Generational Habits

No matter the reason – summertime, fantasy football, the holidays, March Madness – alcoholic products take center stage as marketers face the challenge of reaching consumers of all ages across events. But with such a large and diverse drinking audience, how can marketers tailor their campaigns to different drinking demos? 

In a category as broad as the “male drinker,” it is important to uncover even the subtlest of insights and characteristics in order to truly resonate with a variety of audiences. In our experience with clients of all types in the alcholic beverages industry, we have uncovered a few key consumer insights to guide marketers in their quest for authentic connections. 

Return to Discernment 

We often see millennials adopting the drinking habits of their boomer parents. In particular, this cohort is increasing consumption of dark spirits – whiskies, scotches and bourbons. They are also reviving the cocktail culture that came to fruition more than a century ago where bartenders have become mixologists and a simple drink can resemble the depth of ingredients of an entire meal. This is very different from Generation X, which embraced vodka, for example. 

These millennial tendencies likely have as much to do with the larger trend of borrowing cues from their parents as it does a genuine attraction to topics, products and hobbies that allow for discernment. This is a generation obsessed with building skills, diving deep into hobbies and learning. Embrace their need for discernment and offer them something – whether it is the product or the experience alongside it – that is unique. 

Status Cues

Although millennials have embraced cues of discernment — appreciation of more complex liquids and cocktails and a desire to discuss their knowledge of these things — the cues themselves are significantly different than those before them. The boomer generation, for example, embraces more traditional and ostentatious luxury cues, preferring imports and easy-to-identify mechanics, such as Johnnie Walkers’ color-coded tiered system. They rallied behind big, well-known cachet brands that were easily identifiable by their peers, and clear symbols of their success. 

Millennials, on the other hand, while still appreciating the complexity of dark spirits and cocktails, have taken a different approach to status. Rejecting cues of globalization, they instead rally behind the cues of craft and localization. The cachet is more in supporting the local community versus a global one. 

Millennials have watched their parents age toward retirement in a period of economic turmoil — resulting in higher layoffs and unemployment from companies in which they spent a large percent of their adult lives. This has given rise to an entrepreneurial spirit within millennials, which is evident in the craft category. We have seen the rise of microbrewing, which often results from a distrust of brands that are considered too corporate. This is why brands like New Belgium, which can authentically tout craft, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a commitment to community, thrive among younger drinkers. 

Additionally, millennials are more drawn to the small and unknown, the rare finds, which is no doubt a demonstration of today’s technology and unlimited access to the long tail. When boomers grew up, the value in media was about understanding what was mainstream. Today, it’s about discovering the obscure. 

Re-Socialization of Drinking

The boomer and millennial generations are close – a tie that has only grown stronger as millennials move back home. As a result, the two generations are actively drinking together as just another extension of kids being friends with their parents. But not only are we seeing a trickling down of behaviors from parent to child, but also a trickling up, as well.

There has also been a re-socialization of drinking. The boomer generation famously mixed work with pleasure and as “Mad Men” makes clear — work with drink. A lot of drink, in fact. 

We have seen a return to that in today’s workplace, with the return of bars and drink carts, for example. But instead of martini lunches that signaled the end of the day or at least a very creative afternoon, millennials have taken a more moderate approach to drinking in their professional lives, with a few beers at lunch versus knocking back the harder stuff. This decision is often spurred by increasing health awareness among this cohort, leading to a movement within session drinks. Craft beer, for one, has seen a rise in the need for “session beers” or beers with four-and-a-half percent ABV or lower with intended consumption over a period of time.

When not drinking together, millennial and boomer social cues are distinct. Boomers today continue to be more deliberate with their occasions, which is both a reflection of the stage of life they are in and also a reflection of their preferred one-to-one way of connecting with others through more traditional media and technology. 

Alternatively, millennials with social channels and the ability to constantly check in mean that drinking occasions can be spontaneous, and once broadcasted out, full of strangers as well as good friends. 



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