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Alcohol ad spend to grow 5.3% in 2021: Zenith

Zenith's report looks at the alcohol industry's ad spends in a world trying to recover from the pandemic.

Alcohol ad spend in 12 key markets including India will grow by 5.3 per cent in 2021, ahead of the 4.9 per cent growth of the ad market as a whole, as brands recover from a much steeper drop in 2020, according to Zenith’s Business Intelligence – Alcohol: Beer + Spirits report.

Some of the key aspects of this report include:

1. Alcohol ad spend to rise from US$6.7bn in 2020 to US$7.7bn in 2023

2. Alcohol brands spend twice as much on television as the average brand but will reduce their spending by 2.4% a year as audiences continue to shrink

3. Spirits brands have pivoted rapidly to owned online content, to help consumers replicate the brand experience – normally the main driver of sales growth – at home

4. Digital advertising to account for 30% of alcohol and spend in 2023, up from 21 per cent in 2019

The pandemic has forced the alcohol brand experience to move online

Alcohol brands are often not permitted to directly encourage extra consumption. Alcohol consumption is in any case deeply embedded in the culture of each country and is not subject to rapid change. Instead, brands have grown through a process of premiumisation – getting consumers to drink better instead of drinking more. This is something spirits brands have been more successful at than beer brands. The consumption of both beer and spirits remained essentially static between 2016 and 2019, according to Euromonitor International, but the value of beer sales grew by 3 per cent a year, while spirit sales grew by 7 per cent.

Premiumisation means persuading drinkers to trade up to higher-value products that provide better experiences, by building brand image and experience through mass-reach communication. Alcohol brands, therefore, rely heavily on television and out-of-home advertising, spending twice as much on television as the average brand and nearly four times as much on out-of-home.

Alcohol brands devoted 49 per cent of their budgets to television in 2020, compared to 24 per cent for the average brand, and 19% to out-of-home advertising, compared to 5 per cent. This tactic has become less effective as audiences shift to digital media, though, particularly the young consumers most likely to visit a new bar and try out a new drink.

Alcohol brands have historically been slow to commit to digital advertising, devoting less than half as much of their budgets to it than the average brand in 2020. That’s changing rapidly now. The closure of hospitality venues meant that brands needed a new route to market. Breweries, distilleries, bars, and restaurants diversified into direct-to-consumer shipping and takeaway drinks, facilitated by e-commerce and advertised heavily on digital media, particularly social media. Alcohol brands increased their spending on digital media from 21 per cent of budgets in 2019 to 24 per cent in 2020.

Seeking to create compelling brand experiences at home instead of at the bar, drinks companies invested in owned assets such as brand websites and educational content. Spirits brands were particularly prominent, using influencers and trade partners to teach consumers to mix their own cocktails, for example.

“Spirit brands have surpassed beer brands in terms of sales value by offering more premium experiences and rituals around their product and serve,” said Ben Lukawski, Global Chief Strategy Officer, Zenith. “With the pandemic taking audiences away from the on-trade we have seen a greater emphasis on bringing these premium experiences in the home through owned digital content.”

Consumers are now much more aware of the available options for buying alcohol online, and alcohol brands now have distribution networks in place to supply them. Zenith expects brands to expand their digital advertising to support alcohol e-commerce even after pubs and restaurants are fully open, fuelling 9.2 per cent annual growth in digital ad spend between 2019 and 2023 when digital advertising will account for 30 per cent of alcohol advertising budgets.

Zenith predicts alcohol brands will reduce their expenditure on television by 2.4 per cent a year to 2023, compared to the 2019 baseline, as traditional broadcast audiences continue to shrink. Out-of-home advertising, by contrast, will grow by 1.1% a year, even taking into account the pandemic-induced reduction in foot and road traffic. Television’s declining reach makes out-of-home’s ubiquity even more valuable.

Alcohol advertising to recover from 2020 decline by 2023

Alcohol advertising shrank nearly twice as fast as the overall ad market in 2020, falling by 11.6 per cent compared to 6.4 per cent of the market as a whole, Brand finances were squeezed by reductions in consumption volume, the average price per drink, and profit margins. With bars, pubs and restaurants closed, consumers drank less alcohol and bought the drinks they did consume from shops where they cost less, with a much lower mark-up. Brands cut back their marketing sharply to protect their bottom lines, and their combined ad spend fell from US$7.6bn in 2019 to US$6.7bn in 2020.

Brands are now bringing money back into the market as vaccine programmes have consumers socialising in person again, and the hospitality industry has begun to reopen. But the return to normality will be slow, and alcohol ad spend will still be 8 per cent below the 2019 level by the end of 2021, at US$7.0bn. Zenith does not expect alcohol advertising to exceed the pre-pandemic peak until 2023 when it will reach US$7.7bn.

Western Europe to enjoy the fastest recovery after suffering steepest downturn

Zenith forecasts Spain, the UK, Germany and France to be the stand-out growth markets, with annual growth rates between 2020 and 2023 of 28 per cent, 21% per cent, 10 per cent and 8 per cent respectively. That’s because these markets, where drinking in bars, pubs or restaurants is an engrained aspect of normal social life, suffered the steepest drops in spending when lockdowns were imposed. During 2020, alcohol advertising fell by 52 per cent in Spain, 48 per cent in the UK, 22 per cent in Germany and 23 per cent in France. Their rapid recovery will return them to roughly where they were in 2019 by 2023.

“The alcohol industry has suffered more from the pandemic than most, and that was reflected in the steep drop in ad spend last year,” said Jonathan Barnard, Head of Forecasting, Zenith. “The recovery won’t be as dramatic as the downturn, but investment in digital communication will drive steady growth in alcohol advertising for the next few years.”

Cover image: Eaters Collective on Unsplash