Advertising & Marketing


Dec 22, 2020 / By Vanessa Horwell

Why write now? It's been a while since I posted anything. And before that, a bunch of months, mostly because during all this time I've just wanted to scream and scream and scream again with frustration, disillusionment, anxiety, fear, and worry. You know, all the things that push up your stress and cortisol levels and make you want to reach for a drink.

So when I read a piece in AdAge about Tropicana's pre-Christmas campaign promoting sneaky Mimosas because come on, who hasn't been tempted by day drinking over the past nine months, it made me think about my own behaviors, relationship with "soft drinks as treats" and to what extent the pandemic has shaped them.

I grew up in Australia, the child of Bulgarian immigrants. So I had a double-whammy of alcohol acceptance going on in my family. No outing among my Aussie friends was complete without stubbies (beers) and family outings involved disgusting rakia or home-made vodka.  

Then, in London, where I lived for ten years, a pint of beer or glass of wine at the pub with lunch was perfectly normal. Like Australia, pubs and bars are almost on every corner, so it never felt strange to be surrounded by a culture of drinking back then - it was never not there.

A trip across the pond 16 years ago landed me in Miami, where I've lived off and on ever since. But when it comes to drinking culture here, Miami is different from other US cities I've spent time in, and it's hard to escape its party-hard, drink-hard image - even in lockdown.

Maybe also because it's what I've come to accept as normal. But how normal?

This country's relationship with alcohol is storied and complex. And how we live with alcohol is also a paradox. So when I read youdonthavetohitrockbottom's post about Tropicana exploiting this moment of great fear and "doing what we can to cope every day," I agree. They have. But isn't that what marketers do?

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Let's ask ourselves about the marketers that are doing the very same thing with sugary snacks. They might be the real 'winners' of the pandemic if one could ever consider there would be a win from COVID-19, tapping into our need for coping through any means possible. The difference? Sugar isn't a vice. 

Yes, we're all coping. And it looks like we'll be at it for a while longer

For me, the challenge is the duality we hold for companies, brands and our own behaviors. I am the first to admit that my coping mechanism these past months has been a lot of wine. And I don't even have kids at home to add to the daily stressors. The boundaries between work and home have vanished. There's no off switch anymore, or that moment in the day to start winding down. Instead, we're trying to recreate those moments whenever we can, sneaking in cocktails and snacks as some temporary escape. These behaviors have made me question the concept of normal because nothing is like what it was before. Is this how we'll live now in the after?


And yet, it's hard to admonish a brand marketer that taps into a pervasive sentiment. That approach is part of their DNA and how products are marketed and sold. Is it irresponsible? Sometimes, like the Tropicana campaign has well illustrated.

More than anything, the campaign highlights just how deeply our society is hurting and struggling and that a sneaky tipple morning, noon or night is the best thing we can aim or hope for.

I'm not saying that we can't and shouldn't find small pleasures - or any pleasures - or that we shouldn't find things to celebrate. And right now, our traditional association with food and drink and nurturing, sharing with friends and family and discovering new cultures IRL is almost non-existent.

But we can't drink or eat our way out of this crisis and into happiness, despite how great all those Instagram posts might look.

So thank you to youdonthavetohitrockbottom and Tropicana for this (ahem) sobering reality check on our lives.

And while we’re at it, let's take a moment to think about the broader issue of our collective mental health and what we can do to help each other and ourselves during what's going to be another very uncertain year.

Vanessa Horwell

Vanessa Horwell
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