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Friday Read: Why luxury drinks need to change tack

Published:  01 December, 2023

Chris Jeffreys, creative director at Love agency, argues there’s no room for complacency with high-end brands in this era of high inflation.

There’s a common misconception that luxury brands are inflation proof. The perceived wisdom is that there will always be rich clientele who welcome the status that luxury goods afford them.

However, some of the big luxury houses have recently reported a slowdown in sales, with drinks brands being hit particularly hard. In turn, brand budgets are being slashed, affecting innovation and marketing at a time where brands should be looking at creative ways to grow their audience.

Thinking beyond the loyalist

It may feel safer to retreat to what you know your loyalist customers and connoisseurs appreciate – the atmospheric yet ultimately uninspiring above the line campaigns, the core range in sumptuous pack. But that won’t plug the gap when those loyalists decide to buy that little bit less of your luxury offering. Brands need to be thinking more creatively to recruit the up-and-coming ‘luxurians’.

Thinking about investing in brand – whether a rebrand, an unexpected collab or an attention-grabbing limited edition – when all you want to do is stick to what has worked so far is a lot to ask. But what if that rebrand transformed your recessive, rule-bound packaging into something brave, bold and disruptive? Something that appealed to a new audience without alienating the old or sacrificing your brand DNA or luxury credentials?

The traditional approach is to be just that – traditional. It’s about lots of ‘bling’ to signal ‘luxury’; an over-use of craft details to elevate the product; a mundane write-up on a standard carton box. These cues of old luxury aren’t totally irrelevant, but they easily veer into being disappointingly crusty. Old codes of luxury can very quickly cue an exclusive, masculine world that a younger audience just won’t buy into. This is where design and tone of voice can help finesse your brand codes to be something more current and modern. When we redesigned Glenmorangie’s core packaging range, we did just that, dialling up the key brand assets and bringing through the new positioning around being ‘wonderfully delicious’. It helped the range cut through on shelf without losing what the brand stood for.

Offering the unexpected

Luxury drinks brands need more of this – to embrace the shift towards cultural currency and relevance. They need to pursue a better understanding of what the new luxury consumer wants. What are they into? Where do they hang out? What other brands appeal to them? How do those brands behave, and how will ours fit into that world?

A recent Highsnobiety white paper reported that 96% of its readers appreciated brands that made unexpected creative changes or collaborated in unexpected ways. If you want to attract that new audience, you will need to push your comfort levels to embrace that unexpectedness.

Ask yourself, is your outer pack collectable and proudly displayed in someone’s home, or will it end up in the recycling bin? Is your pack hype-worthy? For example, for Penfolds we created a limited-edition tin space rocket pack for its Bin 398 bottle. Part of its new Venture Beyond brand platform, the packaging marked a bold departure from the traditional. It instantly stood out, both on shelf and on social media feeds – and sales went stratospheric. Limited editions are a great way for a brand to make waves, but they need to tell a story and connect to what is at the heart of a brand. For Penfolds this centred on the brand’s adventurous, brave and optimistic spirit.

The same goes for collabs. They’re great to test the water with new consumers without jumping in at the deep end of your core ranges. But the more unexpected, and the more they chime with what you stand for as a brand, the greater the reward. Some impressive recent examples from other agencies include whisky brand Ballantine’s Flying Goose Sriracha sauce. Launched in collaboration with musician RZA, it presented a totally leftfield launch that married a fine whisky with a legend of hip hop and Gen Z’s favourite spicy sauce. Or take the recent Maison Ruinart x David Shrigley collaboration – what could be more unexpected than the staid house of Champagne partnering with the famously irreverent, ironic and humorous artist?

Showing up in culture

Brands looking for relevance and to grow a new audience need to spot and embrace such pairings. They need to be constantly asking “what else is going on in culture and why aren’t we playing there?”.

Another example is last year’s big push for NFTs. Alcohol brands really jumped on that trend – everyone wanted an NFT limited edition. NFTs seem to have fizzled out a bit, but it was great to see brands try something new. They banked some cultural capital that will not have gone un-noticed.

Whatever level of bravery brands can muster, now is the time to nurture it. The strongest brands with the stronger stories, stronger portfolios and more loyal consumers will always do better. But they can’t be complacent. It’s time to get on the radar of tomorrow’s loyalist consumer, and make sure your brand is front of mind when downward pressures ease.