Pourers & Puritans

Trend forecasters tell us that society’s attitudes to alcohol have changed[1]. Drinking occasions are adapting to new norms of living, from Generation Rent to the cult of the body. What hasn’t changed is the tabloids’ delight in reminding us that ‘booze Britain’ is far from gone.

So has our approach to advertising alcohol changed? Not really, and in light of increased health awareness we seem to be subconsciously fuelling guilt within the moderate drinker[2].

Put simply, I think a new culturally relevant approach to advertising alcohol[3] is needed. Recently Heineken did launch a global campaign focused on the plus side of moderate drinking; it’s just a shame it was wrapped up in the traditional sexism of booze ads, something social media was quick to jump on:

Is it a generational thing? The popular view of Gen Z abstinence is summed up in a quote from a recent research study: ‘..we have to stay sober to sort the mess you’ve left the world in..’ [4] while Millennials have proved themselves to consider alcohol only a part of their intoxication options[5], Boomers are still the heart of the passive alcoholism trend amongst the middle classes[6]. But appearances can be deceptive. I think there are really interesting opportunities in the manner and nature of these changing relationships with alcohol. Recently The Drum[7] reported we are potentially entering ‘a golden age for booze brands’. However this will only happen if brands are prepared for the challenge of stepping away from the conventions of the category. I think we are at a moment with huge potential for a new approach to alcohol advertising. One that is bold, relevant and legal.


Debate continues for appropriate legislation regarding the promotion and consumption of alcohol. The fact that experts still can’t agree whether the 1920 Prohibition act in the US was a success or a failure[8] highlights another key issue of marketing drink. Academic findings have significant implications for legislation, and therefore the happiness of a population. This means that political expedience, rather than common sense[9], dominates the field of study into our relationship with drink despite non-problematic drinking of alcohol being seen as normal in both statistical and sociological terms[10].


Many studies into the effects of alcohol and anti-social behaviour[11] have settled on the same conclusion. Cultural and social isolation are a cause, alcohol simply enables the timid to action.


This is clear right now in the Lincolnshire town of Boston, where a perfect storm of events sees the current Government struggling with welfare reforms, zero hour contracts and migration. The net result is the creation of the most divided town in the UK. This in turn has fuelled a debate and veritable tabloid frenzy surrounding local alcohol promotion and prohibition.


A major study last year[12] published the results of advertising’s impact on four decades of category sales in the US. A key finding was regarding advertising versus warnings on consumption levels. The authors closed the report stating that ‘advertising restrictions or bans with the purpose of reducing consumption may not have the desired effect’.


Indeed, while debating the new 2015 alcohol guidelines in the UK the department of health noted that ‘while guidelines might have limited influence on behaviour, they could be influential as a basis for government policies’ [13] .


The new guidelines that have emerged in the UK do not correspond to any other country in world and are, as the Financial Times said, ‘inherently contradictory’.


Again this points to an opportunity to reframe and refocus conversation about alcohol especially if it comes from the people who actually make the stuff.


It can be no coincidence that nations with a strong tradition of temperance entirely dominate the field of alcohol studies[14]. These studies are normally focused on problems with a minority rather than addressing the normality of drinking amongst the majority. Within the UK this has turned into something of a mini industry, funded in part by the various sides of the debate on Britain’s high taxation on the sale and manufacture of drink.


But hasn’t café culture and craft beer introduced a more reflective, responsible drinking culture to the UK? In reality, outside of London craft beer still only accounts for about 10% of sales. However, what I find interesting about the crossover of artisan culture into mainstream brewing is that no one can actually decide what craft beer actually is. At a recent industry roundtable[15] representatives from three of the leading players, Meantime (SABMiller) Camden Town (AB InBev) and Brewdog tried to define what craft ale was. Scale, production and independence were all discussed. But none agreed on. I presume the consumer is even less sure what they are buying when offered ‘craft’ ales.


Considering the desire amongst consumers for greater transparency in the descriptions of foodstuffs, the confusing issue of ‘Craft Ale’ needs to be fixed fast.


Interestingly AB InBev’s flagship brand Budweiser at this year’s Superbowl ran a follow up 60” film to last year’s ad the artisan-knocking ‘Made the hard way’. This year’s was a much more pointed attack on craft ale, glorying in big corporate American with the hash tag #NotBackingDown. Social media got in a froth by this with many craft brewers adopting the hash tag as their own product truth of what a craft beer stood for.


As mentioned before we are seeing genuine shifts in traditional relationships with drink[16]. An interesting landmark was that last year marked the end of ‘The Loaded Years’ with the closure of all of the main lads’ mag’ titles. So is this really generation sober? No, far from it. It’s just happening in a different way. One aspect of change is a key part of pub folklore, the underage drinker.


