It's Sober October, But That May Be Tougher Challenge This Year

If 2020 were a normal year, this month might have been awash with ads and marketing pitches to celebrate Sober October, an inevitable offshoot of the Sober Curious movement that encourages people to take a break from booze. 

But the COVID-19 crisis changed the landscape. Alcohol consumption went up this year. As the pandemic got a grip on Americans, Nielsen reported a 54% increase in sales for the week of March 21, compared to the year before, and online sales increased 262% compared to 2019. Though the numbers aren’t that dramatic anymore, sales are still up significantly.

Going against that vibe, Heineken’s 0.0% nonalcoholic beer is marking the month by enlisting a group of influencers  to show off and talk about the great time they’re having by not being under the influence. Those online stars include Meagan Kongand the Ladylike Crew.  Their endorsements showed up on Instagram and TikTok, among other places.



Healthy food advocate ChiefSpiceMama, who is Kanchan Koya, says on her Instagram account: “I’ve decided my quarantine life needs a bit of a reset so I’m going #OctoberAF (alcohol free, obviously!) with Heineken 0.0 all month long and have some special surprises for those who join me.  Why am I doing #SoberOctober ? Well for one, good quality sleep has been challenging amidst the stress of quarantine and as much as a beer or cocktail can help you relax in the moment, the science shows it affects sleep quality for the worse (boo). I’m excited for a reset, good sleep and all the happy hour fun without the alcohol with Heineken 0.0. Who’s with me?”

A spokeswoman concedes, ”We did not initially build an earned strategy into our media efforts” — but the brand began publicizing its Sober October involvement beyond social media halfway through the month. 

The Sober October trend goes back at least to 2014, and is probably more ingrained in the U.K., where abstainers are encouraged to donate to a cancer charity, and where nonalcoholic beer is far more popular than it is here.  In the U.S., some participants also donated the money they save to charity. 

Heineken has been among the most outfront advertisers for its nonalcoholic beer. In 2019, when it was introduced, the brand says, it sold one million cases of 0.0%. This year it says it’s on track to double that.  That sounds pretty good — but the nation’s best selling beer, Bud Light, sold about 20 million cases last year.

And the pandemic may be  making the idea of not drinking a tough sell for some people. CivicScience, which provides strategic insight to marketers, says its research found that last year 26% of drinking-age Americans were “at least somewhat curious about adopting a sober lifestyle.” This year, that number is down to 21%. 

The Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Network newsletter last month also found that people may be drinking more during the pandemic than usual. 

JAMA surveyed 6,000 demographically representative people, comparing their drinking habits this year to what they drank in 2019. 

The study found respondents self-reported drinking 14% more this year than when they were asked last year. And on average, three out of four drank one more day a month than in 2019. Women who drank heavily (defined as a typical dosage of four drinks daily) increased by one day for 20% of the women in the study. 

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