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2017 Trends in Marketing Communications Law

Alcohol >> Change Comes Slowly for Alcohol Brands

April 11, 2017

Large and small alcohol brands are pursuing a similar marketing strategy of emphasizing brand history or craftsmanship in an attempt to appeal to consumers' increasing desire for authenticity, and are taking steps to "modernize" this highly regulated industry through new products and innovations.

As the "craft" boom continues in the United States, alcohol brands are looking to distinguish themselves by increasingly focusing on their "story." The challenge from a marketing perspective, is how to do this without violating federal and state regulations that restrict a brand's ability to message certain aspects of its origin or product qualities.

For large brands that may not currently have a craft product to highlight, the recent trend has been for them to create a new product more suitable for an "artisan" marketing strategy. In recent years, suppliers have been tripping over themselves to introduce new products and categories of adult beverages, such as uniquely flavored spirits and ales, as well as hard lemonades, ciders and sodas. These often are presented as small-batch craft products, but the obligation under federal law that the supplier or importer list its name on all advertising means that there is a risk that the message will come across as ingenuous. Marketers need to tread carefully when crafting the message.

The industry also has continued its push to test the limits of many existing and accepted alcoholic beverage industry norms, which have been accepted with varying degrees of success. There is a continuing push for direct-to-home alcohol shipments, and even the introduction of new and novel delivery vehicles, such as Anheuser-Busch InBev’s joint venture with Keurig Green Mountain to develop an in-home alcohol drink system for beer and liquor. These new offerings will only increase, along with the marketing campaigns associated with them.

Key Takeaways

  • The continued push by suppliers to bring new products and innovation to the U.S. marketplace presents a great opportunity for marketers to advertise these new offerings and to convince both the public and regulators of their usefulness.
  • Innovation in the alcohol industry faces strong resistance from many of the more entrenched interests, as well as from the antiquated alcoholic beverage legal framework, leading to interesting times within the industry.
  • A careful strategy is important for advertisers and agencies trying to push the limits in this evolving alcoholic beverage industry environment.