Influencer-led campaigns play a key role in our marketing mix: Vineet Sharma

Marketing alcohol has always been tough in India, a country with a restrictive regulatory environment, a task that became more challenging as the entire country shut down during the pandemic. But AB InBev, the multinational alcoholic beverages company, was quick to change gears, said Vineet Sharma, its vice-president, marketing, for South Asia. AB InBev introduced brands such as Budweiser, Corona, Hoegaarden and Beck’s Ice in the country. AB InBev started tailoring marketing activities to interest customers who started enjoying drinks at home instead of visiting bars. This included virtual concerts and increased engagement through social media channels, Sharma said in an interview. Edited excerpts:

We had a very aggressive growth path, but covid-19 was definitely a kind of dent in our plans. Our focus then shifted to making sure that our brands were still relevant in the lives of people who stopped going out. We had to bring a lot of experiences to people’s homes. One such experience was our two-day music event BudX. We made sure that we created an “in-home” version of BudX.

Are consumers buying more premium liquor?

India continues to witness a strong trend towards premiumization as the market matures, fuelled rapidly by the growing number of urban millennials. With multiple lockdowns and surges of covid-19, there was a strong shift to in-home consumption, with consumers buying more at small intervals. Also, convenience became a key decision driver as people were shifting from bottles to cans—easy to carry, store and drink.

Is in-home liquor consumption here to stay?

With the gradual opening of the country, we see a hybrid version continuing. While people are gradually moving back to on-premise outlets, many consumers continue to use in-home experiences.

With a few states like Chhattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal and Maharashtra adopting the e-commerce and home delivery model for alcohol, we see a significant opportunity to work with more state governments to unlock these channels within the existing regulatory framework.

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