The closure of on-licence premises and the restrictions placed on citizen’s movements and leisure to address the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, created an unprecedented situation for the alcohol industry. With the availability and supply of alcohol being restricted, and the social context of alcohol use transformed, alcohol corporations were required to adapt their marketing materials and actions in response.
A content analysis of alcohol marketing by 18 alcohol brands on Facebook and Instagram during the first UK national lockdown (from 17th March- 4th July 2020) was conducted. Comments left by social media followers on posts advertising what could be defined as brand COVID-19 Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives (i.e. monetary donations, production of hand sanitiser) were thematically analysed.
Alcohol brands quickly adapted to the changing social, economic and health context of the global pandemic. Changes to the availability and sale of alcohol were evident, with brands encouraging the stockpiling of alcohol as an essential item through predominantly online sales and delivery services. Brands also adapted to the changing social and physical context of alcohol use and intensified encouragement of home drinking. Messages of togetherness underpinned the promotion of virtual interactions, for which alcohol use was presented as a key component. Consumers were encouraged to contribute to pandemic responses by ‘staying at home’, and consuming alcohol. Importantly, COVID-19 provided a useful marketing opportunity for alcohol producers to present themselves as private partners to a primarily public sector response, through innovative CSR initiatives such as philanthropic donations to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19. An inductive thematic analysis of online comments on CSR posts found that such activities were interpreted by consumers as ethical actions, and that they reinforced positive brand image and loyalty amongst existing and new consumers.
Alcohol corporations are highly resilient in times of crises and the brands analysed were able to quickly adapt their marketing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Future research is required to examine whether these profitable strategies are maintained post pandemic.