Reflecting reality

Reflecting reality

Heineken’s message for whisky marketers

Thoughts from... | 27 Mar 2020 | Issue 166 | By Becky Paskin

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What’s your drink: beer or a cocktail? I’m betting the answer depends on the occasion. Sometimes only an ice-cold beer will hit the spot, but there are moments when a rich, waxy Old Fashioned is called for. Your decision is probably not based on is your gender. It’s a subliminal truth highlighted in Heineken’s cheeky yet pointed new advertising campaign that challenges the stereotypes associated with certain drinks.

In a light-hearted montage waiters consistently confuse drink orders, serving cocktails to women and bottles of Heineken to men, who swiftly exchange their drinks with baffled expressions and awkward eye rolling.

Maud Meijboom, brand development and communications director at Heineken, said the idea for the campaign was “inspired by real life experiences that everyone can relate to. Breaking down these stereotypes involves acknowledging them and we wanted to do this in an entertaining way through our hero, film. We want to remind people around the world that everyone should feel free to enjoy the drink they prefer.”
It’s an empowering message that hopefully gives men and women the confidence to order whatever the hell they want at the bar without intimidation, be that a pink cocktail with sparklers or a tumbler of whisky. But Heineken is also highlighting the still too-relevant issue of unconscious gender bias in bars. Men may feel intimidated when ordering a flamboyant cocktail, but women also continue to face discrimination.
For many female whisky drinkers this is a problem that persists, yet still isn’t being appropriately addressed.

Heineken’s diversification from its traditionally masculine focus comes at a time when hard seltzers and their gender-neutral marketing are stripping away beer’s market share in the US. It’s a strategy that’s also working for The Glenlivet. In the US, where women account for around 35 per cent of whisky drinkers, the Scotch single malt’s following is 50/50.

People who’ve followed my own writing and work with the @OurWhisky campaign will know this has been a subject close to my heart for some time. Studies show that when people, of any age, gender or ethnicity, see themselves represented in advertising they feel an affinity with said product. The key to encouraging more women into whisky is for producers to take a punt on gender-neutral advertising.

Last year OurWhisky conducted an analysis of the Instagram accounts belonging to the world’s best-selling whisky brands across Scotch, American, Irish, Japanese and Canadian categories. We analysed the accounts of those brands selling more than 100,000 cases per year and which have more than 10,000 followers – the brands with the biggest reach and the greatest influence.

Of the posts published in 2018 that contained images of people, only a quarter featured a woman, while just 13 per cent were non-white. For one whisky brand, which is spearheading its entire category, white men accounted for 86 per cent of those portrayed. When men are almost exclusively portrayed in whisky advertising, is it any wonder the world considers it a “man’s drink”?

It affects how writers portray whisky drinkers on screen and in print

The problem is that gender stereotyping is infectious. Not only does it influence public perceptions (including those of bartenders), it affects the news and entertainment industries and how writers portray whisky drinkers on screen and in print; it becomes self-perpetuating.

Which is why it’s so exciting to see more and more whisky brands featuring women in their marketing.

The nature of magazine publishing schedules means I’m writing this ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, but I reckon we’ll all have seen at least a few social media posts from whisky brands highlighting their diverse workforces and praising their female team members. It’s a wonderful thing to celebrate half of the world’s population, but let’s not restrict that to just one day a year. Whisky is a drink men and women enjoy year-round. Just like beer, it’s time whisky marketing reflected that.
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