Alcohol Marketing 101: What to Know

A photo of a red cocktail with garnish
The idea of alcohol marketing is to bring a brand into the sight of potential customers. Whether the brand falls into the liquor market, beer market, or wine market, the same tactics prevail.

The idea of alcohol marketing is to bring a brand into the sight of potential customers. Whether the brand falls into the liquor market, beer market, or wine market, the same tactics prevail. However, the way to deliver the marketing message tends to vary by platform and generation. Without proper methods to address the alcoholic beverages market, your brand will be left behind only to be overcome by the next brand that genuinely sets itself apart. Let’s take a look at alcohol marketing and how you can reach your target market.

What is Alcohol Marketing?

As of 2018, 243,611 alcoholic beverages were sold in the United States. That’s up from around 176,000 in 2006. Alcohol is a market with steady growth and profitability, but it’s also a market with a few big names that try to take all the attention. Alcohol marketing, whether it be liquor marketing, beer marketing, or wine marketing, is no longer an option; it’s a necessity if you want your brand in front of the right people at the right time. You have to think outside the box, be willing to take chances, work harder and smarter than the competition, and work with a team that’s flexible and passionate. 

There are many aspects of alcohol marketing that parallel traditional marketing. With an alcohol brand, you’ll still use SEO tactics, SEO content, search engine results, and the like, but there’s a unique aspect to alcohol marketing that changes things up a bit. It’s this unique side packed with intricate details that can take a brand from invisible to the mainstream in record time.

We’ll check out types of alcohol marketing, focusing on the role of social media and audience demographics in brand recognition, engagement, and sales. 

Types of Alcohol Marketing

There are four primary means of jumping into alcohol marketing, even when it comes to the ready to drink cocktails market, including print, radio, website, television, and social media.

Print: Print marketing was a dying breed until a resurgence of decades-old ideals like reading magazines, listening to cassettes and CDs, and other outdated practices started catching the attention of the early Gen Z population. 

Radio: Radio marketing is an old favorite that may seem outdated, but with the advancement in technology that brings internet radio to vehicles around the world, there seems to be a resurgence of interest in radio. 

Television: Beer and wine ads have been on television for decades, but the same can’t be said for liquor. From 1948 until the mid 20th century, advertising to the liquor market on television wasn’t practiced. The unique part of advertising to your target audience via television is that ads can be tailored to a specific area. For instance, in 1996, when Seagrams decided to break the liquor television ad ban, they chose a particular area of Texas known for appreciating Canadian whiskey. So, the ad introduced Crown Royal whiskey. After that, many liquor companies jumped on board. 

Website: Website and content marketing bring potential customers to your brand website, but your brand needs to also keep them there long enough to convince them your brand is worth a try. Tactics like SEO can bring readers in, but everything from website load times to the effectiveness of your calls to action plays a part in whether or not your brand sticks in the consumer’s mind, ultimately convincing them to buy. 

Social Media: Social media is, without a doubt, the number one means of alcohol branding to a target market. Social media marketing can catch the attention of Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z, but each generation needs to be addressed uniquely, and each social media platform plays to a specific audience. 

Alcohol Marketing and Social Media

From Gen X to Gen Z, social media marketing is one of the most utilized tools in B2C marketing. But, just because the same platforms can be used to reach multiple generations doesn’t mean the same tactics can be used across all generations. First, let’s take a look at each age and how to reach them via brand marketing.

Understand Who You Are Marketing To

Marketing tactics play a critical role in reaching a particular demographic. With each generation comes an entirely new set of methods, practices, and processes that tailor the message to an age group in a manner that appeals to them in a way to evoke a relationship with the brand. 

Gen X – Generation X is often forgotten in marketing even though it is estimated that Xers make up as much as 30% of the US population. That’s more than 90 million people. The US Department of Labor suggests Gen Xers spend more money than any other generation. That’s a vast market to simply forget about – but how do you market to a group of adults who started life with no internet or cell phones only to have grown up throughout a technology revolution? 

Marketing to Generation X requires a careful combination of personalization and authenticity. The generation is confident in their financial stability and, as such, they know they have options, so a smoke and mirrors approach is not going to work. Instead, Xers prefer direct, honest marketing from a brand.

Millennials – Millennials are the first generation with advanced technology available through most of their lives. They know more about social media than libraries, and brands need to take advantage of the power and creativity that social media provides. 

When marketing alcohol to millennials, your brand should appeal to millennials by using marketing tools that reflect the millennial lifestyle. Potential customers want to see how the brand fits into their lifestyle. Along with a strong social media presence, a brand needs to go out and meet their potential customers, appeal to what they believe in, and create a campaign that can adapt to the full range of lifestyles within the millennial generation. 

Gen Z – Generation Z is the connected generation. Since birth, the internet and social media have been a critical part of life. As of 2019, the eldest of the Gen Z generation is between 21 and 22 years old. Marketing alcohol to Gen Z is a little trickier because so much of the generation is under the legal drinking age. That’s where an advanced, detailed marketing program comes in that takes the view of millennials one step further. They are even more influenced by social media, but you need to know how to use each social media platform correctly to reach prospective customers.

