19 January 2022
Tipples, Temperance & Temptation
Better sleep, brighter skin, more energy, more cash, more time. Whatever your reasons for cutting back on the booze this January and joining the 6.5 million who took part in ‘Dry January’ last year[i], you’re probably wondering what you can drink instead.
For many of us, it’s the ritual and routine of drinking alcohol that’s difficult to kick, as opposed to the hard stuff itself. Plus, with more at-home drinking occasions on the cards as we face the prospect of another January locked indoors, many will be searching for ways to elevate evening meals and weekends without having to reach for alcohol.
Of course, cutting back isn’t just for January. According to a study by the Portman Group many of us are choosing to lower our alcohol consumption in general with 24% of British drinkers keen to reduce, rising to 31% amongst 18–24-year-olds. A cohort dubbed ‘Generation Sensible’[ii]. Luckily, the market is drenched with new and ever more sophisticated alternatives designed to make it easier to forget your favourite tipple and beverage analysis firm IWSR expects the category to increase 34% by 2024[iii]. It’s interesting also that it’s not just overtly low/no alcohol brands that are taking advantage of the trend with many ‘grown up’ soft drinks such as Belvoir and Bottle Green also occupying this space.
It’s a category that is evolving at pace (in the same way plant based has over the last 10 years) and those are the categories which really excite us because there is always something new and innovative approaches to both product as well as design.
At Brandon, we help brands win the fight for relevance by first understanding a brands role in a category and the visual context in which you play. By identifying the different codes of zero alcohol spirits, and the direction of travel from residual to dominant and emergent, we can take design strategy learnings and better understand what new brands looking to enter the category need to do to be relevant and stand out in what is becoming an increasingly crowded space.
- Classic Reassurance - Seriously, it’s the same, we promise, no really…
First up, we have designs which attempt to maintain or mimic as many classic spirit (in this case gin) design codes as possible to reassure drinkers that nothing too much has changed. Apart from the alcohol content of course. Expect coloured glass, branded emblems, or scripted typefaces and 0.0% call outs. Also notice the subtle use of blue accents to denote ‘lighter’ or ‘free’ connotations not dissimilar from the diet category. Unsurprising considering a key consideration for skipping alcohol is the calorie content and between 4-10% of the calories we consume come from alcohol[i].
These design codes are most common amongst spirit category leaders such as Gordon’s and Tanqueray, where using key distinctive brand assets is key for trust. Their communications go further to reassure that no compromise has been made to taste or quality with lines such as ‘0.0% Alcohol, 100% Gordon’s’ or ‘Unmistakably Tanqueray’. However, newer entrants such as Clean Co may also try to borrow from these codes to steal some of that design equity as our brains are trained to make short cuts and feel reassured by something we recognise.
- Flavourful Fun
Moving into the more dominant design codes of the category we have brands that also attempt to provide reassurance, but instead of borrowing existing design cues, focus on the promise that there is no compromise to the fun you can have (even without that dancing juice). The use of rich colours to compliment the flavours of the liquid itself are flavourful whilst art deco inspired highlights of gold help to reinforce messages of specialness and quality. Again, this is reminiscent of traditional spirit cues, as is the use of cork stoppers. Playing on these familiarities of the category helps to strengthen their appeal vs. their boozy counterparts and reinforces the message of ‘no compromise’. Caleño has been inspired by the vibrancy and energy of Colombia, the founder’s native home and reinforces its optimistic and fun visual style with the comms line ‘bringing joy to not drinking’.
3. Saintly Does It
Next, we step into the guilt free, redemptive qualities of the ‘saintly’ design codes of popular brands such as Sipsmith, Portobello Road and Pentire. Here, the clarity and purity of the non-alcoholic liquid is further emphasised through contrasting aquatic blues that also work to communicate ‘lightness’ and ‘freedom’. The implication, of course, being that a choice to forgo alcohol is a good one, and the benefits in clarity of mind and let’s face it, the general smugness the next day, are more than worth it. Portobello Road even goes one step further with its virtuously named ‘Temperance’. Angelic tings of silver foil finishes further push these design cues toward the heavens whilst traditional fonts, and illustration styles cover that well known trick of just enough familiarity to reassure that these are meant to be ‘just like’ real spirits.
- Naturally Good
Moving on to another dominant code, we see many brands using their botanical ingredients as inspiration for design. The execution itself differs from brand to brand, whether it’s the imaginative collage style of Seedlip building a portrait of forest animals from shrubs and greenery, or in contrast, the clean lines and iconographic style of Bowser, but all are united by the emphasis they place on the ingredients themselves. Traditional (alcoholic) spirits are known for having complex taste profiles which is what makes drinking them so unique, and it is this sophistication in flavour that is often missed by soft drink brands. However, each of these brands have managed to match the complexity of flavour of real spirits by taking learnings from the distillation process. From a design perspective, we then see this attention to detail and ‘heroing’ of botanical ingredients played out on the packaging itself. Connections to nature, natural ingredients and herbs also helps these brands to communicate ‘health’ and ‘better for you’ connotations.
- A new kind of buzz
Our final group are in the business of mood-altering substances without the pesky physical effects of ethanol. For instance, Sentia claims to offer you ‘that just right feeling’ (presumably that magical place somewhere between merry and utterly sloshed?) whilst Edi promises ‘ground-breaking endorphin spirits that trigger feelings of pleasure, without the downsides of alcohol’. Lofty claims indeed but an interesting progression of the category considering the rise of CBD in recent years. It seems we are becoming more and more open to the transformative abilities of plants and are happy to rescind any snobbery or distrust of ‘other’ substances. Perhaps most interesting is how these brands have attempted to communicate this entirely new concept on the packaging itself. Edi and Three Spirit have opted for witchy, pagan inspired symbols evocative of worship or fortune-telling that feel spiritual and thus other worldly, magical, and promising of a better way. In contrast, Sentia, which focuses on the technological advancement of its GABA enhancing processes opts for brainwave illustrations and a brilliant name referencing the ability of its drink to keep you in the present as opposed to getting carried away.
Conclusion: a lesson in temperance
Much like the virtuous commitment to abstain from alcohol in the first place, it would seem a strategy of temperance as opposed to all-out radical design change is the most successful way to take on the category. Evidence that a good brand strategy, an awareness of the context in which you play and a considered design that effectively communicates your positioning will be essential to winning the fight for relevance. It’s about taking on bold new cues and communicating something ‘different’ whilst tempering it with classically reassuring spirit cues.
At the end of the day, many of us are choosing to cut-back as opposed to being total t-totaler’s and with that in mind, we still want to feel like we’re drinking. Or at least treating ourselves. We don’t want to feel left out or have to spend the evening fending off questions and tiresome exclamations of ‘you’re not drinking?!’.
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