The Institute of Alcohol Policy Studies (IAS) released a new report on the marketing and consumption of no and low alcohol products (NoLo). The report was written by Dr. Emily Nicholls, a Lecturer in Sociology, University of York, UK.
The report includes no and low alcohol products – or NoLo – which have alcohol content from 0.0 to 1.2% ABV.
In the UK, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), for products to be considered alcohol-free (AF) they must have an ABV of 0.05% or less. Most alcohol products sold in the NoLo category have more alcohol content than 0.05 ABV. The DHSC recommends the term ‘de-alcoholized’ for products with an ABV between 0.5 and 1.2%. However, most products in the category are not marketed with this term. The report found that this categorization mismatch has caused some confusion among people as well. Participants in the study did not distinguish between no and low alcohol products and referred to products with over ABV 0.05% as alcohol-free.
The NoLo category is growing rapidly in the UK. In 2019 it was valued at £115 million by Light Drinks. NoLo beer has recently been identified as one of the ‘fastest-growing drinks trends in the UK’. Sales of NoLo beer increased by 58% in 2019 compared to the previous year.
Considering the lack of research into the NoLo trend, this study examined the latest campaigns and marketing materials of two big NoLo brands: Heineken 0.0 and Seedlip spirits. The research also conducted 15 semi-structured interviews with 15 people who consume NoLos.
Key findings of the report
The research found some problematic and unethical ways in which Big Alcohol is marketing NoLos.
- Addition marketing. This means NoLo is marketed by alcohol companies as a product to use in addition to alcohol products. Such as on occasions where using alcohol is not an option.
- For example, 25% of the time, Heineken 0.0 was marketed in the “workplace of productivity” category.
- Heineken 0.0 was also marketed in cars or the gym.
- Heineken also exploited the Dry January campaign to market Heineken 0.0.
- Stealth marketing. This means promoting the alcohol brand as a whole, which includes alcoholic products and not just the NoLo products.
- This is an indirect marketing strategy that circumvents alcohol marketing laws that would apply to usual alcohol products.
The report also found the alcohol industry fueled three harmful trends with their NoLo campaigns:
- Reinforce stereotypes around gender and alcohol use.
- Continue to position alcohol use as the norm.
- Make health claims or associations that confuse consumers.
Movendi International already exposed Big Alcohol’s subversive strategy of using the NoLo trend to market their main alcohol brands and products, thus, driving more alcohol consumption and maximizing profits.
Heineken 0.0 promotions deploy Big Alcohol’s usual strategies
Across the materials, Heineken 0.0 was positioned not as a long-term product of choice for abstainers, but a temporary substitute for ‘real’ beer in settings where consuming alcoholic products may be illegal (driving), inappropriate (the office), or temporarily undesirable (Dry January),” writes Dr. Emily Nicholls, a Lecturer in Sociology, University of York, UK, in the report.Dr. Emily Nicholls, Lecturer in Sociology, University of York, UK
Heineken positions its 0.0 product as something additional to the normalized alcohol settings or occasions.
However, participants were not fooled. They found these types of marketing skeptical.
I don’t want to introduce it into [new] places in my life. I want it to be in place of alcohol…, ” said Hannah, a 30-year-old study participant of the study, as per the report.
They are saying, ‘Have this as well as alcohol in different situations.’ That isn’t what I want to do with it.”Hannah, 30-year-old study participant
Heineken marketed their overall brand extensively in the guise of Heineken 0.0 advertisements in sports. Over 25% of Instagram posts and 25% of hashtags were sports-related. The posts were related predominantly to the sponsorship of UEFA (football) or to Formula One (motor-racing). This mirrors the usual Big Alcohol strategies in sports marketing which Movendi International has exposed extensively. Alcohol – a harmful and unhealthy substance – should have no place in sports, which is considered a health promoting activity by many.
The report notes that sports sponsorship is a way in which the alcohol industry increases brand awareness and encourages consumption. Participants of the study observed that the Heineken 0.0 bottle is almost the same as the normal Heineken bottle.
I don’t know how they can get away with it. To be honest, part of me would rather them just promote actual Heineken because it’s the principle of it,” said Georgie, a 22-year-old participant of the study, as per the report.
It’s just the principle of it that’s annoying because it’s not promoting alcohol-free beer, it’s promoting your brand… You see Heineken rolling around the screens at the bottom of the thing. Half time, what are you thinking about? Heineken! And then you go and get a pint.”Georgie, 22-year-old participant of the study
Diageo’s hypocrisy: Seedlip marketed to the environment-conscious young people
Seedlip was bought by alcohol giant Diageo in 2016. Seedlip marketing uses a different marketing strategy to Heineken 0.0. Seedlip marketing tries to sell an aspiration and lifestyle, a strategy that is seen in targeted alcohol marketing as well. Seedlip exploits values such as linking with a community, high-status lifestyle, environmental consciousness to sell their product.
“Nature” was the theme of 40% of Seedlip’s sampled Instagram posts. 35% were categorised as “nature/ conservation”. Seedlip promotes the product as eco-conscious with recycling, reduced packing, and supposed carbon-neutral delivery.
Seedlip is aligning with the “young, middle-class, environment conscious, urban” consumers who are seen to be driving the NoLo trend.
The more subtle marketing strategy of Seedlip seems to be working for the brand and Diageo. Participants were aware of their motivations of linking with both health and envrionmental consciousness. But, they did not appear skeptical of this type of marketing the same way as for Heineken 0.0.
Seedlip’s marketing is contradictory to parent company Diageo’s actions. As Movendi International previously reported, alcohol production fuels the global climate crisis. Seedlip’s marketing is especially hypocritical considering their parent company, alcohol giant Diageo, being recently fined by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency for operating three of their Scottish sites for six years without the required environmental permits.
Policy recommendations by Dr. Emily Nicholls
Dr. Nicholls & the IAS note that NoLos can help reduce alcohol-related harm by offering an alternative, but these products can also exacerbate the problems through unregulated marketing.
The report recommends:
- Review and potentially restrict NoLo marketing.
- Incorporate NoLos in current public health campaigns around alcohol by positioning them as practical strategies to reduce weekly units and promoting the immediate beneficial effects of using to NoLos for mental and physical health.