Advertising and Alcohol — Why a Gen Z creative thinks the industry should sober up

How to have better conversations and make better connections when you aren’t drinking

Published by: Little Black Book
Written by: Seun Areoye
Date: 09/08/2023

To attract Gen Z, the ad industry needs to steer away from social drinking as the default activity.

My entire soul shudders when thinking about that moment when it’s about 5pm on a Thursday and someone suggests we all go down to the pub. As a young creative in the ad industry who doesn’t drink alcohol, I’ve sometimes felt a bit alien in those moments. While the days of drinks cabinets in ad agency offices might have gone, in London, it’s still a tradition to go out drinking after work, particularly on a summer evening. When I usually have a multitude of potential plans on any given summer evening, you can imagine that going out to drink with my colleagues doesn’t end up ranking that high up on my priority list.

Of course, I’m not the only Gen Z staffer who is sober. But you still interact with a lot of older colleagues and their natural course of action is, let’s go out and have a drink. People still see the pub as a way to bond, and if you don’t go, you might miss the opportunity to create vital connections; ones that’ll prove helpful as you traverse the creative industry.

I’m not saying I couldn’t go to the pub and order a soft drink, but having to listen to (often slurred) words from my colleagues becomes more difficult as the night progresses, especially as the conversations become a lot less interesting. And while for some people, a bar is a generally accepted third space that’s not the office or your house, it’s not that for me. It’s never been a meeting ground for me and anybody I know, and I doubt that’ll change.

The point in which colleagues, or just people in general, discover I don’t drink is always more intense when in a pub, where the prime activity is drinking. I don’t necessarily feel judged for not drinking, but it certainly becomes a talking point. Whether it’s questioning if I had a bad previous experience or if it’s for religious reasons, the idea of me just not drinking alcohol because I don’t want to never feels like a sufficient answer, especially if I’m standing at a pub with a company card behind the bar. I think some people as a result sometimes feel guilty about their own drinking, but in the same way I don’t feel judged, I also don’t judge people, so I feel a bit bad when they decide to hold back, as there’s nothing worse than being a party pooper.

Like I said, I would hate to come across as anti-social, especially as I frequently go out and shake a leg to music I find interesting, even if I’m not familiar with it. I also enjoy training my competitive muscles and it’s why I now play football on Mondays, started a bowling club that happens on Tuesdays, sometimes go running (with a running club) and play chess on Wednesdays too. Believe me when I say there’s ample interest in all of these activities, and the variety I partake in means that there’s something for everyone. Whether you’re trying to run the London Marathon next year, or just are trying to be more social with a bit of casual competition, there are many things available that can be done without alcohol being at the altar of entertainment.

As a creative, I genuinely believe you can have better conversations and make better connections when you’re involved in an activity other than drinking. There is a lot more space for intentional conversations; for example, I organised a bowling party for my birthday and two of my friends began chatting: one who worked in tech, and the other a stylist. Those people connected afterwards and are now collaborating creatively. They do both drink too, further reiterating my point that everyone can appreciate spaces where drinking isn’t the main activity.

I believe our industry can do a lot more to steer people away from booze-filled work events. If you’re rewarding employees for their hard work, spending your entertainment money on putting a credit card behind a bar is a lazy option. For those who don’t drink, you’re not getting the benefit of that freebie and you’re not going to be present outside of work if it’s not something that you enjoy.

More and more Gen Z creatives are rejecting the standard of drinking, or are least entertaining the idea of sober curiosity. Given how social media obsessed many of us are, often, it’s in the pursuit of creating more informed experiences that allow us to display our multipotentiality, rather than fill our feeds with pictures of us looking sweaty with bloodshot eyes. The industry still has a diversity issue, and with agency life based so much on communication and relationships, if so much of that communication happens in a pub, you immediately isolate people who look at the industry and question whether it’s for them.

For agencies, it’s time to think outside the box, cater for different audiences and come up with some other ideas for places for employees to bond. So, whether it’s bowling on a Tuesday evening, running on a Wednesday or chess on a Thursday, there’s something for anyone looking for a sober opportunity to connect.

To read the full article, visit AdAge.