Our top seven examples of alcohol brands giving back


By Meredith Cranmer |

Alcohol, Virtual

We raise a glass to these seven brands and their smart strategies to support their customers and communities.

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These seven smart strategies harness both creativity and care and provide plenty of reasons to celebrate, no matter what life may serve up in 2020. At Because we raise a glass to these brands and their efforts to support both their customers and retail partners. 

Even though this year has provided far too much motivation to support the alcohol industry in our homes and off-trade sales have soared in many countries, it hasn’t been all profit and pleasure for their related services. With pubs and restaurants closed for a large part of this year, and the sale of alcohol still banned in South Africa, the on-trade market is under tremendous pressure. It has caused massive financial, emotional, and mental strain for all involved in hospitality, entertainment, and tourism. 

There has been a variety of brand responses to this year and its myriad of what we call the “crash-and-burn ambulance chasers,” the ones who are unashamedly focused purely on cut-throat profit; we’ve described a few examples here. Then there’s the second group: the metamorphosising brands who pivot, adjust and sidestep obstacles to survive, and in a number of cases, thrive. The third and final group is the one we focus on in this opinion piece: the brands who’ve responded with heart, and not just profit in mind. 

It all started with several alcohol brands switching to sanitiser production and providing sizable cash donations to the out-of-work bar and restaurant staff earlier in the year. Most of the big brands, ones such as Guinness and Jameson, have generously pledged millions, but that was just the start – now there is a concerted effort to be more responsible, and to be more ‘human’ as a long-term brand building strategy. Alcohol brands are increasingly conscious of genuinely putting their communities and customers first, and the results have been varied and impressive in their scope, regardless of how big the brands are. From one-man-band craft brewers to multinational corporations (MNCs), there are plenty of reasons for you to propose a toast. 

Here are our favourite examples, starting with our very own work for Carlton & United Breweries (CUB).

Paying it forward with a virtual redemption system

To help support the pubs in Australia, CUB and the Australian Hotels Association came up with an initiative called: ‘For the Love of Your Local’. This encouraged customers to buy 2-for-1 digital beer vouchers through a mobile wallet while the bars were closed. These vouchers could be redeemed at their local when it reopened using QR codes. Not only did it generate immediate cashflow for the venues, which they could use to pay for staff and overheads and to survive the economic shutdown, it also encouraged people to head back into the bars. This helped to normalise the behaviour and provided some incentive to those who were a little anxious. This smart solution worked across over 2000 venues, and the target was $2million. The good news? At the last count, over $1.8million had been raised.

Making digital channels work for the unemployed

There are a number of excellent smart bartender-paying initiatives; and relief programs; however, one which stood out for us is a campaign created by Patron called #SimplyCinco for their May season and the annual Cinco de Mayo celebrations. It provided a digital line-up of 20 bartenders who each crafted a unique margarita recipe, and shared the instructions virtually across social media. Each bartender got paid $1,000 directly for a virtual 15-minute shift. Patron isn’t the only one doing this: the brands within Deutsch Family Wine and Spirits are paying bartenders $350 to create a recipe and present their liquid creations during a live 20-minute ‘Virtual Bar’ on social media. This is just one example of several digital watering holes, bartender sales drives, #virtualtipjars and virtual happy hours. Besides being a mechanism for unemployed bartenders to earn some dosh, it’s also a smart, cost-effective way to generate authentic, interesting content.

Leveraging their voice to fight hate speech

The global heavyweight Pernod Ricard is creating a crowdsourced app which allows social media users to report hate speech. Once reported, Pernod Ricard will contact the relevant social media platform and use their influence to get the content reviewed and removed if proven to be hateful. They wanted to do more than just withhold ad budgets, so they’re crafting this digital tool to make identifying hate speech easier and faster. This app was a reaction to the brand’s decision, along with other heavy-hitter advertisers, to boycott Facebook and their lack of policing hate speech. 

Creating funds for business owners of colour

While numerous alcohol brands have pledged money to help revive the industry, Hennessy took a different stance. The brand created an investment fund of $3 million to provide short-term relief and long-term support for businesses owned by Black, Asian American, and Latino people who have been adversely affected by the pandemic. This“Unfinished Business” program is essentially a business incubator for those in need.

Supporting the real stars

While the majority of alcohol brands reworked their marketing budgets to divert money to out-of-work restaurant and bar staff, Budweiser crafted their own unique response. As part of their “One Team” campaign, the parent company Anheuser-Busch diverted their sports sponsorship money ($5 million) into a partnership with the Red Cross and used it to support front line workers. They also turned empty stadiums and arenas into temporary blood drive centres. 

Their smart work didn’t end there, Budweiser also partnered with the Salvation Army, a previous client of ours, to hold a daily series of interactive events (including live celebrity chats) to help motivate people to check in with friends and family. They also emphasised calling the Salvation Army if their customers needed to speak to a therapist or health worker. This second campaign used a reimagining of their iconic “Whassup” commercial (which you either loved or hated in the 90s) to help drive the communication message home. Their research had shown that 38 per cent of 13 to 39-year-olds said their mental health had been negatively affected by the pandemic, and this was what motivated them to create this campaign which focused on human connections and providing a regular mental check. Not only does it help provide a space for people to reach out and connect, it can also serve as a responsible drinking campaign thanks to the use of the help line and health workers.

Becoming trailblazers in alcohol-free drinking and giving back

One of the fastest-growing drinks trends in the last five years has been the rise of zero or non-alcoholic drinks, especially within the beer market. One of our favourite examples is the Athletic Brewing Co, and they’ve woven their charity stance into their business plan. In a similar vein to the 1% Percent for the Planet pledge, the Athletic Brewing Co donates 2% of all their income towards environmentally-focused causes. It’s called “Two for the Trails”, and it will rotate these causes according to who needs it most.

Providing entertaining experiences in pixels

This isn’t just about virtual happy hours, cocktail lessons, livestreamed tastings, or even the world’s largest virtual pub (cheekily called the Covid Arms), which, coincidentally, raised £32,000 in charity for the National Emergencies Trust. It’s also about creating content which helps to keep customers entertained in these dark times. The good news: lots of brands are getting it so right. Here are two of our favourites: the “Stir Creativity” campaign by Bombay Sapphire which used interactive drawing lessons, and the livestream DJ-led parties by Desperados and Elrow. The most successful ones are the ones which suit the brand DNA, and which offer a natural fit to their customer’s lifestyles. 

The bottom line: these alcohol brands have put their customers and communities first, and without profit being their primary driver. They’ve done the right thing because they’ve genuinely wanted to put their communities first, while also keeping true to their core brand values. What’s crucial about all of these socially-responsible moves is the fact that customers are holding brands responsible for their pandemic actions. Or more accurately, for the lack of them: one in three customers have said they’ve stopped using a brand that wasn’t acting appropriately in response to the pandemic, according to research by Edelman.  

If you’re unsure of your next step, or what your brand’s response should be – we can help. We’ve been working with alcohol brands for over thirty years, and our experience and passion for the this kind of marketing knows no limits. We’ll partner with you to put your customer and communities first, and help build some brand love by doing the right thing.