For generations comedians have mined the social discomfort of a teenager’s first foray into a licensed establishment.  We are now saying goodbye to this very British right of passage[17].

Many things contribute to this, from the re-design of pubs to the increasing awareness of the health consequences of drink[18][19] and simple affordability, plus more bars implementing ‘challenge 25’. All this means for Gen Z buying a pint in a traditional pub is a lot of hassle compared with how easy it is to source other forms of intoxication. Whether simple laughing gas or online sales of ‘legal’ highs[20].


Then there is the uniquely negative aspect of drinking this generation has acquired. It’s not just that they grew up with their uncool parents getting drunk at home[21], but under age drinking itself is no longer seen as in anyway rebellious.


Central thought is that the marketing of booze has not kept pace with societies’ dualist tendencies. This is very much the case in the UK. Despite centuries’ old traditions of the desire to get twatted, we have now entered a period of reflection on the role drink plays in our lives. If we keep marketing drink using current conventions, we will fuel guilt in consumers.


There is a basic human need for communal activity that alcohol plays a part in. But legislation and moral crusaders have molded a set of conventions for bland advertising. I see an opportunity for a new kind of story that addresses the change in knowledge and understanding that most of the population now demonstrates.


So join me in raising a glass to a new culturally relevant approach to advertising alcohol.


[1] Beyond the binge in ‘Booze Britain’ School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent.

[2] Guilt in Moderation Dr Curtis Ellison, professor of Medicine and Public Health at Boston University and co-director of The International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research

[3] How evidence-based are alcohol policies across the UK? N Fitzgerald Uni Stirling & C Angus Uni Sheffield Nov 2015

[4] Fiona Measham. Professor of Criminology at Durham University 2015

[5]  The UK consumed an average of 9.4 ltrs of alcohol per adult (15+) in 2014 down 19% from the 2004 peak and 10% lower than 2000. Portman Group + WSTA 2015

[6] Professor Jose Iparraguirre English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing. BMJ Open. July 2015

[7] The Drum 10/10/2015‘Alcohol trends, A potential marketing manifesto for brands’

[8] Alcohol prohibition as a public health innovation. US National Library of Medicine

[9] Paul Roman in 1991 “Alcohol studies must be liberated from justifying our existence in the political arena. Accepting the primacy of the social-problem significance of a phenomenon directs research primarily toward the political-problem issues rather than toward good quality science.”

[10] Social and Cultural Aspects of Drinking The Social Issues Research Centre OXFORD for the European Commission

[11] Southern Europeans drink more often but at less volume, with a far lower rate of binge drinking. In France, “le binge drinking” only officially entered the lexicon as ‘beuverie expres’s in 2013 The Guardian Feb 2015

[12] Gary B. Wilcox, Eun Yeon Kang & Lindsay A. Chilek (2015) Beer, wine, or spirits? Advertising's impact on four decades of category sales, International Journal of Advertising

[13] Health Spectator ‘The great alcohol cover up’ 10 Feb 2016

[14] The Cognitive and Behavioural Impact of Alcohol Promoting and Alcohol Warning Advertisements: 2015

[15] ‘Clash of the Titans’ Pub 2016 Seminar. Olympia London

[16] Trendreports.com/research/alcohol-marketing-trend-report 2015

[17] The proportion of young people in England (11-15 year olds) that have tried alcohol fell from 59% in 2000 to 39% in 2013. Portman Group

[18] Trendreports.com/Drinking-Trend-Report

[19] Contagious.io/articles/inebriated-erotica ‘The Sexometer’

[20] www.PlantFeedShop.com et al

[21] 16-24 Yr Olds in the UK do not consider alcohol to be important to their social lives (66%); and many of those who do drink believe that alcohol is more important to their parents’ social lives than to their own (41%).

In praise of chaos

Kings Cross pop-up wild swimming pool




Couple of interesting debates happening right now that are both covering the same broad issue. The Human desire for the unexpected. The need for an emotive random layer in our increasingly automated worlds.

There is significant chat right now about the best way to design interfaces[1] (or UX) between cool tech and bumbling humans.  Finally software is slowly gaining interfaces we don’t need a weeks training to operate. Speakers at a recent UX conference[2] in Zurich were encouraged to ‘Embrace the Chaos’ (of true human behaviour) to make better controls people could actually use.


There is similar debate raging about Privately Owned Spaces or POPS in our cities.  There is a justifiable perception that many city developments are pristine but soulless spaces. Full of signs informing people this is NOT a public space backed by men in high viz jackets to make sure order is kept. It doesn’t have to be this way.


