It’s clear that we live in a “SHOTS!” culture, as encapsulated by the LMFAO song that is still played at bars all over the world. And it’s a scene in which everyone is familiar: A few friends meet at a bar, and one person inevitably leads the charge to buy a celebratory shot. Everyone shares a grim look, knowing that the shot is an unpleasant but crucial moment of the night -- to kick off an evening of fun.
Will it be a pickle shot, a “man shot,” or maybe even an “extreme” shot like the 70-proof berry spirit Hideous Liquor? The bar is set based on the selection, and the group must not only rise to the challenge, but one-up everyone with their own personal shot-of-choice when it’s their turn.
The evening continues as shots become a dare to fail. Friends crash and disappear, all for the sake of a fun memory and (hopefully) a story for the ages.
Many brands -- from Jagermeister to Southern Comfort -- position themselves to capitalize on that dare. But the reality is that playing into the divisive dare with lines like “tastes like heaven, burns like hell” offers little differentiation from everyone else in the space.
We partnered with The Palmerston Group in a study that explores shots culture in a variety of cities, and found some interesting opportunities for brands to create experiences that inspire social bonding in ways that are infectious and inviting.
Bond and celebrate vs. follow
The typical shot ritual: One bad peacock smirks and heads to the bar. Then the rest of the group is in, whether they want to be or not. They follow, knowing the suffering that is to come.
Truth is, everyone wants to be part of the story that’s pieced together and celebrated the next day. Brands could leverage that by creating a brand experience that allows people a make an impression in a more inclusive way. Why couldn’t a brand champion the natural “coming together” around shots -- not just bonding through pain, but bonding through celebration?
Brands could create rituals that compel groups to shout “Here’s to…!” vs. “Oh no!” Think about new and fun rituals that create loyalty around a particular liquor. Let’s say your shot goes great with a beer chaser. A special glass could hold a shot on one side and a beer on the other. As soon as the group takes the shot, the bartender fills the other side with beer. It’s something that adds an element of fun and celebration rather than a line of bitter faces. Suddenly, this isn’t just a group of people whose night is unwinding -- they’re a group of people with something fun to do.
Fuel a crowd that grows vs. one that eliminates
As typical shot rituals go, more and more individuals in a group disappear throughout the night. Brands could turn the tables on that dynamic, making it easy for groups to come together by giving them tools to cultivate membership in a group and draw others toward them. Here’s just one example. Think about peoples’ alter egos that emerge when they drink -- often a group just isn’t the same when a particular person isn’t there. What if a brand created a Facebook app that enabled people to find a “missing” person and let them see who checked in at the bar without them? Brands could leverage BUMP functionality to make it easy to add people to the group along the way.
Drive an experience that builds vs. drives crashing
Shots culture typically starts on a high and rapidly pushes the night downhill. Brands have an opportunity to reverse that trend -- to think of themselves as a way to fuel the typical journey through a night out. Think about an app that may offer “last call” reminders for a group to end their evening on a high note. Utilize technology or even more traditional means like in-bar media (coasters, bathroom chalkboards and video screens) to create interactive nudges that give the group new energy like: “After the next shot, we will ____”or “When _____ arrives, we will ____”. It’s these kinds of brand experiences that can add momentum throughout the night rather than just creating a momentary high.
In a culture of extremism, it’s easy to see why many brands serve themselves up as a dare to the shot-drinking crowd. But there’s a bigger long-term opportunity to build a brand experience that creates a bond not just with the group drinking, but with the brand. It’s an opportunity for brands to offer a call to adventure vs. a dare to fail.