How Instagram fuelled the rise of the super-premium drinks consumer

Social media has created a generation of drinkers willing to spend to be seen in the very best light, says Joanna Davies, chief executive of agency network ZAK Media.

Premiumisation: is it here to stay?
Premiumisation: is it here to stay?

The desire to "see and be seen" was normally fulfilled by the sexy nightclubs we visited on a Saturday night. Your very presence at the latest "in" haunt was enough for people to build an image of your lifestyle and persona. Not anymore.

With mobile phones now glued to our fingertips 24/7, apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have become extensions to ourselves allowing us to show how sophisticated/cool/edgy/experimental (delete as appropriate) we are through a simple image (maybe with a fancy filter thrown over it) of our choice of drink on a Saturday night.

Self-branding

Whether made at home in a 1920s-inspired cocktail shaker or by a bearded gent in a suitably swanky high street bar; posting pictures of our tipple du jour is the trend of the moment.

Glassware, theatrical serves, colour, texture, treasure chests, teapots, elegant tall boys and chunky chiselled tumblers are all an expression of who we are and how we want to be seen – the drinker’s selfie, so to speak.

It’s like the 5:2 diet: we can eat nothing for two days if we know for five days we can feast like kings

The smarter the brand we are drinking, the better. Enter the rise in consumption of the super premium and ultra premium spirit brands.

Recessionary times change how we think, how we spend and how we drink. Culturally and socially, the impact of the long economic downturn has resulted in the bottom falling out of the middle market where consumers trade down on their day-to-day brands, while trading up for their weekly or monthly "treats".

Research has proven that this polarising behaviour makes us feel better by giving us a little luxury to keep us going while we chomp down our value beans on our value toast.

It’s like the 5:2 diet: we can eat nothing for two days if we know for five days we can feast like kings.

This phenomenon is heavily documented, but add to this the trend of consumers seeking the social currency that spirit knowledge and expertise gives us, and suddenly bar tenders become hybrid scientists, entertainers and professors that we’re keen to learn from.

Our desire to be master hosts at home have led consumers to become more inquisitive (be it through asking bar tenders hundreds of questions) and open to trying something different.

This is while becoming spirit connoisseurs and trying to appreciate the subtle difference of a diamond or charcoal filtered vodka, proving the "garlic bread" era of the early 90s is very much dead.

Couple this with the booming economies of emerging markets such as China and Russia, and you have the perfect environment for the emergence of super premium and ultra premium spirit brands.

There is an opportunity for the high-end alcoholic drinks market to continue to grow but the reality is that this is a small proportion of the total spirits sales in the UK compared to the real volume opportunities in markets such as the US, China and Russia.

With an already saturated premium market, super and ultra premium brands face the challenge of how they can stand out among competitors – whether on the supermarket shelf or behind the bar.

The challenge they face is finding the best way to communicate to their market in this very difficult environment.