How Functional Categories Can Reinvent With Emotion

There are multiple examples of categories which have reinvented themselves by using emotional hooks, but here are three that have done it really well:

Low / No Alcohol 

Up until recently, low and no-alcohol has meant Becks Blue or very functionally named things like this Non-Alcoholic Wine. But as of late, the low and no-alcohol market is booming. Sales of low/no-alcohol drinks are up 20.5% in the last year, with low/no-alcohol beer and cider up almost 30% (Kantar). This consumer driven trend toward reduced alcohol drinks is a huge deal for the drinks industry – according to Global Data, 84% of consumers worldwide are trying to reduce their alcohol intake (2017). There’s been a burst of creativity of late as brands are forced to find new proposition territories in order to connect with their consumers’ emotions and stake their claim on the low/ no-alcohol category.

Vitamins & Supplements

Vitamins & Supplements bottles
Holland & Barrett, Hum, Lyma

The vitamins and supplements category grew by $6 billion from 2007-2012 and is now valued at $82 billion (McKinsey & Co). Previously products were sold on specific ingredients with specific health benefits i.e. omega 3 for heart health, brands are now selling whole ranges of products by tapping into a lifestyle or particular design aesthetic. With beautiful packaging and lifestyle propositions, brands like Hum and Lyma are premiumising vitamins and supplements.


Two egg boxes
Asda Free Range Eggs, The Happy Egg Co.

The Happy Egg Co. is another example of how to successfully connect consumer drivers with emotional propositions. Launched into a market of indistinguishable eggs, the strapline “Happy hens lay tasty eggs” tapped into the consumer need for tasty eggs, while reassuring them they were from happy hens. Now 60% of free range growth is driven by Happy Eggs (Kantar) and the brand is still growing, with 15% volume growth over the last year.

So, using the the low / no alcohol category as a case study, how can brands make the step change from peddling functional propositions to connecting with consumers’ emotions? 

Get Emotional About Everything, Even The Product Descriptors 

Emotional Product Descriptors on bottles of alcohol
Teetotal G’n’T, Natureo, Archie Rose Distilling Co.

At a very basic level, product descriptors are changing. Traditionally, a low/ no-alcohol would have just displayed a very functional “0% ABV” or “alcohol free” claim, but there are lots of examples of creative, more emotionally engaging, ways to state “low/no-alcohol”:

  • teetotal
  • virgin
  • de-alcoholised*

*this is interesting in itself. In the past, beer was boiled to remove the alcohol. Now technology enables the beer to be removed with the need for boiling, thus drastically improving the flavour (The Guardian).

Single-Mindedly Position Around One Specific Consumer Need 

Health /Weight Loss

A selection of alcoholic beverages for weight loss and better health
The Skinny Vine, Skinny Girl, Fitbeer, Brewtein, Flight, Light Live

Brands are taking one of two approaches to appeal to the key consumer need state of wanting a healthier drink. On the one hand, brands are talking directly to consumers’ lifestyles – Fitbeer and Skinnygirl (while maybe slightly offensive) directly speak to consumers’ desires to be fit and healthy. On the other, less overt, hand, lots of brands are using words with “light” connotations… featherweight, flight, light…This more subtle approach taps into consumers’ more subconscious desire for a healthier drink option. 

Brands are backing up their “light” and “skinny” benefits with tangible reasons to believe like: “0 alcohol, calories, sugar”; “with protein”; “reduced calories”, “only 66 calories” and “flavor that flatters”.

Avoiding A Hangover

This dichotomy of approaches is evident, too, in the brands efforts to meet the consumer need of avoiding a hangover. Belvoir going for the does-what-it-say-on-the-tin approach and Three Spirit going with the slightly more understated “designed to make you feel good” and their name’s play on ‘free spirit.

Avoiding a hangover
Belvoir Shiraz, Botanical Alchemy

Use Humour And Irony To Break Entrenched Negative Consumer Perceptions Of The Category 

Low alcoholic beer
The Original Small Beer, Thornbridge, Adnams

Understanding your consumer drivers is important; but having a firm grip on their barriers is equally vital.  Even though more and more consumers are buying low/no-alcohol options, they still need reassuring that their low/ no-alcohol choice will taste and feel like their regular alcoholic drink. Brands have approached this challenge with tongues firmly in their cheeks, calling their beer alternatives things like Small Beer, Big Easy, and Ghost Ship. “Small”, “Easy” etc. tell us it’s no-alcohol, and a reassuring dose of irony promises us it’s still a tasty experience.

a selection of alcoholic brands using fun alternative names
Nosecco, Herbie Virgin, Ginsin, A Truly Free Spirit

Some clever brands are using wordplay, turning regular alcohol naming on its head to communicate the low/no-alcohol message. From M&S’s knowing Nosecco, to Herbie Gin’s playful Virgin, the brands throw a wink and a wry smile at the consumer. This nod to the alcoholic original reassures consumers that, while they know this in not gin, it is definitely Ginish, or Rumish, and will be a pleasant and indulgent drinking experience.

Using humour taps into the consumer desire for social acceptability – phrases like “more beautiful without”, “the Spirit of Temperance” and “Sin, alcohol free” communicate in a lighthearted way that even though it is not alcohol, it is still a sophisticated, grown-up drink.

Position Around The Consumption Occasion 

Two beverages aimed at being driver friendly or 0% free
Bitburger Drive, The Driver’s Tipple

Brands such as Bitburger Drive and The Driver’s Tipple also speak directly to consumers’ lifestyle needs. While a little obvious, phrases like “driver friendly” let the consumer know exactly how the product will fit into their lifestyle and satisfy a previously unmet need.

Tell Your Brand Story 

Alcohol labels showing their provenance and artisan production
Borrago, Seedlip, Ceder’s Wild

What with Britain now being a nation of gin experts, any new spirit (non-alcoholic or not) had its work cut out to convince its market. Low/ no-alcohol spirits brands are crafting their propositions around provenance and artisan production. Botanical names such as Seedlip (the pioneer in the category, now turning over £1m) and Ceders promise a taste complexity that will satisfy the discerning spirit consumer. Claims such as “expertly blended”, “handcrafted” and “infused with select botanicals” add weight to the artisan proposition and create differentiation within the category.

But as this is still such a new category, consumers still need experience reassurance. Brands are using old alcohol flavour language like “aromatic”, “refreshing” and “rich, intense, fruity” to give consumers the confidence they are looking for in this somewhat unfamiliar category.

What Can Other Primarily Functional Categories Learn From The Low / No-Alcohol Category? 

These enterprising low/ no-alcohol brands have created a play by play guide for reinventing a functional category with emotional propositions. What once was an afterthought to the alcohol category is now becoming a thriving category in its own right.

Take a leaf out of the low/ no-alcohol category reinvention playbook:

  1. Tell your story: Find your brand story – be it provenance, artisan production, heritage – and legitimise your unique space in the category.
  2. Position around the consumption occasions: Get to know your consumers and let them know your product is perfect for said occasion.
  3. Break down negative consumer perceptions: Especially important in a new, unfamiliar category. Low/ no-alcohol is doing this head on and with good humour.
  4. Single-mindedly position around one consumer need: They may not be what you expect e.g. skinny wine/ protein beer, and reassure your consumers with concrete RTBs – vital for standout in an expanding category.