The rush to court this market has spurred a number of products and trends, says Carol Emslie, the leader of the Substance Use research group within the School of Health and Life Sciences at Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland. She sees “pink, fluffy and sparkly” packaging, ads promoting wellness — most notably “low-calorie items” — and products positioned for any and all occasions. “Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day,” Ms. Emslie said, “it’s piggybacking onto everything, even International Women’s Day.”
The push for female consumers can even be seen in countries where women haven’t traditionally been part of a drinking culture. For the past few years, Bailey’s has held a Mother’s Day campaign in Nigeria, urging women to share the drink with their mothers. “Here, the love of your mother gets tied up with drinking together,” Ms. Emslie said, “and this, in a place where women haven’t historically drunk.”
Part of the issue is that for many women, the reason for drinking alcohol goes deeper than having a buzz, Ms. Emslie explained. They define themselves by what they drink and how they drink it. Through extensive research, Ms. Emslie found that women in their 30s and 40s often use alcohol as a “time out,” a demarcation point between work and home life as well as a way to transport themselves to a time before career pressures and household responsibilities. “They drink to bring back that sense of carefree youth, frivolity, fun and spontaneity,” she said, “to show their identity beyond what is associated with being a woman in midlife.”
“The alcohol industry is really super aware of this,” she said, noting that it is hyper-focused on messages that speak to those desires.
Lisa Hawkins, the senior vice president of public affairs for the Distilled Spirits Council, said in an email that it was reasonable and appropriate for spirits companies to develop and market products that appealed to their consumers’ tastes, preferences and lifestyle choices. “To suggest that women should be shielded from advertisements about legal products available in the marketplace because they are incapable of seeing an ad and behaving responsibly is patronizing and antiquated,” she wrote.
She added, “We encourage all adults who consume alcohol — men and women — to drink in moderation and follow the advice of the federal dietary guidelines.”
Dr. Zayer, however, said research had shown over and over that we underestimated the influence of advertising in our lives. “Not just women — it’s everyone,” she said. “Companies wouldn’t be spending all this money on it if it didn’t work.”