The new Kings Cross development in London, is centred on Europe’s biggest new public space, Granary Square[3]. The developers, Argent[4], referenced ideas first set out in ancient Rome; The belief that a city should provide an inspiration and wonder, with the unexpected around any corner. In other words the plans of the development were reversed. The public areas planned first then the commercial properties fitted around that. To create a real human energy of place.


Geographer Bradley L Garrett[5] writing in The Guardian said ‘The problem with POPS is they lack that kind of energy. They feel too monitored, too controlled..’


What Argent have done in Kings Cross and to a lesser extent in their spaces in Manchester Piccadilly and Birmingham is create some element of the unexpected. Yes it’s still controlled, but not in a complete Truman Show fashion of developments like Canary Wharf.


The geographer David Harvey[6] said ‘..The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is…one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights..’


A Wired journalist[7] covering Audi’s driverless car project remarked how being in one was at first terrifying, but within 15 minutes became numbingly boring. We are adapting to our changing cityscapes with remarkable ease. We really don’t want the expected, pre-planned version. Our emotions demand spontaneity for a reassurance of reality. Research[8] by UCL and Otto von Guericke University prove our brains respond to a novelty of situation by seeking greater exploration in search of a reward. It’s well documented how shoppers speed up when walking past blank facades[9] So it’s not just architecture it’s the pulse of people on the street. The environmental psychologist and neuroscientist Colin Ellard[10] has recently been writing about how humans are happier, feel comfortable and are more productive when within cityscapes that offer novelty and impulse options.  


But this is not an invitation to simple reflect a happy smiley world


A smiling image in an ad is now perceived as fake. The upshot of this? The stock photolibaries like Shutterstock[11] are reporting a doubling in demand for images showing ‘sadness’ – with even ‘Fear’ being selected nearly twice as often as ‘surprise’ A non-perfect world is the new perfect world, see also TV chefs[12] championing ugly fruit and veg


But what does this mean for the spaces we inhabit, both digitally and in the real world?


We need the odd bump in the road. We desire the unexpected, the experience of the new. Whether it’s an Instagram feed or a public space with a pop-up food truck. The psychologist Danial Goleman said;  ‘Emotion plays a powerful role in our lives and has gained significant attention as a priority area of study in interaction design’.[13]


Consumers will enthusiastically spend money on a place or event that promises the unexpected.


It has been shown that increased loyalty and productivity come from environments that facilitate the needs of social and physical group dynamics[14]. It’s no wonder that Secret Cinema[15] the immersive film experience of the second Star Wars film ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ has been a sell out[16], that’s £75[17] a ticket for a film released in 1980. The promise being of course is a layer of humanity and a little chaos added to the film going experience. Something so devoid of a traditional Multiplex visit.


We are now seeking this element of spontaneity whether online or in the real world. It’s what is driving many to rethink how we use our spaces.


We are currently working with the Sheffield Business Improvement District (BID) team developing ideas to make the city centre a more vibrant place to be in.  This is a project of both digital and real world challenges, but all linked by a human desire for the unexpected.


The unique layout of Sheffield City Center has the opportunity to beguile its visitors not with an enclosed glass box of identikit retail but with a passion and soul of a living community celebrating its cultural differences[18].


It is through embracing the joy of human chaos we will make both our public spaces more fun to be in and our online tasks more enjoyable.



[1] IBM and Econsultancy, “The Consumer Conversation: The experience void between brands and their customers,” April 2015.

[2] http://lanyrd.com/2015/frontend-conference-zurich/

[3] http://www.kingscross.co.uk/granary-square


[5] http://www.bradleygarrett.com

[6] http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/apr/12/owen-hatherley-rebel-cities-harvey

[7] http://www.wired.com/2015/01/rode-500-miles-self-driving-car-saw-future-boring/

[8] Absolute Coding of Stimulus Novelty in the Human Substantia Nigra/VTA "Pure Novelty Spurs The Brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 August 2006

[9] Danish urbanist Jan Gehl. Urban Design Consultant and Professor of Urban Design at the School of Architecture in Copenhagen

[10] Places of the Heart. Colin Ellard 2015 Bellevue Literary Press

[11] http://www.shutterstock.com 2015 Design and Emotion study

[12] http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jan/01/jamie-oliver-leads-drive-to-buy-misshapen-fruit-and-vegetables + http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/dec/21/supermarkets-wonky-misshapen-fruit-vegetables

[13] http://www.eiconsortium.org/members/goleman.htm

[14] https://www.experiencedynamics.com/blog/2004/08/design-and-emotion

[15] http://www.secretcinema.org

[16] http://www.guardian-series.co.uk/leisure/latest/13492755.Secret_Cinema__The_Empire_Strikes_Back__expensive_but_epic/

[17] http://www.screendaily.com/news/secret-cinema-the-empire-strikes-back-review/5089352.article

[18] http://www.countryfile.com/news/sheffield-voted-best-uk-city-countryside-lovers

Too much of a good thing?

