• Tom Sandham: could you sell a £40 rum just wearing pink pants?

    Well could you? Tom Sandham, one half of the double act, The Thinking Drinkers, will be trying to do that every night as part of their upcoming London show. Here he explains why we as an industry need to do far more to connect with our target drinkers by entertaining them, having some fun, and letting our hair down a bit. But not our pants…

    Well could you? Tom Sandham, one half of the double act, The Thinking Drinkers, will be trying to do that every night as part of their upcoming London show. Here he explains why we as an industry need to do far more to connect with our target drinkers by entertaining them, having some fun, and letting our hair down a bit. But not our pants…

    By November 10, 2016

    Formal drinks education is one thing, but the majority of consumers just want to be told interesting, entertaining, even funny stories about the drinks they want to buy.

    A man prepared to work for his craft. Anyone want a bottle rum for £50? asks Tom Sandham...
    A man prepared to work for his craft. Anyone want a bottle rum for £40? asks Tom Sandham…

    Can a man wearing only pink pants sell a consumer a £40 bottle of rum? No other garments. Just pink pants. These are not the questions we asked ourselves when we formed the Thinking Drinkers, and yet….and yet…. we are here to tell you that, strange as it will seem, we can draw a field tested conclusion from this very question.

    And the answer is, emphatically: yes. At least, yes we, as the Thinking Drinkers, can sell a man a bottle of discerning drink in pink pants. We know this because we have. Obviously not a boastful declaration, if anything, an embarrassing revelation that might otherwise be kept private, like our outfits. But to defend our answer with some wider context: yes, we can sell a consumer a discerning drink while wearing only pink pants, but only in a theatre during our comedy show about drink. Not in Waitrose, where we would be arrested.

    I have been writing about drink for 15 years now, along with my fellow Thinking Drinker, Ben McFarland, but in 2011 we took an unexpected diversion onto the stage, half believing we could present a sampling experience in a different way, bringing to life our frankly tired tastings at food and drink festivals.

    From humble beginnings in a converted freight container at the Edinburgh Fringe, our Thinking Drinker show captured the consumer imagination and we quickly discovered that we had a unique proposition.

    By reshaping the sampling experience, making it comedic, adding weird costumes, but also keeping the core information about categories and even brands, we were able to connect with consumer audiences and deliver messages that were previously falling on deaf ears.

    Ben McFarland, left, and Tom Sandham have put their words in to action with their own two man show on the world of drinks
    Ben McFarland, left, and Tom Sandham have put their words in to action with their own two man show on the world of drinks

    This year we performed our third incarnation of the show to more than 3,000 people, regularly selling out at one of the leading venues at the Edinburgh Fringe, we also sold out at the York Fringe, in theatres all across the UK and will do 20 dates in the Museum of Comedy in London this Christmas (click here or see below for details).

    Which is all fine and dandy for us, but what use is any of this to the wider industry? Perhaps it’s our realisation that a fresh spin on how we communicate with consumers is now necessary and that, as an industry, we need to consider how we might reach them outside of our theatres and a handful of other experiences.

    Stop talking to ourselves

    As an industry we have a tendency to talk to ourselves about drink. Some of us enjoy being experts in our own field, advancing our understanding, revelling in our inner geek, and we enjoy having more knowledge than the consumer. Some of us just want to make a buck, as efficiently as possible. But in our experience it seems the industry doesn’t consistently address how to better communicate any of this to consumers. Plenty try, but it’s no longer enough to stick on a tweed jacket and a cravat and stick your nose in a glass and talk about leather as we did 20 years ago.

    Some brands are recognising this – pop ups, secret experiences that draw the millennial away from a computer game into a brand – but there is still much more that could be done.

    We underestimate the level the consumer is at. It will come as no surprise to readers that many consumers we meet still don’t know Bacardi is a rum, indeed this is a well-worn expression of exasperation for the industry. But beyond Bacardi trying to connect with the consumer, what is the industry as a whole doing about this problem?

    In our experience, not enough. Having trained for the WSET and indeed set up a course for London’s prestigious catering college Westminster Kingsway, we have seen how limited the official channels are. And having been editors and journalists on trade magazines ranging from premium bars to pubs, we are also aware of the missed opportunity when it comes to educating bar staff, particularly with premium drinks at a pub level.

    It’s all about the stories

    Drinks education...but not as we know it.
    Drinks education…but not as we know it.

    As journalists we are lucky enough to visit the source of these drinks and be imbued with the social and historical context, but brands can’t do that with every consumer. If you sell alcohol, you need to bring a share of that to your pitch. If you employ people who sell alcohol, they must be trained to deliver these wider category stories. The stories sell the drink. Consumers don’t need much, a little piece of history or ingredient that resonates, a funny anecdote.

    In fact, perhaps rather strangely, you need to take the consumer away from the drink to bring them into it, and identify the unique elements that resonate and can be retained.

    All of which is a generalisation and there are people reading this who can rightly argue they are addressing the issue. It is even working in some areas. Gin for example has been reborn by connecting people to something as familiar as a locally sourced ingredient.

    But we are a long way from where we could be and if we add a little entertainment to the products we pitch, people will take them more seriously – even when they’re presented by a man in pink pants.

    tom-and-ben-in-action

    * The Thinking Drinkers will be performing their comedy drinks show Around the World in 80 Drinks, at London’s Museum of Comedy from November 23 to December 23. The show starts at 6pm, tickets are £15, which includes five free drinks during the hour. To book head to www.museumofcomedy.com

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