Major Spirit Brands - Experiential Advertising Trends

of one

Major Spirit Brands - Experiential Advertising Trends

Although we could not identify recent experiential marketing campaign trends among major spirit brands in Africa, the top experiential marketing trends for major spirit brands in North America and Europe focus on providing unique experiences in five general categories of brand activations: pop up bars, educational experiences, sampling campaigns, publicity stunts, and festival activations, although it is noted that these categories may overlap at some events. Examples of spirit brands utilizing these experiential marketing techniques in North America and Europe include (in no particular order) Jim Beam, Pernod Ricard, Bacardi, Bulleit Bourbon, Patron, The Macallan, Jack Daniels, Jose Cuervo, and Absolut, and we have provided details on at least one experiential marketing campaign in each category below.


In order to identify industry trends for experiential marketing campaigns among spirit brands, my colleagues and I first researched the "innate synergies" that preferentially predispose alcohol brands to find these marketing campaigns effective, yielding a list of five general categories of experiential marketing campaigns that are currently being utilized in this space. We then identified examples of experiential marketing campaigns launched by major spirit brands, classifying them by the type of campaign. We refined our research to focus on the North American, European, and African markets, and we only considered experiential marketing campaigns launched in the preceding 24 months. Additionally, we did not consider other types of alcohol (such as beer or wine) for this brief. Unfortunately, despite exhaustively researching this industry, we identified no recent experiential marketing campaigns by spirit brands in Africa, although we identified a good deal of information on older campaigns, which we excluded at your request. Thus, our findings for this project are focused on the European and North American markets.


Alcohol brands, including major spirit brands, are uniquely positioned to maximize the effectiveness of a well-crafted experiential marketing campaign. There are three "innate synergies" demonstrated by alcohol brands that predispose them to success when using this marketing style. First, alcohol consumption remains firmly linked to socializing. As a result, the overall tone of marketing for the alcohol industry has been influenced by years of successful efforts to associate alcohol brands with a social activity, such as a "girl's night out" or a weekend music festival. This relationship uniquely lends itself to spirit brands being able to capitalize on experiential marketing campaigns. Second, the face-to-face nature of socializing, which typically occurs in informal, relaxed contexts, allows consumers to more effectively absorb and appreciate a spirit brand's experiential marketing campaign. Finally, spirit brands have reaped the rewards of having "highly targeted audience demographics." For example, whiskey has traditionally been associated with style, taste, and sophistication. As a result, spirit brands are able to "carefully research appropriate venues for activations or sampling activities, so as to achieve maximum brand exposure amongst a target audience."

As a result of their unique position in an industry that primarily occurs in social contexts, spirit brands have utilized five categories of experiential marketing campaigns, which have been identified as both the most popular and the most successful. These types of campaigns include (in no particular order): pop up bars, educational experiences, sampling campaigns, publicity stunts, and festival activations. It is noted that these types of campaigns may overlap. For example, a pop up bar will typically offer sampling opportunities. However, we have used these categories as a general point of reference for key experiential marketing tactics utilized by major spirit brands.


1. Pop Up Bars

A pop up bar is an experiential marketing campaign that generates three important associations for the consumer. First, the pop up bar is a physical representation of a spirit brand. Speakeasies, with their "aura of mystery and appeal" are particularly popular activations for pop up bars. Second, the air of exclusivity generated by the appearance (and subsequent disappearance) of a pop up bar drives the media buzz and social media engagement necessary to generate exposure for a spirit brand. Finally, pop up bars provide consumers an opportunity to craft their own unique and unplanned experiences, to be shared with friends and social media followers. As a result, by hosting a pop up bar, spirit brands will "create a branded arena for those experiences, ensuring visitors will always associate the fun they had with ‘the time we visited X brand’s pop-up’."

We identified two examples of creative pop-up bars launched by major spirit brands in North America and Europe. First, Jack Daniels created Motel No. 7 in Brooklyn, New York. Motel No. 7 required guests to "check in" to the enormous warehouse, which featured "uniformed bellhops and leather-clad housekeepers," as well as other oddities, such as Jack the Janitor, Pool Sweethearts, and "Andrew W.K. officiating as Elvis." The pop up featured 25 different photo engagements for guests. Second, while The Macallan Residence was geared toward engaging influencers rather than the public, the immersive and exclusive experience demonstrated the incredible possibilities associated with pop up bars. The Macallan invited 700 guests to tour The Macallan 1824 series in London's Two Temple Place for two nights, boasting that "taste buds were enlightened, noses were educated, and iconic style choices were inspired."

