Sober October: Are Alcohol-Free Drinks for Abstainers or Moderation Seekers?

With an increase in the number of sober-curious and/or health-conscious consumers attempting to reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption, chances are you or someone you know has participated in “Dry January.” Now, fueled by a growing post-pandemic ‘zero proof’ trend, the rise of “Sober October” is upon us — a pregaming reset for the holidays achieved by eschewing alcohol for the month. 

Along with interest, the number and quality of alcohol-free brands is quickly expanding. With a questioning eye toward younger, altruistic, health conscious, and/or current drinkers, many alcohol-free beverage creatives have aired digitally with messaging all over the map as brands test and trial to determine what will resonate and whom to target. 

So what’s the best way for these up and coming products to engage likely purchasers and spur trial? After analyzing the effectiveness of 22 alcohol-free video creatives using Ace Metrix Creative Assessment, we uncovered the following key takeaways for brands in the emerging category.

Entice With Previously Off-Limit Activities, but Beware of Kids and Driving

Heineken 0.0, the most heavily advertised alcohol-free beverage brand, has capitalized on its advertising prowess with well-produced Funny/Quirky narratives depicting opportunities to enjoy the taste of a great brew in situations where alcohol is strictly off limits. In the brand’s 0:30 “Parking,” a man pulled over on the roadside reveals to the officer that his beer is Heineken 0.0, only to be shown he is being ticketed for being in a “no parking” zone.

Creative assessment shows this spot boasted an overall Ace Score 17% over alcohol-free norms and ranked first in Likeability (+22%) and Attention (+17%) while also being seen as Informative (+15%). Viewers connected with the Ingenious storytelling as the spot channeled Curiosity and the replacement opportunity messaging that “now you can before driving.”

Even among spirits and/or beer drinkers, however, ads that conveyed ‘drinking’ in situations involving automobiles and/or children sparked concern. Viewers sensed that those portrayals were a bit Exploitative and Inappropriate – which the Heineken ad experienced.

A similar but more visually-centric approach worked well for Athletic Brewing Company, employing Cinematic scenes of active situations in which the beverage can be consumed from hiking to pre-gaming, post-gaming and sunrise. Viewers rated the visuals the Single Best Thing about the creative at twice the rate of other alcohol-free ads. “Athletic Beer Fit for All Times” outperformed norms on every performance aspect and ranked third in Relevance (+13 points). Creative assessment points to its breakthrough ability and Relatability as driving healthy consideration (a chart-topping 67% among beer drinkers) — all while delivering the message without polarizing or Exploiting. Unfortunately, painfully low brand recall (41% unaided) limits this video creative’s potential. 

While Partake Brewing’s “Cheers to Adulting” also drove Curiosity by eliminating drinking limitations, the video ad struggled to grab Attention and fell below norm on Likeability – likely driven by disengaging opening visuals of a darkened room and Exploitative scenes (lesser so among beer drinkers) of adults pushing strollers while ‘drinking’.

FOMO Works,Too 

Other alcohol-free brands have leaned into the ritualistic nature of imbibing while socializing (something most of us are dearly craving following long COVID restrictions) by presenting situations commonly seen in alcohol ads. With quality and taste profiles that have come a long way in a few short years, the teetotaler doesn’t have to feel as though they are missing out.

Among the general population, Ritual Zero Proof drove the strongest Thirsty response and best consideration of the ads reviewed (53% Top 2 Box) by being the most Informative (+14% more than the average alcohol-free ad). Of course, creative quality matters too, and Ritual delivered in “0% Alcohol.100% Delicious” by featuring Attention-getting visuals with clear text overlays and visuals of the products available, to outpace every alcohol-free performance norm. 

Don’t Ignore the Drinkers in the Room 

Trends remained similar among beer drinkers and spirits drinkers, suggesting a clear opportunity to target beyond non-drinkers and position the category as a normalized, no sacrifice, and tasty option to always have on hand — and not just for the sobriety-seeking, designated drivers, or pregnant in the room. Engaging creatives are key for this lesser-known segment, and clear branding and information on the product attributes and taste will seal the deal. With demand for nonalcoholic beverages surging 60% for the past year through July (according to Pattern data), the time for such brands to talk to consumers is now.

If you’re interested in emerging category creative trends and ad performance insights, such as alcohol-free beverages, contact iSpot to learn more about how we help top brands assess creative effectiveness.