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In-depth: Are alcohol brands finally targeting women or is it just a gimmick?

While we do see alcohol brands targeting women discreetly on digital media, the practice is much more muted on traditional mediums. However, with two brands recently getting female brand ambassadors on board, we ask experts if the scenario is changing at last

A few years ago, iconic scotch brand Johnnie Walker introduced a new variant ‘Jane Walker’, with the aim of showcasing the brand’s “commitment to progress”. In international markets, like America, established alcoholic beverage companies have been targeting women consumers by representing them in ads. Although that may not be the case in India yet and a part of it can be attributed to the regulation of alcohol ads in the country as well, things may finally be changing when it comes to the representation of women in alcohol brand ads. 

We recently saw actor Alia Bhatt becoming the new brand ambassador and endorsing Blender’s Pride in the ‘made with pride’ campaign. It is to be noted that the brand’s earlier ambassador too was another female actor, Priyanka Chopra. Meanwhile, another alcohol beverage brand, Jacob’s Creek, has roped in Indian Women’s Test and ODI team Captain Mithali Raj as its  brand ambassador. Jacob’s Creek is also the International Cricket Council’s (ICC’s) official wine partner until the end of 2023, and the ICC Women's World Cup is all set to take place in New Zealand in 2022. 

Blenders pride campaign:

Except for Blender’s Pride, we have always seen the alcohol category being endorsed by the likes of actors like Ranveer Singh, Saif Ali Khan, and other male ambassadors. We asked industry experts if the recent development point in the direction of a paradigm shift. 

According to the ex-marketing head of an alcohol company, a lot of new-age brands in India are recognising the fact that they are talking to only 50% of their consumer base and have, therefore, started having female ambassadors. However, that is mainly on digital where a certain evolved, young audience is available. “As far as TV is concerned, the ads reach out to whoever is watching it but even today the decisions are made keeping in mind where the male consumer is. This is why most advertising takes place on sports channels assuming that’s where the male audience is.” 

“However, what is changing is that 20 years ago, women in alcohol advertising were more for the sex appeal and not necessarily because they were talking or appealing to women as a demographic,” he added.

Nisha Sampath

Nisha Sampath, Managing Partner, Bright Angles Consulting, said, “It is an open secret that more and more women are drinking and it is normalised in certain sections of society so people don’t notice such things anymore. It is however a two-India theory, there is still a vast section where it will still be taboo. What they (Blender’s Pride and Jacob’s Creek) have done is that they have captured the emerging trends; it is something that is going to be bigger ahead.” 

Prateek Bhardwaj

Prateek Bhardwaj, CCO, Lowe Lintas, who worked on the latest Blender’s Pride campaign said, "I think the change has been around for a while now, you had Priyanka Chopra as brand ambassador for Blenders Pride before this. Brands have recognised that they stand for ideas and personalities and those ideas are gender-neutral. A story of success and pride, whether promoted by a woman or man, should resonate with all. It is not like the communication is targeted towards women; it targets all."

Bhardwaj added that we are used to alcohol being consumed by males, and similarly traits like ‘success’ are generally part of the male story. He said these are all old-school notions rooted in patriarchy. “Even today when a woman comes out as successful just as anyone else and comes out as a brand ambassador for an alcohol brand, does that means they are targeting women, not at all. If men can be in ads that also talk to women, why not the other way around?” he questioned. 

While alcohol brands have been targeting women actively through influencers and activities, experts say the targeting depends on the consumption patterns of women drinkers. For example, categories like Vodka, Gin and Wine have actively integrated women influencers in their communication. 

The ex-marketing head revealed that beer category has 10-15 % of female consumers because most of the brands serve strong beers. 20% of beer brands serve mild beers which play in the super-premium category. He also added that influencer marketing cannot be looked into deeply, because males constitute a large proportion of the followers that female influencers have. So, it makes sense for brands to get influencers to endorse the alcohol category but it does not mean they are primarily targeting women. 

According to Sampath, wine spirits are already marketed towards women whether or not they are ambassadors as they are its largest consumers.

What can alcohol brands do to target women better? 

Categories like automobile, BFSI have traditionally not targeted women. Hence a lot of communication that these brands do when they do target women, ends up looking like tokenism.

Sampath explained, “I doubt if the brands will be able to bring in a cultural change but what they can do is reflect what is happening out there. They can reflect the trend of more women drinking. Brands will have to research the reasons women drink, what is aspirational to them in terms of their identity, and portray that accurately. If you are able to get a more authentic view of women and have that as a part of your communication narrative then you are actually helping women drinkers and making them feel that they are also being portrayed. Otherwise, it is a bit of tokenism.” 

Adding to the same, the ex-marketing head said, “My view is that having advertising that does not specifically talk to women or men has no harm. More advertisers should do it. However, the bolder move is to have a female brand ambassador that also talks to the males.” 

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