Is the importance of bartender advocacy for drinks brands going to hit a whole new level?
The ‘plain packaging’ threat to drinks is real.  In the same way that the European Union and other authorities have already imposed plain packaging laws on tobacco, governments around the world are considering outlawing branding on alcohol and high-sugar soft drinks, in order to help reduce harmful drinking and curb obesity. Think how much that would hit companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.  Imagine a can of Coke having all its iconic branding removed, becoming one standard colour (probably not red!), with the brand name written in a standardised, plain font.  Likewise, the same would go for alcohol brands…all the vodka brands would look the same, the gin brands would only be differentiated by name (but in the same font), the beer brands would look pretty much identical in terms of packaging, and so on…
Coupled with alcohol advertising most likely becoming even more restricted, the relationships between brands and bar professionals will surely become even more crucial.  What’s a consumer supposed to choose in the pub, when the back-bar is covered with homogenous bottles/packs?  Where will the ‘craft’ trend go if everything looks (and probably mostly is) mass produced?  I believe the bartender will become even more important to us consumers – we’ll need more advice than ever on which drink to choose on a night out.  It seems to me that bar professionals may well become the only group that will still be truly connected to the brands (via brand ambassadors, industry events, free trial of product, bar competitions and incentives etc.).  For now, drinks brands must continue to woo bartenders in any way they can.  If plain packaging happens, only those brands that are already in the hearts of the bartending community will cut through a market of, suddenly, ‘identical’ brands and reach consumers.
This article was written by Elty Dudley-Williams, Project Director