The femme fatale who sensually savours a pink cocktail. The giggling gang enjoying a fruit-flavoured drink from a slender bottle on a ladies night out. Or the crowd of bros watching sports and making macho jokes with a giant pint in hand. The alcohol industry is still giving in to lazy gender stereotypes and sexist representations. It’s not only ethically questionable, it’s also unrealistic.
In every industry, women and men are challenging the stereotypical qualities associated with gender. People are rejecting gender norms from the clothes they wear to the toys they buy for their children, and shunning brands that perpetuate strict norms.
More companies are getting the message, and making the changes consumers want to see: Mattel’s latest Barbie commercial featured a little boy, Selfridges have produced a genderless fashion line, and even video games creators are starting to embrace gender-fluidity.
Yet most alcohol marketing stubbornly clings to and portrays outdated gender stereotypes. In this intensely competitive industry, can alcohol companies really afford to hold on to clichés that consumers are tired of? Wouldn’t alcohol marketing benefit from reflecting people’s thirst for diversity?
In a context when every brand is earnestly trying to make a statement about gender, there is space for an industry to lighten up that conversation and step away from emotion-laden, piano-arpeggio anthems and into irreverent, provocative, bold creativity.
Look around: women and men are ordering the same drink in bars, going wine-tasting together and clinking shot glasses at the end of a night out. Recent attempts in the alcohol industry to reflect this fluidity have unfortunately only reinforced stereotypes though; with products like fruit-flavoured whiskey for women and marketing tactics like #brosé to liberate men from feeling effeminate when they drink pink wine. It feels like the alcohol industry has lost touch with the reality its consumers live in.
Here’s proof: women are driving the whiskey renaissance, and now account for 37% of whiskey drinkers in the U.S. (vs. 15% in the 1990s) while men’s rosé purchases increased 41% in 2014. (vs. 1% for the total table wine market in the same time frame.)
I’m not saying that the alcohol industry must become the flag bearer of gender-neutral advertising. We’ve seen many – too many – brands take on that responsibility over the past two years. But there is a great opportunity for growth, disruption and creativity in this industry.
Drink brands can tell loads of stories, but most of all tell a tale of people coming together. It’s a social moment: when individuals from all walks of life meet, chat, exchange. Creative thinking in this industry could be focused on celebrating these moments of diversity and how differences (gender and otherwise) are forgotten in good times.
Putting people into boxes is the enemy of creative and progressive thinking. But seeing the world as it is – a diverse mix of individuals – and catering to this diversity is what fuels creativity. And doing it with wit, irreverence and boldness is the next step in a conversation that is currently stuck in the past.
Alexandra Matine is a senior strategist at 72andSunny Amsterdam