Alcohol Packaging as a Promotional Tool: A Focus Group Study With Young Adult Drinkers in Scotland
Little research has been conducted on consumer perceptions of alcohol packaging as a marketing tool. The aim of this study was to explore how young adults view and engage with alcohol packaging.
Eight focus groups were conducted in Glasgow (Scotland) with current alcohol users (n = 50), segmented by age (18–24, 25–35), gender (female, male), and social grade (ABC1, C2DE). Participants were shown, allowed to handle, and asked about a range of alcoholic products.
Five main themes emerged from the data.
- The ubiquity of alcohol packaging, with frequent exposure reported in different settings, such as shops and alcohol use venues, and via marketing.
- The appeal, with pack graphics (e.g., color), structure (e.g., shape, size), and promotions (e.g., gifts, limited editions) allow alcohol packs to catch attention, enabling products to stand out on shelves, and helping to create product and brand liking, interest, and choice.
- Alcohol packaging was frequently associated with specific occasions and activities.
- Alcohol packaging informed perceptions of product-consumer targeting, suitability, and intended drinker profiles.
- Alcohol packaging also engaged nonvisual senses (e.g., touch, sound, smell), guiding expectations of product taste and palatability.
For young adult alcohol users in Scotland, alcohol packaging can capture attention, create appeal, and help shape perceptions of the product, alcohol user, and alcohol use experience.
This research conducted by the University of Stirling and supported by Alcohol Focus Scotland looked at how the packaging of alcohol products is used as a marketing tool. The researchers found that alcohol packaging significantly impacts capturing the attention of, and creating appeal amongst, young people. Packaging also helps shape perceptions of the product, alcohol user, and alcohol use experience.
Participants of the study saw alcohol packaging in different settings. This included shops, alcohol use venues, marketing, advertising and on media such as TV, movies, social media and the internet.
Most of the participants remembered packaging that stood out from the rest. These packagings were appealing to them because they were different, interesting, or aesthetically pleasing. Some participants reported buying certain products just for the packaging appeal.
Package design such as color, graphics, and structure enhanced appeal. Most participants were attracted to sleek and distinctive shapes.
Packaging size mattered depending on the alcohol use occasion. Larger packs were preferred if a lot of alcohol was going to be consumed since it was deemed economical. Smaller grab-and-go type packaging encouraged public alcohol use since the small size made it easier to conceal and thus, helped avoid the attention of the police or security.
On-pack promotions such as gifts and prizes increased the appeal of products. Sponsorships such as those linked with sports, festivals, or TV shows also increased appeal. Most participants thought price marks on packaging indicated inferior products. Limited edition packaging was also appealing and an incentive to buy alcohol. Participants often collected and displayed empty bottles which were either expensive or looked “cool”.
Participants associated certain alcohol products with distinctive occasions. Such as Smirnoff and Gordon’s for socializing and nights out; Budweiser for watching football at home and at parties; and Strongbow and Blossom Hill for festivals, outdoor alcohol use, or use before going out.
Participants were aware of who was being targeted by the different packages and deemed what was appropriate to use regarding gender and age from the packaging. Packaging was also used as an indicator by some regarding the taste of the product.
Our study demonstrates that the packaging of alcohol products is an important marketing communications vehicle, as it is for other fast-moving consumer goods. It can elicit expectations, influence purchasing decisions, and encourage purchase. As expressed by participants, alcohol packaging conveys messages of consumer-product suitability and acceptability, creating enduring brand impressions and reinforcing the perception that alcohol is a desirable product via pack structure, graphics, and promotions,” said Daniel Jones from the Institute for Social Marketing and Health, lead researcher of the study as per the University of Stirling News.
The significant promotional role of packaging requires further consideration, as attractive features may limit the effectiveness of warnings,” he added.Daniel Jones, the Institute for Social Marketing and Health
These findings suggest that stronger regulations on alcohol packaging could have benefits for reducing alcohol use among young people. In contrast to cigarette product packaging alcohol packaging is currently completely unrestricted.
To turn the tide of alcohol-related harm we need to introduce measures to restrict and regulate all forms of alcohol marketing, in line with World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations. Mandating health warnings on alcohol products would help to counter the attractiveness of packaging and address current low levels of knowledge of alcohol harm,” said Alison Douglas, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, as per the University of Stirling News.
The Scottish Government has already committed to a consultation on alcohol marketing, expected later this year. We hope to see comprehensive restrictions introduced which include improving alcohol labeling.”Alison Douglas, Chief Executive, Alcohol Focus Scotland