacted by the pandemic. In the past, not many would have put “weddings” and “beer marketing” together—champagne usually owns this particular life milestone.  But COVID is pushing brands to diversify the kinds of events that they use to connect with young consumers. Sports will start back up, and bars will reopen, but alcohol brands should continue to use other emotional moments as opportunities to spread goodwill and boost brand love.

Assisting Furloughed Bartenders

As part of Busch Beer’s weekly “Trivia Happy Hour” on Facebook Live, they’re donating $50,000 to the U.S. Bartenders Guild, which set up a COVID-19 taskforce to help bartenders, and will match donations up to an additional $50,000. Crook & Marker even planned the “biggest digital cheers in history” for bartenders affected by COVID-19. With the #CheersUp campaign, consumers of legal drinking age were encouraged to post selfies or livestream videos of themselves offering a toast via Instagram or Facebook using the hashtag. For each post, the brand donated $1 to the USBG Bartender Emergency Assistance Program up to $10,000, and they are also encouraging others to donate if they can. By focusing on restaurant and bar workers, these brands are acknowledging their reliance on that industry, and showing that they’re a part of the community. Restaurants and bars will be facing an uphill battle for recovery, and supporting them could be the new cause of spirit brands—one that feels incredibly authentic for them to be involved in.

Creative Sports Engagement 

Live sports events might be cancelled, but alcohol brands are still finding ways to keep sports fans engaged. To uphold an ongoing tradition, Bud Light asked football fans to boo the NFL commissioner during the draft using the hashtag #BooTheCommish and a video of themselves booing on Twitter. For every tweet, the Anheuser-Busch brand donated $1 to the NFL Draft-a-Thon. Meanwhile, to promote its new Red, White, and Berry Seltzer, Smirnoff was originally planning to run a “big, over-the-top, star-studded, patriotic, party-themed summer campaign” but revamped it once all the parties were cancelled due to COVID. Instead, they’ve changed the tagline of their 60-second spot to “Stay in Your Robe For America, “ encouraging viewers to stay home. The ads feature U.S. women’s soccer team captain Megan Rapinoe and wrestler Dave Bautista—in their robes of course. It’s likely that all brands will need to continue to get creative with their sports marketing in the near future—and an increasing focus on social media and smaller moments over big blockbuster events. 

Pure Content (and Commercials)

Earlier this month, the story of a grandmother who needed more beer began to go viral. Olive, who is 93-years-old, drinks a Coors Light a day for the “vitamins” made a sign saying she needed more—and her request began to spread across news outlets and social media. After the plea was tweeted by sports reporter @darrenrovell Coors swung into action, replying to the thread, assuring everyone they were on the case, and sending Olive 150 cans to get her through quarantine. The update tweet was shared over 22K times, earning Coors plenty of positive buzz. It’s just one example of how alcohol brands have been leaning into feel good stories and “pure content” during the pandemic. With young people’s mental health being significantly impacted by COVID-19 fears (YPulse’s exclusive COVID-19 research found that 38% of 13-39-year-olds say their mental health has or will be negatively impacted by Coronavirus), Budweiser reimagine its iconic “Whassup” commercial with the help of celebrities like DJ D-Nice, Dwyane Wade, and Gabrielle Union in a new 90-second spot. According to the brand, the original concept of the popular ad was always to “focus on human connection in a time when people may be feeling hopeless, uncertain and alone. Our hope is that by getting people to check in, we can play a small part in bringing the world closer together during these trying times.” Along with the PSA, Budweiser is donating to the Salvation Army to support the charity’s work for those in need as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, and holding a daily series of interactive events that include live celebrity chats. Back in the day “Whassup” was the tagline you couldn’t escape—it was also representative of marketing for the industry: silly comedy. Now, these moments of levity come with a little more emotion. Young consumers are looking for uplifting content, and while silliness is appreciated, “pure” moments that give them a dose of positivity are even more desired.   

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