Sober socialising

Could you forgo alcohol once or twice a week? More importantly, would you want to?

At the start of this year, I joined the 3.1 million Brits attempting to cut out alcohol for one month. I actually lasted until mid-March (I’d more than earned my birthday prosecco at that point) and I must say, I found it relatively easy. And, dare I say it, I actually enjoyed it!

It appears that I am not alone. The other day I stumbled across an article predicting that ‘sober socialising’ (i.e. socialising without drinking) will grow in 2018, particularly among 16-24 year-olds who reportedly drink less than their Millennial counterparts did – with a quarter stating that they do not drink at all (so they say!). In addition, we see a trend for alcohol moderation amongst Millennials – particularly during the week.

No doubt the two generations will have slightly different needs around ‘sober socialising’. For instance, if Gen Z really are drinking less, then their drinking habits, preferences and desires will be less engrained than their Millennial counterparts’. Furthermore, it’s likely that that the social expectation to drink (and the stigma around not drinking) is much greater for Millennials than for Gen Z where the drinking culture is not so heavily established. All of this will have a big impact on where they choose to socialise, when they choose not to drink and what they choose to drink instead.

Clearly, this presents an interesting opportunity for brands to understand emerging needs and to find new and innovative ways to tap into ‘sober socialising’. I’d also argue that the opportunity doesn’t just lie in developing alcohol-free versions of the real McCoy, but expands into the soft drinks category and the entertainment space.

Some brands and businesses have already started to respond to this demand. There’s a small – but growing – alcohol free drinks category (I should know because I’ve tried most of it!). Alcohol-free bars and nightclubs have started to emerge, and I noticed recently (on Instagram) that there’s a large number of wellness festivals gaining in popularity. (Think music festivals without the booze but with lots of spinning classes and cooking demos,)

I’m very interested to see how response to this trend continues to grow. From a selfish point of view I would love to have more variety and better quality options; particularly better tasting alcohol-free variants and more availability in the on-trade to avoid those awkward ‘I’m not drinking tonight’ moments.

Brands…it’s over to you.

Kim Jong Un-branded

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has always fascinated me. In a global world where branding can be so influential, the DPRK has kept its distance. Just imagine a world without, Heinz, Nike, McVities and the like…though I suppose it’s a classic case of not knowing what you’re missing. I mean, we all love brands, right? (Don’t kid yourself, those own label chopped tomatoes don’t count.) In a highly competitive marketplace, branding and design is the foundation for success. Something forcing companies to strive to constantly be better; surely that’s not a bad thing for us consumers? But what if everything was designed by the state? What then?

The DPRK’s political system has been described by some observers as a ‘hereditary dictatorship’ and an ‘absolute monarchy’, so I ask; what impact does that have on your bag of crisps or tin or sardines?! I went to the House of Illustration in London to find out.

Nicholas Bonner (tour guide and expert on North Korea) shares his collection of FMCG designs, travel tickets, invitations, postage stamps, hand-painted propaganda and more. I came away with a rare glimpse into what North Korean life is like. 

Due to the state’s structured training of graphic painters (in an attempt to ensure consistency), most of the designs feel identical. It’s almost as if the DPRK is the brand. There’s no variation and no choice. However, having worked on projects rebranding designs of beer/ale brands, I have to say that Pyongyang Beer wouldn’t look out of place in any craft pub in London. Though I’ve a feeling that none of their designs were tested in research… 

In more recent years, competition’s become established in many markets and technology is allowing hand-crafted designs to be replaced by digital imagery. There is a desire for the country to be seen on a level with foreign brands so much of the packaging is now characterized by flat block colour – as seen elsewhere in Asia.

Whilst it is all so intriguing, mysterious and insightful, I’m happy to know that in the UK there’s always a choice to make. There’s always a brand working harder or doing things differently.

P.S. if you want to check it out, the exhibition is only open until 13 May, 2018.