My wife was reading a novel this past week about a girl from the country who moves to the big city and desperately wants her friends to think she's made it. She routinely takes photos of other people's food, other people's drinks, and other people's clothes, thinking to herself "at some point my real life will live up to my Instagram account."
I laughed out loud when she read that line to me, but I also silently shuddered.
Let's put aside the aspect of putting on airs or the fact that many folks feel like they have to lie in response to the pressures of social media. When it comes to whiskey accounts on social media and the thousands upon thousands of bottle shots I routinely flip through on Instagram, there's an even more deceptive phenomenon at play: many of these images do not represent actual whiskey collections, not to mention actual consumption or actual purchases. Therefore, what you see happening on social media may not accurately reflect the realities of the market.
I see it weekly at this point. A guy walks into the store, heads for the whiskey section, looks around meekly, then grabs a bottle and takes a photo of it with his phone (sometimes a selfie), then walks out without buying anything. If the point of buying a bottle of whiskey at this stage in our cultural evolution is more about showing other people what you're drinking rather than the actual drinking itself, then why buy anything anymore? (HINT: how many bottle shots on Instagram show bottles that are actually open?)
Talk to the people who work fashion retail; they'll tell you similar stories. A friend of mine who works at Nordstrom said that many young girls today buy a dress, leave the tags on, wear it out to take selfies, then return it the next day for a full refund. Because of Nordstrom's lenient return policy, they have no choice but to give them their money back. As the old adage goes: why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? Or in this case, the gratification.
I get nervous when I look at the incredibly huge gulf between the perception of a product online and the actual reality of it in the store. The Golden Devil rums we brought in last year are a great example. We got loads of positivity online and I got more than a hundred emails asking about the availability of other potential Golden (Kill) Devil expressions, but very little of that energy turned into actual sales. We eventually had to lower the prices and we'll be lucky if we ultimately break even on the transaction. Yet, I still get dozens of emails every month from people wondering when the next round of rums might be coming as if this was some huge success. For those still curious, I can tell you when: never. Despite what you may see online or read on social media, our rum program has not been all that successful.
I've learned, however, that much of what I read online and on social media as it pertains to alcohol often doesn't apply to the reality of actual sales. Things that shouldn't sell, do. Things that should sell, don't. I had to chuckle the other day after reading someone's reaction to our rapid depletion of the Ardbeg Kelpie. They couldn't believe we had sold out so fast. "Who's buying this?" he exclaimed in disbelief.
I can tell you: thousands and thousands of people who don't participate in whiskey social media. They're the majority. Not the other way around.