Bars, pubs and clubs deliver a youth-oriented audience that is increasingly difficult to reach through traditional media channels. No-one will be surprised to learn that, according to recent research, 77 per cent of 18- to 19-year-olds and 86 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds visited a pub, bar or club at least once in the past year.
The emergence of new leisure chains in the past decade has ensured this is a slickly managed environment these days, especially in the downtown areas of the nation's cities. There has been a shift from the traditional pub to branded, audience-focused chains targeting a wide range of what are termed "lifestyle needs" and focused on specific demographic groups.
Some might mourn the demise of the traditional local, but the pub chains argue that they have actually changed hundreds of characterless boozers into thriving social centres.
It has become an increasingly sophisticated commercial environment, too.
Eleven of the top 20 city-centre pub and bar chains in the UK (ranked by Mintel, including Luminar, Yates, Chicago Rock Cafe, Slug & Lettuce, Litten Tree, Bar Med and Ha Ha Bars) increasingly rely on washroom ads and bar promotions as a growing element of their revenue streams.
The notable exception is Wetherspoons - and this is significant, given that it is the market leader by volume, with around 500 pubs and 60 Lloyds cafe bars. That, of course, may change. Meanwhile, the existing sector has been boosted by recent licencing law changes. Extended drinking hours will have a dramatic effect on the dwell times in bars - the current average is between two and three hours.
Drinkers are able to spend more time in the venues than ever before, with many licensees typically opening for an extra hour or two on Friday and Saturday. This, the British Beer and Pub Association says, will lead to more varied closing times, putting to an end to the 11 o'clock last-orders rush, with punters drinking against the clock and all leaving the pubs at the same time. The result, they argue, will be more sensible drinking habits. We shall see.
The leading specialist in this sector is Admedia, which sells advertising opportunities in 1,000 of the leading pubs, clubs and bars nationwide and claims to deliver 130 million adult impacts every four weeks. Its formats include branded glasses, bar runners, matchbooks, mirror stickers, urinal stickers, door stickers, ashtrays, DJ interaction, scratch cards, bar staff T-shirts, lollipops and competitions.
Its biggest recent innovation was the introduction of talking posters, which run sound files derived from the audio creative of an advertiser's TV or radio campaign. It has also trialled "rip off and take away" direct-response cards. This format, the company says, plays to the strengths of washroom media as one of the more intimate and accessible forms of poster advertising.
But at its most simple, this is still the good old-fashioned beer-mat medium. About 25,000 UK venues are geared up to take beer-mat advertising and recently this format has been used by the likes of Nokia, Nestle, O2, T-Mobile, Ladbrokes and UIP. Last, but by no means least, bars are an important environment for postcard advertising.
MAJOR PLAYERS: Admedia, Boomerang Media, Hi-Tech Media, Addmirror
WHAT'S NEW: Audio posters, direct-response tear-offs
CASE STUDY - T-Mobile
Brand: T-Mobile U-Fix
Brief: Drive awareness of T-Mobile U-Fix by engaging with the core
target audience of 18- to 24-year-olds in their social time.
Length of campaign: Four weeks
Inventory used: Wall-to-wall branding in more than 800 bars and clubs nationwide, including scratchcards, shot glasses, bar runners, staff T-shirts, matchbooks, stickers, drinks coasters, talking posters and DJs.
Results: The campaign reached at least 13 million 18- to 24-year-olds. Prompted awareness of the T-Mobile campaign reached 80 per cent among the core audience.
Client testimonial: Sam Taylor, T-Mobile UK's ad manager: "When you target 18- to 24-year-olds, it's imperative to engage them with your brand. Pubs and clubs allowed us to achieve this."