'Mad Men' Cocktails And The Top Seven Spirits Trends

Like fashion, spirits’ trends change with the times. It was only yesterday that “Sex and the City” spawned a legion of Cosmopolitan consumers. But today, what’s hot in terms of tastes, trends and targeting consumers?

gyro interviewed three industry experts to get their candid thoughts about the category. Here is what Britt West of PLUS Consulting; Margaret McDonnell, senior director of marketing, spirits at The Wine Group; and Bill Anderson, president of Crystal Head Vodka, had to say:

1. Home mixologists have come of age. The art of the well-crafted cocktail has come home. Why? In addition to the already prevalent flavored vodkas, there is a widening of flavors and infusions, said West. This includes the jalapeño-infused Tanteo Tequila for Spicy Margaritas, the growth of Hendrick’s (with its dominant cucumber notes) and the new line of Chicken Cock Whiskey. “These innovative products are allowing consumers a new direction in home bartending,” she said.

2. Women’s palates are dictating tastes. The runaway success of SkinnyGirl has opened the eyes of many spirits brands to the buying power of women, said McDonnell. “Lately, whiskey suppliers have benefited by adding flavor and lowering the alcohol, which opened up an incremental revenue stream [from female consumers],” she said. Meanwhile, “brands like Sauza Tequila launched female-focused marketing campaigns for the first time. Given that margaritas and flavored martinis still represent so much on-premise volume, there is an opportunity for a brand to win with a cocktail strategy this summer.”

3. Consumers are calling different shots. Tastes are changing when it comes to shots. McDonnell predicts flavored whiskeys, like Fireball, and flavored bourbon will take a much larger share as they continue to expand in 2013. “Shots may be a small percentage of overall consumption; however, these new brands have a much sweeter taste profile and are more likely to be adopted by consumers as ingredients in mixed drinks.”

4. “Mad Men” cocktails are in style. Maybe it’s Don Draper’s fault, but classic cocktails are making a comeback. The biggest trend the year, per Anderson, is the continued growth of the classic and traditional cocktails such as martinis and Manhattans.

5. Spirits marketers are blending new media strategies. Media fragmentation has made many a marketer want to have a drink. A glossy print ad, billboard or high-end sponsorship isn’t going to move cases like years before. Creating engagement is very challenging, according to West, because of today’s bombardment of messages. Still, “new digital marketing opportunities not only enable marketers to target communication better but also to dramatically increase ROI and evolve brand messaging as analytics are available in real time,” said McDonnell.

6. Smart strategies for smartphones. More people in the world use a mobile phone than use a toothbrush, said McDonnell. The spirits industry is no exception to the rise of mobile technology to learn and purchase about products. According to marketing trend studies, “These new mediums are more likely to sell cases as over half of mobile searches lead to a purchase,” she said.

7. Spirits drinkers remain brand loyal. It’s important that spirits brands get all of these things right because if they do, they may have a customer for life, said Anderson. “Spirits consumers have strong preferences for brands and usually at the super-premium level. Wine consumers constantly switch and like to try or discover different brands. Spirits marketers have had the ability to develop brand loyalty and call.”

That’s why striking this loyalty with the younger, legal-drinking-age consumer is essential, said McDonnell. “They will have the largest amount of buying power of any age group by 2017 … because they think differently from their predecessors, there is a lot of white space for spirits brand innovation.”

Kenneth Hein is the global marketing director at gyro.

Follow him at @KennethHein