Speakeasies, born during the Prohibition Era (1920-1933), were created to appease the drinking and daring kind. The phrase “speak softly shop” appeared first in the British slang dictionary, published in 1823. This expression bounced into the United States in the 1880s, in a Pennsylvania newspaper reading, “they were so called ‘speak-easies’ because of the practice of speaking quietly about such a place in public, or when inside of it, so as to not to alert the police or neighbors.”
If you’ve ever been to a speakeasy, you know it’s a delectable thrill. You’re in on something secretive, maybe even forbidden, and you’re solving a code – or know a secret password. Speakeasy culture came back sometime in 1999 when Milk & Honey in New York City opened, meant to revive cocktail culture and provide an alternative for loud nightlife. And boy, did the trend rise.
So, what does this have to do with marketing?
Speakeasy culture has a lot to say about how we should be communicating in a world that loves to be "in on" a secret. Here are five insights that were successful for the speakeasy world and can be applied to your experiential marketing strategy.
Exclusivity is intoxicating
Sometimes, you have to be creative about how people experience something – especially when it comes to a day and age full of sensory moments. How can you make things exclusive? Speakeasies do this well, creating different variations of how people can access the brand. Why not make an experience feel like a reward? When it comes to speakeasies, we don’t think people are even going there to socialize. The bar concept makes them feel sophisticated and tempted to share the experience with friends. That’s the intoxicating part. Make people feel like they’re sharing something others don’t have access to (right away, anyhow). For Americans in general, enduring a sense of elitism is contagious and traces back to the Pilgrims. In Jonah Berger’s book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, it mentions this theory and the social currency of knowing what’s exclusive. Make people feel ahead of the curve.
The idea of a pageantry experience can build an evolution
The true hallmarks of speakeasy culture (secret passwords, hidden doors, mystery, craft cocktails, rules of entry, and an unknown atmosphere) are what drives the appeal. How can we apply this toward marketing? By creating experiences that are excruciatingly unique – while still serving a purpose. Speakeasies wanted to get people excited about good cocktails again. When you’re thinking of your marketing goals, how can you accomplish them in a way that gets people to care? Maybe it’s all about taking a piece of history and re-applying it to today’s world with an elaborate ceremony. The re-birth of cocktails paired with speakeasy culture, as Nielsen reported in 2016, found a 23% increase of Americans regularly drinking cocktails at bars. And sales keep going up.