Home >Industry >Retail >As live events remain suspended, liquor firms turn online to market to tipplers
A file photo of Soulmate performance at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender, Shillong. Photo: Courtesy Insominac
A file photo of Soulmate performance at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender, Shillong. Photo: Courtesy Insominac

As live events remain suspended, liquor firms turn online to market to tipplers

  • The challenge to market comes at a time when India’s liquor companies have also seen business slump this year on account of bar and store closures and hefty taxes imposed by several states

NEW DELHI : In the thick of Delhi winters last year, AB InBev, the world’s largest beer company, partnered with Mumbai-based rapper Vivian Fernandes to host a live event that was brimming with influencers, musicians, designers and others from the city’s creative community. The evening was sponsored by Budweiser, as part of its flagship BUDX platform, that hosts music and cultural events largely targeted towards the country’s young drinking-age population.

A year-and-a-half and a pandemic later such packed events have now collapsed leaving behind a vacuum for marketers of alcoholic beverages that put significant marketing dollars behind music events, comedy gigs and host intimate food and drinking sessions in the country’s top cities.

With social gatherings now restricted, liquor brands are taking their offline events online, and continuing some of their collaborations with DJs, musicians, influencers and bar-tenders as they seek to capitalize on in-home drinking occasions.

However, replicating on-ground activations is extremely hard online as it lacks direct consumer connect and prohibits brands from generating trials for their beverages. Some brands have even dropped their annual offline properties for the time-being.

Weeks into India’s prolonged lockdown that rendered its bars and nightclubs shut, Budweiser took to live-streaming several Budxhome music events by partnering with some of India's top DJs, Alexander Lambrecht, vice-president, marketing, South Asia and South East Asia, AB InBev told Mint. Lambrecht said over the course of 14 livestreams in India so far, Budxhome reached 2 million people online.

AB InBev spends 20-25% of its annual marketing budget on experiences and events. Among them, it hosts its flagship BUDX property—that curates and supports the growing music scene in the cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Pune through music events and concerts. The company said it will keep its marketing spends largely intact on events but shift these platforms virtually for now. “The BUDX platform of the future is going to shift more from an outdoors, on premise experience, to an in-home type of experience. We will still be spending a big and an important portion of our marketing dollars behind experiential," he said.

The challenge to market comes at a time when India’s liquor companies have also seen business slump this year on account of bar and store closures and hefty taxes imposed by several states.

Hosting large-scale on-ground events is not possible and rightly so, under the current circumstances, said Anmol Gill, head of customer marketing, Bacardi India. Bacardi—that sells brands such as Grey Goose, Bombay Sapphire, Dewar’s, William Lawson, among others. The liquor company hosts some of the biggest music and cultural events in India including the over decade-old NH7 Bacardi Weekender, apart from Breezer Vivid Shuffle, a hip-hop dance festival now in its third year. It also curates' culinary events under the Dewar’s scotch whisky brand, apart from several other events.

“Interestingly, covid-19 has altered consumer behaviour significantly and allowed us to explore new consumption trends to stay relevant. Consumers are looking at different avenues and platforms to consume entertainment and experience moments…," said Gill. This has prompted the company to take some of these experiences online and in-home.

“This year Dewar’s is taking the experience to consumers’ homes through The Doers Club Home edition," said Gill. Vivid Shuffle is transforming into a virtual league bringing together dance, music and art, Gill said. The company is also hosting virtual mixology sessions for its Bacardi, Dewar’s, and Bombay Sapphire brands helping consumer prepare cocktails at home.

India prohibits liquor companies form advertising directly. Instead, it allows surrogate advertising on mainstream media. This includes brands promoting bottled water, sparkling water, music labels etc. As a result, events are a key part of how they engage with consumers and generate trials.

“Experiences are a big growth driver and the entire category would spend quite heavily on them. As consumption has moved a lot more in-home, and how digital has really scaled up—is informing our marketing strategy," said Abhishek Shahabadi, vice president, and portfolio head for luxury and premium brands, Diageo India.

Shahabadi oversees a portfolio of premium brands such as Johnnie Walker, Singleton, Talisker, Black Dog, Black & White, Smirnoff. As category leaders, the company has rolled out a range of content—directed towards helping consumers drink at home, he said.

For instance, Black Dog Easy Evenings, a series of comedy shows —a four-year-old property—was taken entirely online to promote in-home entertainment. Similarly, with Black & White, that hosts events around food, the company is deepening tie-ups with chefs and bar-tenders to create food and drinking experiences that can be recreated at home. Last year, the brand also partnered with food festival Grub Fest, which was carried through in the early months of February, but plans to further the partnership in the later months fell through on account of the pandemic.

AB InBev’s Lambrecht, however, agrees that the vacuum of physical events poses a significant challenge for marketers like himself. The trial generation that typically happens at venues is “less guaranteed" in homes and brands have less control over consumers. However, recent attempts by several state governments to allow home-delivery of liquor delivery is encouraging, he said. “That gives us an opportunity to activate a little bit more trials within people's homes."

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