Earlier this month, the great and the good in advertising, media and journalism gathered together at We Are Social for our Discerning Drinker event, supported by HiLo, Nix and Kix and Ugly Drinks. Here, our Editor Alice Cuffe runs through the highlights from the evening.

What better reason to get together for a drink on a Tuesday than to fuel some great discussion on the future of alcohol at our Discerning Drinker event with some fantastic speakers on hand to take us through the past, present and more importantly future of drinking habits.

This relationship between Gen Z and alcohol was the hot topic of the night, kicked off by the first speaker, We Are Social’s Research & Insight Director Andre van Loon. Andre revealed that the boozey Britain image that we have of younger people in the UK is gone. He noted that Gen Z’ers are still drinking but their reasons have also changed. The young people that he spoke to said they if they wanted alcohol they would have it, but it wasn’t a social priority. So if you want to get their attention, the best space to be is where they spend all their time - social media.

Brands like Ballantine’s who headed to social media to speak to their audience, designing cocktails based on emojis, were top of the list for Andre in terms of adapting to fit the market need, but there is still a lot of work to be done. So how are brands talking to Gen Z drinkers?

First up to answer that question was Adam Boita, Head of Marketing for Pernod Ricard. Boita noted that whilst the temptation is there to dip straight into technology to get the attention of the new gen drinkers, success will only come if you start with your product. “Authenticity in experience will always reflect well on the brand” which he proved with a breakdown of how Pernod Ricard has used tech to go back and explore the history of its brand, such as how Havana Rum had amplified an experiential pop-up in East London using Google Glass.

Delving into a brand’s history to attract new drinkers can also miss the mark, which was the lesson we learned from Jason Wills, Marketing Director of Charles Wells brewery. Revamping the traditional beer brand Charles Wells with a campaign that relied on local activations resulted in alienating the online drinking fan. “You can’t always make authenticity” Jason noted.

However, with craft brands like Brewdog winning over the hearts and bellies of the new drinker through down to earth, no nonsense messaging, this was the route that Jason went down when bringing traditional ale Bombardier into the mass social market. Keeping Facebook in the pub with live debates and serving Snapchat filters at the bar, the brand stepped out of the back of the drinks cupboard and into the forefront of the pint buyer’s mind.

For start-ups though, the territory is very different and the room for experimentation is huge. Especially for our last speaker Melanie Goldsmith, Co-Founder & Managing Director of Smith & Sinclair. Turning the idea of a drink on its head, Smith and Sinclair’s main aim was to bring alcohol directly into the same experiential spaces that Gen Z drinkers love like Secret Cinema and Punch Drunk.

As Melanie points out “There’s something easily engaging about millennials because they just want to have fun...and I respect that”. Smith and Sinclair’s edible treats are not only fun but perfect for partnership which has allowed them to work with brands like Benefit, Just Eat and Tanqueray.

Adding a takeaway flavour sherbet wall or a gin vapour room to a press night doesn’t just make you popular with the guests but gets you everywhere on social. As Melanie says, “It’s harder for big brands to be clever and cautious...but there is a clever way of balancing the two.”

Their big win was actually a simple video about their boozy lollypop called Trump sucks. It went viral ahead of the US election and despite everyone telling them not to do it, they did and it worked, really well. Three million views and 5,000 orders later, this risky political pop actually ended up getting them a $1million investment.

With capital to take their experiential drinking habits into the mainstream now, Melanie’s message to bigger brands and start-ups alike was to have fun taking risks. “If you think it’s funny and beneficial to your long term goals then go for it.”

If you want to want to see everything the speakers said you can watch the whole event in full on our Facebook page now.