People in Moscow aren't going out as much as they used to. I started to realize this last New Years Eve, when I wandered onto Red Square to find only a handful of non-Moscovites staggering drunkenly about the street. In previous years, the scene would have been one of chaos, starting from Mayakovskaya Square leading up to the Kremlin. This past year, however, the festivities were confined to the area on Manezhnaya Square, right beside the Kremlin.
This became even more obvious closer to the summer when clubs began to look increasingly sparse, and the once proud and mighty queue began to disappear. It's not that clubs nowadays are inhabited by chirping crickets, but to anyone who recalls the clubbing renaissance of a few years ago, it's a very different landscape.
What's happening? It's probably a combination of the Feds' efforts to nurture a family culture, combined with a citywide hangover from the early 2000s. Some say that this is what killed disco in the States back in the late 70's. Tired, people just stayed in.
This trend has had a significant impact on major alcohol and other beverage brands. It used to be that a few key sponsorships in the right locations meant almost immediate brand and volume growth. Now, with people increasingly staying in, these producers and distributors have had to come up with new strategies.
The in thing this year is the home party. Last weekend I was at an expat organized party, one positioning itself as a New York meets Berlin type of phenomenon. The gist is that the organizers pick a new apartment each month or so, send out a bunch of email with an address and password for the door, and stuff several hundred people into a cramped space until the militia show up to shut things down. The amazing thing this time is that the home party was sponsored by... Corona.
This is a key strategy for beverage brands--reaching out to people who stay in. It's interesting to see the approach that each company takes, but it all boils down to one-to-one contact type of stuff. Some liquor distributors focus on creating clubs amongst opinion leaders and other popular folk, and have them drive the volume amongst their group. Others, such as energy drink producers, try to put together entire party kits, sort of a "just add water" type of thing: presto, you have music, drinks and great times to remember™.
Even clubs have started to recognize this trend and most have packaged house parties of their own. The club formula is a little different, in that they create a promotion group and do more exclusive events outside of their territory, usually at some renovated warehouse space, another 2007 trend.
Brands like IKEA are loving this. For a while, their thing has been to fight for more of the Russian consumer's disposable income, promoting the idea that it's ok to invest in your home's interior and stay in. This shift in preference has played directly into their plan, and if I were an investin' man, I'd put my ruble on the Swedes.
I'm not suggesting that staying in is the new black. Prior to everything falling apart in the early 90s, Soviet folk would traditionally gather in someone's apartment for anything from a birthday party to an illegal rock concert. This isn't anything new. Just turn to the pages of Death Porn, and many of the incidents have traditionally stemmed from a "home party" gone wrong. Some segments of the population, largely for lack of financial choice, simply prefer the home party. However, brands always used low price points to reach out to this segment. The higher disposable income segment, the one that used to like clubbing, just ain't got the same heart for it anymore.
It's not going to be an easy ride for the beverage people. These are restricted brands; they can't advertise on television. So how do they reach out to people who have decided to stay in, other than go door to door, offering everyone a drink? I predict that in the next year, people's homes will be transformed into a neon lit barside paradise of free gifts and incentives from the major brands. I predict that the smart consumer will be able to receive tons of comps, previously left reserved for the barman or club manager. I predict that even organizers and bar owners, previously making a nice bonus on stocking fees from distributors will see that revenue slowly trickle towards the patron, for whom, finally, someone will buy a drink.