2. Educational Experiences

One of the best activation strategies utilized in the alcohol industry is providing an opportunity for educational experiences with the product. Educational experiences allow spirit brands to educate consumers on the best ways to enjoy their beverages by providing a venue to learn tips, tricks, and new skills. There are a variety of educational experiences currently being offered by major spirit brands, such as masterclasses, food pairing opportunities, and serving tutorials. For example, during cocktail classes, consumers work alongside industry professionals and brand representatives to mix gourmet drinks. This type of campaign has three primary benefits. First, after brands present advice as experts on the subject matter, consumers respect the brand, absorb the content presented, and commit the advice to memory. Second, by improving consumer experience with the product, the brand demonstrates its willingness to provide value. Finally, as a result of providing educational experiences, spirit brands create a unique relationship with consumers. The brand demonstrates its respect for consumers, and consumers feel valued as "more than just a sale by the brand."
An example of an educational experience launched by a major spirit brand in Europe includes Absolut's "Madlab molecular" sessions in London. For only £30 per person, vodka fans learned during this cocktail masterclass to make foam with a blender, create carbonated beverages via "an instant infusion with a cream whipper and a nitrous oxide cartridge," and use a torch to caramelize sugar garnishes. We identified two additional educational experiences, heightened substantially by the clever use of technology. The first example includes Jim Beam's smart decanter. The product employs a "decanter­-turned-­virtual­-voice-­assistant" stored inside the decanter to answer questions about serving bourbon. The smart decanter is voiced by a master distiller, Fred Noe, and boasts it "has been engineered with 200 years of bourbon know-how." The second technologically advanced educational experience is an Amazon Show device, developed by Pernod Ricard. This product provides voice-activated, on-demand advice to consumers on cocktail mixing.

3. Sampling Campaigns

Sampling campaigns have traditionally been one of the most successful avenues for experiential marketing campaigns in the alcohol industry, as 78 percent of respondents in one survey indicated they were more likely to purchase a product after sampling it. For the alcohol industry, sampling events are crucial, as consumer purchasing decisions are motivated by taste and value. By creating a sampling campaign, spirit brands provide consumers with an opportunity to generate a positive opinion of a product in advance of a purchase, while simultaneously demonstrating their willingness to provide value. Additionally, sampling campaigns benefit from flexibility in organization, while permitting brands to identify target audiences as well as influence "consumer preferences close to the point of sale, both of which are proven to have a positive effect on sales."

While sampling campaigns are widespread among major spirit brands, a campaign launched by Patron is regarding as raising the bar for events of this nature. In addition to offering tequila cocktails, Patron worked with a chocolatier to offer an entire menu of Patron-infused foods, including "truffles, Mocha Patrón XO Café Macaroons, and other luscious baked goods." At Muddle Your Mojito stations, Patron simultaneously offered an educational experience during the sampling campaign, with bartenders available to assist attendees with selecting fresh fruit, muddling it, and mixing a cocktail. As a bonus, participants received a custom-engraved muddler.

4. Publicity Stunts

It is noted that "publicity stunts, when done correctly, are a valuable experiential tactic in any industry; however the informal nature of the alcohol industry allows brands to be more creative in their endeavours." The primary goal of a publicity stunt is to generate widespread exposure to media outlets, consumers, and influencers, often from a localized event. Unfortunately, brands may be trapped by the need to create increasingly more outrageous experiences in order to continue generating "viral" marketing campaigns, which decreases the likelihood of user engagement and participation. This outcome undermines the basic concept of experiential marketing, as it diminishes the emotional connection consumers feel to the brand.

Jose Cuervo made headlines for a publicity stunt on National Tequila Day in 2017, when the company "outfitted three water fountains to shoot tequila in Los Angeles" for one day. Two fountains were located in Hollywood with another on the boardwalk at Venice Beach. Arguable a publicity stunt and pop up bar in one, a press release from Jose Cuervo emphasized that the H2Cuervo campaign was representative of the company's values: "While other tequila brands focus on refinement and conformity, Jose Cuervo encourages all to fight the bland, live lively and embrace the now — because tomorrow is overrated."

5. Festival Activations

Perhaps the most broad category of experiential marketing campaigns, it has been noted that "the tried and tested combination of music, sunshine and drinking has been around for generations, and shows no signs of disappearing." However, our findings reveal that festivals are increasingly centered around visual arts and other cultural events, in addition to music. A disadvantage for many brands is the struggle to make their activations visible in congested surroundings, among a variety of corporate sponsors. As a result, it is critical to research the likes and dislikes of the target audience for each event to ensure the brand's "stage" is consistently active.

We identified a variety of festival activations among spirit brands, and the wealth of available examples of this type of experiential marketing campaign suggests that festival activations are "the perfect place to stage an activation." We identified four examples in North America and Europe. First, in conjunction with Swizz Beats and The Dean Collection, Bacardi launched the No Commission: Miami Art and Music Experience in Miami, Florida. This event boasted attendance by creative individuals from around the world for an "immersive art and music fair." Second, and also in Miami, Bulleit Bourbon worked with an artist, Lisa Schulte, to launch the Frontier Works Neon Project during Miami Art Week. A limited-edition collection, the artwork featured neon words and phrases captured in Bulleit Bourbon bottles. Third, the Governor's Ball Music Festival in New York City featured activations by brands such as Bacardi and Tito's, where festival participants engaged with brands by "sampling products, filling out surveys, signing up for mailing lists, and taking branded photos and uploading them to social media." Finally, Patron sponsored its own cultural event in 2016, The Art of Patron. This event was held in London, as a preview of a planned international event. The Art of Patron featured a virtual reality tour of the brand's flagship Mexican distillery and masterclasses with brand specialists.


In summary, the top five experiential marketing trends in the spirit industry space in North America and Europe include pop up bars, educational experiences, sampling campaigns, publicity stunts, and festival activations, frequently with some overlap between categories at these events.

Dive deeper

Only the project owner can select the next research path.
Need related research? Let's launch your next project!