Jump on Trends and Hashtags

Trends and hashtags are critical for reaching your target audience, but there’s a careful balance between using these tools for alcohol marketing and overusing the tools. The three types of strategies for marketing with hashtags involve brand and campaign, trending, and content. 

Brand and Campaign Hashtags – Tags created by a brand used to essentially catalog all social media content for a specific campaign. If you are looking to address the alcohol beverage industry or the wine industry – or any other target market – keep in mind that unique hashtags can give you the best insight into how your followers are interacting with your campaign. 

Trending – Using trending hashtags for alcohol branding and marketing, you have to be careful. Trends tend to come and go within minutes, so someone needs to have a finger on the pulse of current social media marketing trends. This type of liquor marketing is one of the more difficult without the help of a dedicated team of professionals. Overuse of trending hashtags can lead to suspension or deletion of some social media accounts. 

Content – Content hashtags don’t follow trends, and they aren’t necessarily brand-specific. Think of content hashtags as a means of a search tool. For instance, if someone is looking for a high-rated wine in the wine and spirits industry, the hashtag #highratedwine may be used. Then, when a social media user searches for this term, your brand will appear as one of the results. 

Engage With Your Social Media Audience

Social engagement is critical to social media alcohol marketing. Not only does social engagement mean direct contact with your followers, but it also defines a set of guidelines on how best to pull your audience closer to your brand. 

The best ways to engage your audience is through shareable information, strong leads, visual content, and videos. It’s ultimately important to give your target audience the attention they want and in a way that appeals to each generation. 

Boost Brand Awareness

A critical aspect of alcohol marketing is ensuring you teach your potential customers about your brand. Present the information in a way that pulls the audience in and creates a connection. You want them to understand what your brand stands for and why they should trust the brand with their money. Companies who just sell, sell, sell via marketing are often left behind because the customer has no personal stake in the outcome of the brand. How do you teach potential customers about your brand? 

Get in Contact With Your Market

Do you know what your audience, and social media followers, want out of your brand? Are you sure you’re approaching your target market with a strategy that best works to engage? The best means of continually staying on top of your market is to contact them, either directly or indirectly. 

Direct contact can include online surveys and physical responses via email, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms.

Indirect contact can include targeted ads and, probably one of the most effective alcohol marketing practices today, influencer marketing. An influencer is someone your target audience recognizes and respects. When that influencer is connected with your brand, that brings along the influencer’s followers. 

Tell the History of Your Brand

Encouraging a personal connection with your brand is crucial to effective alcohol marketing in a market that’s packed with some pretty heavy hitters. When the potential customer is allowed to walk through your history with you, from a small start to current, they form a relationship with the brand. 

How do you effectively share your brand history? First and foremost, you want to offer an About Us page that’s more than a company mantra. If a potential customer can’t forge a connection with your brand, they will turn to a brand that offers that connection. In addition, sharing your brand’s milestones on social media is the perfect way to draw the reader into your story. 

Experiential Marketing

Falling in line with social media marketing comes experiential marketing or brand activations. The user experience is undeniably critical to your brand’s success. The central premise of experiential marketing is physical and mental engagement. You are attempting to interact with your target audience using a hands-on method. At the end of the day, experiential marketing not only shows the audience what the brand has to offer, but what the company stands for.

Experiential marketing can also be used to collect information from an audience. Who interacts with your brand? Is a particular age group or demographic more likely to engage with ad 1 as opposed to ad 2? These small pieces of data allow you to adjust the trajectory of your marketing campaign, so you’re always reaching out to your target audience in the latest and most effective ways.

A tried and true experiential spirits marketing tactic is off-premise liquor tastings led by brand ambassadors who give out samples of your product and report back their consumer interactions to your brand managers. Getting detailed insight into these one-on-one interactions can gauge how your brand performs in a specific market or with various demographics, how it’s positioned in liquor stores compared to competitors and more. How can your brand ambassadors engage with consumers authentically, talk about your brand’s story, and keep track of every interaction? Tastings is a free, first-of-its-kind online portal and mobile app that enables beverage alcohol brands to create and execute off-premise sampling events while capturing valuable data. With Tastings, managers can optimize their off-premise sales strategies by deploying successful sampling programs and gather consumer demographics, competitor activity, and conversions.

Market Activations

One form of experiential marketing is in-market activations, which can range in scale from golf tournaments and football games to music festivals and concerts. Hosting on- and off-premise market activations is a great way to gain traction in both new and existing markets. Alcohol marketing agencies and liquor consultants are experts at launching in-market activations and strategic partnerships that help alcohol brands penetrate new markets and expand their reach in existing ones.

Alcohol Marketing and the Competition

Your brand is coming in competition with major companies, so how do you set yourself apart from the competition? Think unique – think different. 

