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“Send help! I’ve just arrived at the Bergdorf Goodman semi-annual shoe sale and they’re serving bubbles.”

That’s a text my friend Sean and I received from our friend Erika last week. Apparently, she had happened upon the semi-annual designer shoe sale at Bergdorf Goodman and had champagne!

“I feared for what I might do to my life’s savings if left unsupervised amongst the size 8s with a glass of champers in hand,” she later said.

We didn’t worry too much about Erika, but Sean did want to know about how serving alcohol synchs with a brand strategy. Good question, Sean. Let’s think about that.

Answering questions about brand always depends on the who and the why. Let’s start with the latter. Why was Bergdorf Goodman serving sparkling wine, really? Was it to dull shoppers’ senses to the point of fiscal abandon? Was it to show appreciation to their most loyal customers? Or, was it to set the mood, one of celebration and merriment?

No, Bergdorf Goodman was most likely setting the mood that night and not trying to take advantage of anyone. That is not to say, of course, that the mood they set with its free bubbles didn’t contribute to someone spending a little more than they had expected. However, it’s unlikely that they, Erica included, would truly be swayed to make a purchase significantly outside their means when tipsy on free bubbly. Chances are, if they are that reckless with their assets, they wouldn’t need wine to help them.

Now, let’s talk about the who. The Bergdorf Goodman brand is an iconic luxury brand whose customers tend to be more sophisticated and affluent. It enjoys the respect and trust of its core clientele. Coming across as exploitative or predatory, would erode that trust rapidly along with their margins.

As for other brands, let’s look at the possible reasons why it may be right or wrong to serve alcohol:

  • Sold! Serving alcohol to make a sale is not a good strategy for most. It sets a bad tone from the start to say nothing of the legal issues associated with, say, a customer leaving and getting into a DUI-induced accident.
  • Moody. As with the Bergdorf Goodman example, alcohol can set a mood that relaxes people and further connects them with the brand.
  • Show off. Of course, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume the liquor stores, restaurants, and spirits distributors would want to show off what they have to offer.
  • Seriously? Does your business provide a serious service? Cybersecurity, healthcare, the practice of law are all samples of businesses where the festive tone of poured glass may not mesh with who each is as a brand.

No matter the brand, a measured use of alcohol is should always be the rule as long as its sole purpose is either to set the mood or demonstrate gratitude. That having been said, is it 5 o’clock yet?

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