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Alcobev major Allied Blenders & Distillers to increase spends on digital and social

In a conversation with, Anupam Bokey, Chief Marketing Officer at Allied Blenders & Distillers, talks about the company’s overall advertising strategy

Allied Blenders & Distillers (ABD), the manufacturer of top selling liquor brands such as Officer’s Choice, Sterling Reserve and Jolly Rogers, is planning to significantly ramp up its investment on digital and social media channels.  

Anupam Bokey

According to Anupam Bokey, Chief Marketing Officer, the company will invest more than ever on digital in 2021, along with maintaining its spending on TV.

The company had cut down its media spend this year as the sale of alcohol was prohibited for a few days during the pandemic-induced lockdown. 

“This year, there was a reduction in marketing investments because of the situation. Next year, hopefully, it will be an easier year and aligned to that, our marketing investments will grow. We would certainly be more digital and social-focused and our investments in that space will increase significantly than in the past. Also, there is a certain minimum presence one has to maintain on TV,” he said. 

As the alcobev category is very visible and active at the point of purchase, in-store promotion and execution are key for ABD. Fifty per cent of its marketing budget goes into in-store promotion. For communication, the company solely focuses on TV and digital (majorly on social media). 

“As the category is restricted in terms of communication, TV is more used as a reminder and awareness-creation medium. But the functionality of the product and the overall story of the brand gets played out in digital. So typically, our spends are 50% on BTL, 35% on TV and 15% on digital,” he said. 

Talking in-depth on how the company had been communicating amid the Covid-19 pandemic, he said when the lockdown relatively eased, it started investing somewhere in mid-August in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic for its brand Officer’s Choice. 

After that, its semi-premium brand Sterling Reserve was activated via two pieces of TVC towards the end of August.

Link to Sterling Reserve TVCs:

The company had associated with IPL for both these two brands. Bokey believes that when there were very few media opportunities, IPL came in as a fresh breath of energy and action.

The TVC for Officer’s Choice Blue

As digital has been allowing the company to communicate the functionality of the products, he said, “We did an IPL dugout right from the beginning. For 60 days of IPL, we created almost 500 pieces of content and they were posted online where we managed to get 125 million of views with over 8% engagement. So this was the most active alcobev brand on social media during IPL.”

Asked if they plan to associate with any other marquee property, he said, “There is a certain age limit to drinking, so we carefully need to select properties where 21+ youth has good traction. It is a category where the media investments are not very large, so we need to be very salient but it is not like monthly salience in FMCG.

You need to have a quarterly or yearly job to be done from the marketing objective point of view on every brand and then play out for the rest of the year. So there is no other property we are looking for as of now.”

The festive season has always been a huge bump-up for this category. But this year it was hardly a Diwali in that sense, Bokey said. 

The company didn’t have to increase its marketing investments during the festivities as it just so happened that IPL was scheduled around the same time

Aiming to become the most admired spirit company 

Being the third biggest alcobev company in the country, and the biggest Indian company in the space in terms of scale, it had a very glorious past. But according to Bokey, the last few years have been a bit challenging.

And now the company wants to get back to its past glory.

ABD is at present going through a phase of transformation under its new Dy Chairman and interim CEO of ABD, Nick Blasquez, who has the mandate to make ABD the ‘Most Admired Spirit Company in India’ in the next three to five years.

Asked what kind of strategic change the brand has gone through after his joining, he said, “This transformation agenda is very inspiring as this aligns to my purpose of bringing a disrupted change, creating ambition and cascading that impact in the whole organisation.”

Impact of Covid on sales

Discussing the impact of Covid-19 on ABD’s growth and revenue, he said Sterling Reserve (semi-premium segment) gained its share while some of its competitors have lost share in the category. Its regular segment also witnessed some down-trading. 

As it continues to strengthen its share, he added, “With other brands, we just have started to see green shoots and I would say this trend will only accelerate in the next year on the back of specific activities. As the situation gets better, we will see traction coming back.” 

He said the premium segment of Scotch was less affected because their consumers still had the money to afford it. Also, being pretty much on track towards its 2020 goals, he said the company’s loss in the regular segment was compensated with acceleration it has seen in semi-premium, particularly on Sterling ReserveB7. 

Going forward, it plans to build the regular segment in the next year. 

“The largest contributor to our sales is Officer’s Choice Whisky, a brand that has not been activated for a long time. We would like to do that next year,” he said. 

Since alcobev is the second largest revenue generator for the states, he hopes that, sooner or later, opportunities might open up.

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