Has it run its course?
The annual season of abstinence celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2023, as consumers vow to challenge themselves to a month off the sauce. But as no/low-alcohol consumption is set to increase by a third by 2026, we ask for brands is the event still a useful focus point, or does it risk damaging or distracting from building year-round momentum?
Nobody can argue with the success story of Dry January. Began in 2013 by Alcohol Change UK, a charity working to reduce the harm caused by alcohol, its estimated that last year 130,000 consumers took part: the highest number yet. For low and no brands, the month has also become an obvious focal point for both promotions, and new launches.
In fact, so big is its influence and cultural sway, that now even full-strength brands are joining in. New for January 2023 is a campaign by Tito’s Handmade Vodka, who have worked with Martha Stewart to irreverently showcase the ways its vodka can be useful for things other than drinking. Showing Stewart use it to clean boots, remove nasty smells, tenderise meat and water flowers, as part of ‘DIY January’, in the end she concedes “F*ck it, Martha needs a drink”.
A cultural phenomenon
Taylor Berry, vice president of brand marketing said it had launched the campaign because Dry January has now become “a little bit of a cultural phenomenon”, while the campaign helps the brand “be present throughout”.
So, the impact of Dry January is strong and growing, and even if consumers aren’t participating, they’re most certainly aware of it. But for low and no brands, is a 31 day non-drinking challenge still the most positive way to promote something non-alc brand owners need to be a year-round habit? Or does it encourage consumers to treat the month as a fad, confining low and no products and the opportunity to effectively market them to just a short period of time?
In fairness, the event isn’t owned by brands. It is first and foremost a health campaign from a charity looking to prevent alcohol harm, that brands have piggybacked upon. And to be fair, Alcohol Concern UK have tried to extend the season. There’s also, of course, Sober October. And now, launched in 2022, Sober Spring, whereby consumers are challenged to quit alcohol for three whole months from March. Undoubtedly all are noble and worthy efforts to help consumers achieve balance in their lives, especially those prone to alcohol abuse.
A useful focal point?
But is it still right, or even useful for brands to focus their promotional efforts on the event? Much of that depends on how consumers view Dry January themselves. Namely, is it a time to form a routine that will last? Research suggests that actually, yes it is. In a study of participants in a controlled Dry Jan experiment published by the British Journal of General Practice72% of participants had sustained reduced levels of harmful drinking (drinking over recommended limits) for six months after completing a month alcohol free. This suggests that for brands that get consumers to trial them during this time, its likely consumers will continue to engage with them. Which is of course, is good news.
But it's worth remembering too how far the non-alc sector has come since its inception just eight short years ago. According to new data published by the IWSR, no- and low-alcohol beer/cider, wine, spirits, and ready-to-drink (RTD) products grew by more than +7% in volume across 10 key global markets in 2022, with its growth set to speed up in future years. Its prediction for consumption to increase by a third by 2026 is being driven by the growth of no-alcohol products, it says. But also, because these products are gradually becoming more embedded in people’s lifestyles.
Defining and claiming a moment
That low and no products have a massive opportunity that full-strength products don’t – namely by being appropriate for consumption in a vast number of occasions beyond those that alcohol is – has long been known. But where non-alc brands have so far failed is to link themselves convincingly to these occasions. Beer is doing a better job, but for non-alc spirits in particular, there’s few brands that have been able to properly define their serves, and the key moments to consume them in the way that alcohol has. For example, sunny day? Aperol spritz. Celebration? Champagne. The list goes on.
Dry Jan is undoubtedly an important moment of focus for brands to introduce themselves to consumers. But what then? Where is the follow up marketing? Where is the hero serve for brands being attached to these key moments where alcohol can’t go? Because yes, though there is a core of consumers that are abstaining entirely, the vast majority of consumers are looking to regularly incorporate low and no into a repertoire of full-strength products, as part of a balanced lifestyle. Yet, so far, though market growth is impressive, is being slowed by the fact there is minimal focus in non-alc marketing on what this looks like beyond the month of January.
Through our work as a creative strategy agency, we know it's time for brands to beef their marketing – and their use case – up beyond this focal point. Because though awareness may be high, so too is the confusion among consumers still over what non-alc spirits taste like, how to consume them (especially when they don’t directly replicate known spirit types), when, and how on earth in some cases they can cost more than a bottle of booze. It’s these questions brands now need to boldy answer, because if the growth of Dry Jan proves anything, it’s that consumers are already well aware of why trialling them in the first place might be a good idea, just not why they should loyally keep specific brands in their repertoire.
Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?
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