Young drinkers want `high kick and quick buzz'

The 18-24 market consumes less but wants premium strength, writes James Cusick
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The Independent Online
The days of slowly drunk pints of bitter in the pub have long ceased for Britain's youth drinkers. "Its now all about the short, sharp high kick, the quick buzz," says Tony Harris, an account handler with the creative advertising agency BMP DDB Needham.

BMP - now handling the lucrative blues music and tap-dancing Budweiser account and responsible for comedian Jack Dee and his dancing penguins in the gimmick-ridden John Smith television commercial - are one of the few British agencies that base their market research on actually drinking with the country's youth.

"We can't deny that light drugs such as ecstasy exist and are used by Britain's youth," Mr Harris says. "They now have a choice, they don't need to drink. But when they do it's about the fast kick. They don't want beer swilling around in their bellies all night. It's about being portable, moving around, dancing while holding a bottle of premium lager . . . `Time waits for no man' is their attitude."

The Henley Centre for forecasting and others have predicted a fall in the number of pubs by the year 2000 and a "lessening" of alcohol's social importance . Breweries are also told by market researchers that young people are less interested in drinking than their parents.

Although the Henley Centre has observed that the young drink less than their counterparts did in 1987, and that the proportion of non-drinkers substantially increased throughout the Eighties, Mr Harris is not worried: "Sure there's less volume of alcohol involved, but not less value."

Strong bottled lager is the biggest area of demand in the 18-24 market. Brands such as Budweiser and Foster's Ice are targeted at both men and women. The feminine option is now wine or strong bottled cider such as K or Diamond White.

The recent marketing of alcoholic lemonade pays homage to Vance Packard's classic Fifties advertising text, The Hidden Persuaders, in which the young are "trainee consumers" to be caught as early as possible. However, the industry view is that the target market is sweet, not necessarily young.

Spirits are far from dead in the youth market, Mr Harris says. "Spirits, like Jack Daniel chasers, are still about the short, fast kick. For women there's still an element of the cocktail mentality."

For impoverished students, recent market research points to the increased popularity of soft drinks (up from a pounds 1.8m market two years ago to pounds 3m), but BMP's research points to sherry. "Emva Cream," says Mr Harris. "High alcohol, downed before you leave the flat. Then only a few lagers are needed. Its all about the buzz."

As for younger consumers, David Fenton of Whitbread says: "No brewery will ever be seen doing market research on the under-18 market. It just simply would not be worth our while for the adverse public reaction this would cause."

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