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  • Writer's pictureSteve Fairhurst

Embrace Generation X for Facebook-able fun

Whilst you can’t ignore the need to attract millennials and younger, there’s an argument that says it’s time to reconnect with 40-50 somethings and turn up the traffic and the volume.

Nearly everyone in the drinks trade is searching for new ways to generate ‘Instagrammable’ retail and brand experiences to pander to the whims of a generation who are notoriously fickle. It’s a necessary evil as time and the world marches on. Progress stops for no-one.

But spare a thought for the forgotten generation – the sixties and seventies kids. Now here lies a missed golden opportunity if ever there was one. People who grew up in an era where the pub was still the social hub of their lives – not a sliver of technology that fits in your jeans pocket. They went to party nights a lot.

They’ve had their kids, they have time, they have money and they’re bored. These are the people who are predisposed to drink like someone is going to take it off them. Whilst we can’t condone this activity, it is understood that volume is the life blood of the trade. The truth is that the younger generations are drinking less, so where else will the required volume and traffic come from?

It’s time to kick-start the renaissance of the pub as a social hub.

First let’s look at the potential audience. We are pretty much polarised into two equal groups as a nation: On the one hand we have the gammons – the Brexit faithful. On the other hand, we have the re-moaners. The snowflakes.

It’s the 'snowflakes' who will not support a partisan approach in terms of tone of voice and mechanics of the activity. Vicars and Tarts party? It isn't going to fly is it? That still leaves approximately 52% of Britain clamouring for something different. It is the tone of voice and nature of the mechanic that will appeal strongly to the community local crowd.

A look back at success before the internet was even a thing.

In the early nineties my job was to devise date and non-date specific party night ideas for a number of pub companies including Scottish and Newcastle, Mansfield Breweries, Vaux, Thwaites, Whitbread Inns and Matthew Brown. I came up with ideas that would get people into a pub.

Remember that in those days there was no meaningful food operation in many of the community locals we served. No coffee, no free wi-fi, no wi-fi at all – no internet for that matter.

We set up telephone order hotlines to support brochures sent out directly to outlets, listing a wide range of options – from Hawaiian nights to Ska Parties. A memorable and resounding endorsement was made on a voicemail by Ian Larmour – then marketing boss of Scottish and Newcastle Brewing. He simply said “Promoline kits – fucking brilliant” and hung up. 30 years later this still pleases me. I treasure pragmatic brevity like my wife and kids.

Self-contained kits were ordered in their thousands. What brought people in was the promise of a good laugh and a good atmosphere – delivered via some very colourful advertising materials. What really made the ideas come to life in a pub was the quality of the Licensee Briefing notes. This was the document accompanying each kit that explained to the Licensee how to run the activity – from receiving the kit to running the night.

Considerable efforts were made to ensure these briefing notes were the very best they could be. Sometimes I would spend two or three days writing them: Adding in things like cocktail ideas, simple finger food ideas, entertainment ideas for those with the budget and much more. This was instrumental in success. As Bananarama said around the same time: “It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it – and that’s what gets results.”

Basic instincts

To be honest I think that my being ‘basic’ was also an advantage. My entire lack of a Master’s degree in anything, using the wrong knife at dinner and a working class upbringing has, in this instance, proven a genuine advantage. I haven’t worked out how to think like a customer – I am a customer. You can’t underestimate the importance of tone of voice – especially in the briefing notes. You can win hearts and minds right there. At no point was any Licensee encouraged to buy a kit because it would ‘deliver competitive advantage’.

No – none of that.

It has always been a desire of mine to see how party nights would look today in our digitally enabled world. What delicious possibilities! Pubs creating events on Facebook – people sharing video and pictures showing that there is fun to be had - and it doesn’t involve taking pictures of your dinner. Making customers your media.

Imagine there’s no Netflix, it’s easy if you try…

Imagine the ‘Talking Balls’ traffic builder – designed to extend the drinking occasion at either side of a televised sports fixture. Imagine an interactive smartphone quiz with Match of the day style (but heavily lampooned) comic comperes beamed live into the pub TV’s from a digital studio, hosting the night on an invitation only YouTube channel. Interacting with the action in the match. Imagine the fun that could be had. Imagine the possibilities.

Imagine a brand like Captain Morgan, or challenger brand Dead Man’s Fingers getting behind a pirate themed party night – putting the ARR in PARRTY so to speak. Show me a 50 year-old gammon who doesn’t like rum, a giggle and doing pirate impressions in a plastic eye patch with an inflatable parrot on shoulder and I’ll show you a LinkedIn account with an unpredictable profile statement.

How to make a great idea utterly brilliant and win in the free trade.

In the Free Trade we elevated this simple idea by adding a layer of marketing support training that would give Licensees real world advice on how to be better at marketing. Then it didn’t matter which free trade rep came in with the biggest discount and the most elaborate neon sign to force your brand off sale – the Licensees were not for shifting.

They had something more valuable than branded polo shirts for the bar staff – they had knowledge they could really use. Again – tone of voice is everything here. No-one talks like marketing people talk in the pub. Unless you’re in Shoreditch perhaps.

TL:DR - To summarise

It’s necessary for the pub trade and alcohol brands to reach a younger demographic, of that there is no doubt. But there are a lot of people out there of a certain age who love to party. They grew up loving a pub party night and now they’re older, they have more time to go out. The average return on investment for a pub using a good party kit in the nineties was 7 to 1. So let’s make the renaissance of the pub party night a reality. Then everyone back to mine.

Steve Fairhurst is a drinks trade veteran with 30 years at the sharp end. Steve has 38 party nights up his sleeve that would all benefit greatly from today's digital advancements.

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