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Where have the drinks ‘storytellers’ gone?

As alcoholic drinks brands are seemingly getting left behind in the effort to capture consumers’ imaginations, Matt Bennett wonders how booze brands can get their mojo back in 2016.

Johnnie Walker prides itself on its marketing and advertising, with its latest film titled The Gentleman's Wager featuring Jude Law (Photo: Johnnie Walker)

Johnnie Walker prides itself on its marketing and advertising, with its latest film titled The Gentleman’s Wager featuring Jude Law (Photo: Johnnie Walker)

The announcement of the UK’s top storytelling brands in 2015 was a revelation. As technology brands and charities dominated the top spot, the traditional consumer food and drink favourites were left out in the cold.

In the top 20 there is only one drinks brand – Guinness (and even they have moved down the list from 2014). There used to be a time when the alcohol brands were the stories: Jack Daniels, Guinness, Johnnie Walker, Budweiser, Absolut, Stella Artois… so when did they get left behind and how can they reclaim the top spot?

Modernising traditional stories

Alcohol brands have had enduring success for decades, but what worked in the past may no longer be enough to provide cut through in a multichannel, multiplatform market full of consumers with an attention span shorter than your average goldfish.

The statistics paint the picture – we’re exposed to over 5,000 advertisements and brand exposures every single day. So any brand needs to cut to the emotional chase to plant themselves firmly onto our radar.

Cause and Effect

Let’s not forget that statistics issued recently state that the average consumer attention span is a mere seven seconds. Whose fault is this? (if indeed there is blame to apportion). Is it marketers for producing so many different, and often conflicting or incongruent, messages on different platforms, sometimes for the same brand? Or is it some quirk of evolution that would have happened without Snapchat, Instagram, Vine and the rest of them.

Regardless of how and why, the inevitability of procreation means that for another year, millions of low-attention span (and not forgetting more choosey, health aware) drinkers flood into the alcoholic drinks market. Just as the emotional equity of alcoholic brands falls off a cliff. But have the meaningful stories dried up and withered on the vine because they are less relevant than in the past? Or are the brands spreading their content too thin with poor targeting or poor delivery?

Telling stories to Goldfish

Some booze brands continue to do an exceptional job at marketing themselves across all their platforms and channels with emotional power and consistency. Guinness, in particular, has been successful at meaningful marketing and has remained true to their Made of More campaign for long enough for it to have hit home.

They certainly show no signs that they lack confidence often displayed by lesser brands by changing their proposition and campaigns as often as their marketing teams. Following Ireland’s win over France to top their group at Rugby World Cup during which several players were injured, Guinness, as a non-sponsor, delivered a tweet which, through a single image and lovely piece of copywriting delivered an emotional story on that most concise of platforms, Twitter:


This tweet, in less than the requisite 140 characters, delivered the same emotion and the same thread as their TV spots, which goes to prove that even if your audience have the aforementioned seven second attention span, you can still have faith that powerful (integrated) campaigns, delivered on a short form platform, can still tell a story.

Reclaiming the crown

Booze brands need to stop thinking short term. We know all too well that today’s consumers value brands with purpose and authenticity. And booze brands (a number of which are some of the oldest consumer brands still in the marketplace) should have that in spades. We also know that the next LDA generation thrives on live, emotive and reactive content. So, the magic overlap of the (enormously simplified) venn diagram can still be storytelling, but only if your story is meaningful, and engaging, and most importantly, only if your story is able to be told across your all of your touchpoints without losing the plot.

Matt Bennett is a partner at creative agency ZAK

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