By Kait Shea for Event Marketer | February 13, 2023
From Sober October to Dry January to the booming sober-curious movement, a fast-growing number of consumers are aspiring to lead more balanced lifestyles by cutting down on booze. And savvy marketers are carving out time and space within their events and activations to ensure that those riding the alcohol-free wagon feel comfortable, welcome and seen.
Naturally, non-alcoholic brewers and zero-proof beverage makers, who create complex drinks that mimic cocktails without the alcohol, are leading the charge. They’re even creating entire festivals around the concept (hello, sponsorship opportunity). But other brands are jumping on board to cater to sober-curious attendees, too, whether on their own or through partnerships with alcohol-free event platforms like Absence of Proof and Zero Proofed. So, ready to skip the hangover? Check out five strategies for producing events for sober-curious consumers.
As part of its IRL Series, Bumble teamed up with the James Beard Foundation’s Women’s Leadership Programs to deliver a sober happy hour experience in New York as part of female-founded Absence of Proof’s takeover of a local coffee shop. The Jan. 23 happy hour event was specifically targeted to women who are living and leading the sober-curious movement, and gave Bumble users a chance to connect with other likeminded attendees in person, rather than on the app. The event was open to the first 100 people to arrive, making it a more intimate affair that included light bites and a full menu of custom non-alcoholic beverage options—no sickeningly sweet mocktails included.
In addition, Bumble teamed up with non-alcoholic beverage brand Kin Euphorics and its co-founder Bella Hadid last July for a Summer of Love drive-in experience in Montauk, NY. The activation served as a launch event for Kin’s Summer of Love non-alcoholic rosé and included a takeover of John’s Drive-In, renamed Bella’s Diner for the event. The transformation involved rebranding the interior and exterior facades of the diner, new Bella’s Diner uniforms for the staff and Bumble- and Kin-branded food items. Throughout the event, Bumble and Kin offered free drink samples, while Hadid helped serve Summer of Love slushies to visitors. Attendees also had the chance to take home custom Bumble x Kin merchandise and pose for branded photo ops. Agency: Manifold.
A fresh take on F&B
Heineken 0.0, the brewer’s non-alcoholic beer, took a tongue-in-cheek approach to elevating sober-curious event strategies with the introduction of its “Nommeliers” (non-alcoholic sommeliers). The brand enlisted beer and wine experts Ben MacFarland and Tom Sandham, otherwise known as The Thinking Drinkers, to switch gears and curate what it billed as the “first alcohol-free pairing menu.” The duo appeared at an event series last month in London and Edinburgh during which they paired non-alcoholic beverages with complementary foods (think: sparkling white wine and seabass). Those lucky enough to score a seat enjoyed an aperitif and a three-course dining menu with wine, beer and cider combinations personally presented by MacFarland and Sandham.
Reclaiming alcohol-centric event formats
Kin Euphorics, whose botanical drinks “help tune your mood,” has been creating events for sober-curious consumers for several years. A highlight was its presence at the Summit ideas festival, where it hosted a two-pronged alcohol-free activation. During happy hour at the conference’s wellness hub, where yoga, sound healing and meditation were offered, Kin served non-alcoholic cocktails.
Then in the evening, the activation flipped to a pop-up speakeasy in the basement of the Los Angeles Theatre. The brand went all-out to make it just as provocative as a typical speakeasy experience—the pop-up was discovered by attendees through word-of-mouth or personal invitations from the brand, and once inside, they were approached by a bartender who asked what they were bringing to the experience and what they hoped to gain from it, whether a feeling, a mood or a curiosity. Agency: The Parade Agency.
POWER HOME REMODELING
A mini employee resource group
Power Home Remodeling’s annual Quest retreat is an employee event held in Mexico each December that serves as a three-day music festival and experiential playground. The 2022 event included performances from the likes of Bruno Mars and Wiz Khalifa, along with yoga classes, interactive art installations, staff contests and talent shows, beach games and a roller skating rink. But with plenty of cocktails flowing throughout the weekend, and the rising number of people abstaining, Power Home made a concerted effort to create safe spaces for those not imbibing.
“Something we specifically did, which has been a big trend—whether it’s people that are in recovery or just choosing to live a sober lifestyle—is we created a program called SWAY. It stands for Sober Ways to Advance Yourself,” says Chelsea Sullivan, vp-people experience at Power Home Remodeling. “So there were designated areas and activities that were set aside from areas where there were a lot of bars around for people to always feel included and comfortable in all different types of settings.” Agency: In-house.