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Wine companies test the waters of African influencer marketing

Before the pandemic, when Warr Nasubo wanted a drink, her choice was the same as most Kenyans — go to a bar and have a round with friends. But now, the 31-year-old data analyst from Nairobi has found that she prefers to drink at home. “I fell in love with the comfort of making drinks for myself after a long day at work,” she says. “I’m always looking for new cocktail recipes to try.”

Alcohol producers in Africa hope that Nasubo’s “drinking at home” will become a new fad, as it solves a thorny problem they face – alcohol business in Africa has been tough during the pandemic. Diageo Liquor said that before the Covid-19 pandemic, 75% of its alcohol revenue in Africa came from bars and restaurants. The spread of the new coronavirus has kept customers away from lively social places, and at the same time, consumers have not developed the habit of drinking at home.

With sales falling short of expectations, the alcohol industry is trying to get Africans interested in the idea of ​​drinking at home. But it’s not easy. For most people, drinking is the equivalent of partying in a bar or restaurant, which usually has enough tables and chairs. Many people don’t think they have enough space in their homes to host parties, said Daniel Mettier, head of EMEA research at a well-known alcohol market research firm. At the same time, the advertising industry is facing challenges as much of the marketing is aimed at bar and restaurant patrons, which are now empty.

As a result, Internet celebrities who brought goods for a fee came on the scene, such as Julia Gesso, who was in her 30s. Her social media pages are full of posts promoting Diageo’s Gordon Gin, as well as pictures of her sipping cocktails on patios and park benches. She even showed off her bartending skills in a video. Gaysso pours ice, gin, ginger ale, cranberry juice and raspberries into a glass at home for a red Gordon’s Ruby refreshing cocktail. She also invited fans to create a similar cocktail based on it.

With more than 100,000 followers on social media, Gesso said: “Word of mouth is still one of the most powerful forms of marketing. Those who follow me are like my friends, and my life experiences allow them to resonate.”

The influence of social media has been around for over a decade, but it has yet to become a popular marketing tool in Africa. Many big brands are still keen to hire entertainment celebrities or sports stars to promote alcohol products and rely on TV and billboards for promotion.

The Covid-19 pandemic has upended that strategy. In order to comply with curfew regulations or avoid going out for gatherings, people spend a lot of time online at home. In order to attract Africa’s growing young middle-class population, wine companies have turned their attention to social media and invested a lot of resources. Soon, influential influencers were hired to promote a variety of alcoholic beverages, promoting the joys of drinking outside of bars or clubs.

Even “nano-level internet celebrities” with only two or three thousand fans have begun to skyrocket in value. A Kenyan startup called Woz helps Diageo with its social media marketing campaign. They were initially only popular with small businesses, but are now favored by big international brands, the company said. These small influencers can earn anywhere from $300 to $2,000 a month for paid posts. “We found that people trust nano-influencers more,” said Mike Otierno, the company’s co-founder.

Since the outbreak, Diageo has doubled its spending on digital media advertising in East Africa to reach more people without relying on expensive media such as TV. In addition, TV advertising faces other challenges, such as the fact that most African countries, including Kenya and Nigeria, limit the airtime of alcohol advertisements to after 10pm.

Influencer Julia Gaysel shares photos and videos of her drinking at home and making cocktails with fans on social media.

Statistics from the alcohol market research agency show that since the switch to influencer marketing, alcohol consumption outside of bars has increased by 22% in 2020, much higher than the increase in 2019 (2.3%). Although the epidemic is the main reason for the increase in such consumption, industry insiders say that there is not little room for growth in the future, and it is expected that the consumption of alcohol in Africa will increase by 18% between 2021 and 2025, and the market value will increase by 20% .

With the proliferation of affordable smartphones and affordable internet services, the time is ripe for influencer marketing in Africa. This has prompted more businesses to turn to social media and away from TV. Big consumer goods companies like L’Oreal, Unilever and Beiersdorf (the maker of Nivea) are also starting to host influencer campaigns with increasing frequency.

Big alcohol brands’ moves to expand the home drinking market may allow them to withstand the impact of the next phase of regional lockdowns. The industry also believes that the promotion of home drinking is to get more young people interested in making cocktails with high-end alcohol, which is more lucrative.

During the pandemic, the increase in the number of people drinking at home and the increase in sales of high-end liquors such as Tali gin and Johnnie Walker whisky suggest that Diageo’s investment in social media is starting to pay off.

“When digital media becomes the dominant medium, we can get more out of it,” said Vessela Kabiru, director of media futures at East African Brewing Co. The company owns brands such as Tasker Beer and locally distributes world-class liquors such as Johnnie Walker and Captain Morgan rum. For now, the company has increased its investment in home delivery services. In addition, it has partnered with African e-commerce platform Zhuomiya to offer food and wine takeaway packages including “barbecue and beer” as a promotion.

Diageo has seen a sharp jump in market penetration of its beer, premium spirits and luxury wines after launching an online celebrity campaign in East Africa. “The home-drinking consumer market has always had potential,” Kabiru said. “These consumer behaviors we’ve seen during the lockdown are here to stay.”

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