Back in the 1980s heyday of advertising there were a handful of TV channels and newspapers, limited out-of-home media spots, and no accurate viewing figures, detailed audience profi ling or attention data. The ad industry had to be incredibly creative to stand out and attract attention.
Fast forward and we now have literally millions of marketing touch points, both organic and paid, to reach audiences across both digital and traditional channels. In social media alone there are hundreds of platforms – and 36 with more than 100 million active users. Audience attention is spread thinly across multiple platforms and devices, and advertising media budgets have to go further too.
Brands attempt to get more value from their marketing activity by over-engineering their strategy and trying to make their creative work appeal to everyone, everywhere, all at once – while also driving sales using performance marketing tactics, whereby agencies and platforms are paid based on sales they achieve for their advertisers.
As an advertising strategist and co-founder of a creative agency for the drinks industry, this is a paradox. We’re trained to develop creative solutions to challenging problems, which is fine, but we also know that to truly resonate with a single audience you need to be OK with alienating another.
“Great ideas start out as polarising,” said Joe Gebbia, founder of Airbnb. “They either really tug on someone’s emotions or they really perturb them in some way.”
And so I’m asking, have we as marketers and advertisers in the drinks industry forgotten how to mix good brand marketing and performance marketing? Are we too obsessed with making every pound spent on marketing provide a direct return on investment? Do the 17 layers of sign-off on a campaign help, or hinder? Are we even resonating with the audience anymore?
At YesMore, we only provide services to drinks brands and hospitality, so we’re in the fortunate position of seeing the entire drinks industry through an holistic marketing lens. It’s become clear that – perhaps influenced by the pandemic or the cost of living – there’s an industry-wide desperation in the air to ram mediocre advertising and marketing down audiences’ throats.
We’re so, so bored of it. Bored of seeing large, parent-owned brands adorn their social feeds with happy-clappy, smiley, shinyteethed white people holding their drinks with perfectly faced-up logos. So I wanted to ask: can we all start having some fun in drinks marketing again? Think Cadbury’s Gorilla, Sony Bravia’s Bouncy Balls, or Old Spice’s The Man Your Man Could Smell Like ads.
Or in drink, cult advertising classics such as the Guinness Surfer and Budweiser’s Wassup campaigns. There are more recent examples that serve as inspiration to brand owners and marketers who want to be a little braver and push the boat out a bit more, to land some creative work that really resonates with their target audience.
The Hard-working Beavers ad for Woodsman whisky sees a couple of puppet beavers felling a tree, chopping wood and diverting the flow of a stream to make their own riverside hot tub where they sip a glass of Woodsman on the rocks. It’s accompanied by an alliterative narration that doesn’t take itself too seriously: “The Woodsman whisky loves a doer, so don’t dilly dally, do, and do what those that do do, when they’re done doing.”
The Vasectomy Cocktail ad for Aviation gin for Father’s Day focused on resonating with dads through pun and innuendo around the pain of a vasectomy, in parallel with the pain of fatherhood. It was light-hearted and highly relatable for its target audience, ensuring it got shared, bringing more than 900,000 views in just a few days after launch.
It’s very easy to lose sight of CAP Code and Portman Code rules around responsible drinking when you hyper-focus on resonating with the audience, and I suspect this ad crossed the line with the over-pour of vodka towards the end.
Probably one of my favourite drinks brand ads in the past 15 years of working in drinks marketing is Laphroaig’s Opinions Welcome ad, which is completely fearless about being polarising. It’s taken Marmite’s infamous love/hate approach and applied it to peaty whisky which tastes, as a farmer explains at the end, like a Highland cow’s horn up your arse.
Many in the drinks industry have poked fun at hard seltzers, and Tito’s vodka takes it a step further with its Canformity commercial. The ad opens up with Mission Impossible-style text saying “canned cocktails have invaded” and that “one cocktail brand dares to resist”, before shots of “clone cans” appear with a “consume, conform, comply” tagline, as a movie-trailer style voiceover continues through the ad. It’s funny, it resonates and the product it advertises seems smart.
Of course, these ads are built from insight and ladder-up to strategic goals, but the point is that the treatments haven’t been watered down by the desire to sell, sell, sell. They’re not competing on price, ramming a brand mission down the viewer’s throat or bragging about how sustainable they are.
There are no desperate offers, discounts, free shipping or begging “buy now” calls to action. They recognise the job of stand-out creative work is simply to resonate with the target audience – in fact just a segment of it – to pique their interest, strike an emotion and anchor the brand in the memory. They’re simply having some fun and helping you fall in love with the personality of the brand, which in the lead up to Christmas is something marketers and brand owners should remember.