A viral tweet with over 43,000 likes sparking various forms of debate about Hennessy-infused foods from popcorn to chicken recently made the rounds on what’s colloquially known as “black Twitter”- a subsection of Twitter where black people discuss everything within the culture.
Hennessy is often the drink we were told to love from birth, the drink our uncles brought to the cookout, the first drink we consumed (often too much of) at a college party. Hennessy was a rite of passage, but how many of us actually liked the fact that the only options marketed to us were hard liquor? How many of us even knew there were other ways to drink?
Why do we fill our Saturday nights packed at sweaty clubs drinking high strength spirits that leave us feeling terrible the next day only to do it again the next week? As a black wine marketer I’m wondering what our industry can do to change for the better.
To understand why we drink the way we do is a quick lesson in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, socioeconomics, and marketing. According to Maslow, social interaction is a psychological need. No matter one’s race, we all need to socialize, we all need to feel connected and safe with people we share commonalities with. Black people don’t have the luxury of many spaces that fulfil those needs. No matter how much we may dislike the overall experience offered by clubs, they are among the few places where we can socialize with people like us.
Let’s consider socioeconomics: in communities of color there are liquor stores on every corner. These stores are often built in places underfunded and neglected by their local governments. Too often they capitalize on the misfortune of others and enable a cycle of alcoholism and abuse that ravishes an entire community.
Have you noticed that low ABV wines and spirits are rarely marketed towards people of color? The aesthetic of enjoying a 7% cocktail on a warm summer’s day with friends is reserved for white faces, while sleek and sexy 40% spirits are for young aspirational black people. The message is clear: “this is what you should drink if you want to be cool,” “If you want to be a real shot-caller, you have to drink this and drink a lot of it.”
Working in marketing involves a lot of research and storytelling, and constructing a narrative for people to connect to. Marketers influence behavior and, as much as companies may want to pretend otherwise, that influence comes with responsibility. Companies have an ethical duty to the people that consume their products.
This focus on marketing high strength drinks to black people comes with devastating consequences. I think its time for our industry to think ethically about how we sell — and remove those hard liquor shackles.