Not so long ago, it seemed so cool to share your location, but now social apps like location, check-in Foursquare appear like a quaint reminder of a time past. Recent news that Foursquare is to split its business in half, from the commercial to the social appears a bit like a last gasp at relanvancy, really not sure if it's the right move in the current climate. Post Snowden personal data is not something most people want to leave lying around. I was pondering such things when I came across these two pictures of the perils of location aware mobile devices being left in passive mode. Again, its not the tech at fault more the understanding of the power we weld even in passive mode.

On a night out I've often had lamp posts talk to me, however the ones in Bristol actually did

'..Hello Lamp Post is an experimental, city-wide platform for play. This is an opportunity to rediscover your local environment, share your memories of the city and uncover the stories that other people leave behind. Hello Lamp Post encourages you to look at the city with fresh eyes and engage with systems we take for granted. This is a chance to slow down, reflect and give yourself permission to play.

Hello Lamp Post is an interactive system that gives everyone in Bristol a new tool to talk with each other, through prompts and questions - all facilitated by the city's physical infrastructure. By referencing the thousands of pre-existing identifier codes that label items of street furniture across the whole city, players can send text messages to particular objects, including (but not limited to) lamp posts, post boxes, bollards, manholes, bins, or telegraph poles...'

Hello Lamp Post ran from July 2013 - September 2013 in Bristol.

Data or Theory?

'...But which is a bigger menace to society, laziness about data or laziness about theory? Theory-laziness is seductive because it's easy - mining for correlations isn't very mentally taxing. But data-laziness is seductive because it's hard - the more complicated and intricate a theory you make, the smarter it makes you feel, even if the theory sucks...'

Noah Smith http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.co.uk 

Introducing PathWW

Since August last year The House Worldwide has been nurturing a new London based Shopping Marketing agency called Path. Set up to service Champagne Laurent-Perrier’s global duty free business. Within a few months of launch the Path team were also responsible for causing a media storm in Ireland on behalf of The British Pregnancy Advisory Service. A simple ad idea that generated the top 5 trending terms over a weekend. 2014 kicked off in the most spectacular of styles with this fledgling shop being appointed by the UK’s largest retailer, Argos, to look after their multi-million pound Own Brands business. For more detailsthehouseww.com & pathww.com

Talking in pictures

I do admit to feeling overburdened by the volume of images on my various devices, wondering of their real worth or life expectations. -having lost a device packed with images, and felt utter terror of loss for a few days soon. I was fine and the images were as if they had never been. So maybe the worth I attached was only because I come from pre-digital days, and that a image detox is not a bad thing from time to time 

David Shariatmadari talks in The Guardian about the urge for a photo detox

'...Previous generations seem to have been more aware of the sense of false security that images can provide – portrait paintings were often accompanied by a memento mori – often a well-placed skull signified that death was inescapable. The selfie lacks this handy feature. As we happily snap away, are we are engaged in a kind of mass denial? Things can be preserved, we seem to be saying, perfectly, digitally, and for ever....'

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I've gone a done it again and started another age


Well, to be honest, it all sort of started by accident. However we are now really chuffed to be able to start talking about our new agency. Called Path Worldwide or PathWW for short.

Path is a new kind of agency focused on unlocking value in shopper behaviour 

Built around a core team of Ben Stobart and Philip Slade. Both with award winning track records in international shopper marketing. Path is very proud to be part of The House Worldwide a new model for advertising networks.

Ben and Philip believe a multi-channel world demands a new approach to unlocking value in the path to purchase. Current projects are proof testing their thinking in three key areas;

Building new paths

Clearing a crowded path

Shortening an existing paths length

Path was set up in late 2013 with founding client Champagne Laurent-Perrier who appointed the new agency to look after their UK and World Duty Free business.

Since launch Path has been supporting House Worldwide clients; ghd and Lenovo as well as picking up the brief from one of the UK’s most famous retailers. Details of this exciting new development in the life of this fledgy business will be released shortly.

You can see more of what we are up to via TheHouseww.com or Pathww.com or hello@pathww.com


The ones who history ridicules

"Who does the Can’t-Do Culture hurt the most? Ironically, it hurts the haters. The people who focus on what’s wrong with an idea or a company will be the ones too fearful to try something that other people find stupid. They will be too jealous to learn from the great innovators. They will be too pigheaded to discover the brilliant young engineer who changes the world before she does. They will be too cynical to inspire anybody to do anything great. They will be the ones who history ridicules.Don’t hate, create." Marc Andreesen on Can Do vs Can’t Do culture