Look Different – The worst thing you can do is take the look of a popular brand and use that look to create a similar rendition. You must set yourself apart from your competition, not mimic them in any way. This is especially important if the other brand is well-known. The perfect example of how mimicking your competition can go wrong is a lawsuit that was filed between two energy drinks. A competitor of a significant energy drink business chose to create labeling that looked eerily similar. This did not set the brand apart from the competition; it merely landed them in a lawsuit. 

Speak Differently – Every brand has a unique voice and, to set yourself apart, you have to find that voice and use it to connect with the brand audience. The idea is to innovate and distance yourself from the competition, not imitate them. 

Trade Association Codes

When you’re ready to hit the ground running with your alcohol marketing campaign, it’s essential to take a step back to ensure you’re following the advertising and regulatory codes of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the Beer Institute, and the Wine Institute. Much of the guidelines have to do with content and how content is marketed. The idea is to ensure, as much as possible, that alcohol ads reach men and women of legal drinking age and not underage readers. Some basic guidelines include:

  • Ensure all communications are intended for men and women of legal age. 
  • Digital alcohol marketing should only be used on platforms where at least 70% of the audience is of legal age. 
  • Any direct interaction with the audience should require age verification before said interaction. 
  • Any content generated by users appearing on a page or site should be moderated and monitored. 
  • Questions and Answers About Alcohol Marketing

How do brands promote alcohol?

Brands promote alcohol using a variety of methods, including print, radio, television, website, and social media. Advances in technology and the fact that most consumers are connected to brands via social media, social media marketing tends to be at the top of the list if you want to cover multiple generations.

Can you advertise hard liquor on TV?

Yes, you can advertise hard liquor on television, but that wasn’t always the case. Liquor companies followed a self-imposed ban on television marketing that lasted from the 1940s until the mid-1990s. In 1996, the first liquor ad was aired in Texas. Today, television is widely used for liquor marketing.

Why were liquor ads banned for decades?

The ban on liquor ads, which started in 1948, was voluntary. After coming out of prohibition in the late 1930s, and with the increase in the number of homes with radio and television, liquor companies were concerned about prohibition returning. Thus, they chose to take liquor off the air, hoping it would help the brands in the long-run. 

How large is the world alcohol market?

Alcohol marketing is a multi-billion dollar business, and the market is continuing to grow. Between 2018 and 2024, the market is expected to grow by about 4%. 

Is it illegal to market alcohol to minors?

Yes, it is illegal to market to minors. Brands are required to take precautions to ensure communication and content aren’t presented to anyone under the legal drinking age.

What are the steps in an alcohol marketing campaign?

Three statements can sum up the basics of an alcohol marketing campaign:

Know your product – with a long list of unique market terms like proof, barrel-aged, mouthfeel, hops, and others, it’s important to tackle your market by educating yourself on how best to communicate about your brand.

Know your market – what’s your market? Are you marketing to Gen X or Gen Z? How about millennials? You have to approach each of these markets differently. Gen X still looks to print and television, whereas social media is ideal for millennials. By understanding how your target audience wants to interact with brands, you’ll reach the people you want to become customers.

Know your platform – Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and other social media platforms are hugely popular today. The demographics for each platform is different, so you need to choose the best platform for your target audience. Content also needs to fit into basic social media marketing practices, in which one place a professional alcohol marketer comes in handy. 

What is the yearly market for alcohol?

In 2018, United States alcohol sales topped $250 billion. It is estimated that each American drinks about 2 ½ gallons of alcohol, in the forms of wine, beer, and mixed beverages, each year.

Are there any trade rules governing alcohol marketing?

Yes, trade rules are established by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the Beer Institute, and the Wine Institute.  

How are people influenced by alcohol marketing?

Influence marketing relies on establishing a connection with a person. That connection may come as a result of sharing your brand’s history, creating a unique label that attracts attention, or regularly interacting with your audience.

Influencer marketing is the use of someone familiar or recognizable to promote a brand. With the vast number of people on social media today, influencer status is no longer relegated to celebrities. Some of the biggest influencers started out on platforms such as YouTube and TikTok. 

What is the best way to market to Gen X?

Gen Xers are carefully nestled between the Baby Boomers and Millennials. That means, the Xers have experienced online and offline – making for a unique audience. While social ads are critical across all audiences, between 45% and 85% of all Gen Xers, listen to the radio, read print magazines and newspapers, and watch television. 

What is the best way to market to Millennials? 

Millennials are often called the first “digitally native” group. They’ve grown with technology and watched it evolve over time. With this in mind, social media and ads are two significant parts of reaching millennials. Try to build a brand personality that people can relate to and want to be a part of.

What is the best way to market to Gen Z?

Only a small portion of Gen Z is currently of the legal drinking age. Gen Zers are just as intertwined with social media as Millennials. Based on the current growth in social media, and the introduction of new social platforms, best marketing practices for Gen Zers are continually evolving.



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