The Neuromarketing Merits of “Icing”

Maybe you’ve seen this? You’re out at a bar enjoying the local nightlife on the weekend and suddenly you hear a group of cheers coupled with laughter. You turn your head to see what the commotion is about, and just then you see a young fellow take a knee and begin chugging a bottle of Smirnoff Ice while his friends taunt him because he was surprisingly handed this beverage. The frat boys in the bar cheer and the on-looking hipsters roll there eyes in disgust. What you’ve just witnessed is a ritual called “Icing” someone.

Surprisingly “Icing” has caught on in major way and doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing down.  As absurd and childish as this drinking game may appear it actually is no different than a lot of other rituals that surround some of America’s most beloved alcoholic beverages.

"Ritual and superstition can exert a potent influence on how and why we buy" - Martin Lindstrom, Author of Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy

Truth and Limes

I was at the bar with some of my closest friends last week and I ordered a round of Coronas to bring back to our table. I successfully brought all the beers to the table but in my haste forgot the limes on the napkin at the bar. The way my friends reacted when they realized that I brought back Coronas with no limes you would have thought I kicked a puppy.

You see, people are very ritualistic. We rely on our routines, our rituals and even our silly superstitions to get us through the day.  What I had done when I was out at the bar with my friends was violate the ritual of drinking a Corona. Serve 99% of people with an ice cold Corona with no sliced fruit and their follow up question will always be “Where’s the lime?”

The interesting thing about the ritual surround drinking a Corona is that is was invented by a bartender on a slow night sometime in 1981. I always make it a point to ask my fellow beer drinkers why they think the lime goes in the bottle and they always give me one of two answers: something about sailors on a boat or the silence of thought followed by a defeated “I don’t know…”

No matter the reason for putting a slice of lime in your beer it had done something amazing for the Corona brand. The ritual of the lime separates Corona from every other import out there in the mind of the consumer. The lime ritual was attributed to helping Corona become the #1 selling imported beer. Could the same bright future be in store for Smirnoff Ice?

The Cognitive Psychology of Rituals

You might not realize it but every day in your life is made up of a series of rituals – many of which have become so ingrained in the fabric of your life that you don’t even consciously notice them.

Other rituals hold such importance that people set aside time to consciously work through them. The best example of this is religion. People from all denominations of religious groups set an hour or so a week to practice their faith in a conscious ritualistic fashion.

Rituals are cognitively pleasing and ease our daily interactions providing us with a flow to otherwise mundane activities. However, recent research is shedding new light on why rituals, both conscious and unconscious, are so important to humans.

We live in a stressful world. Wars, fluttering economies, and disease are just some of the concerns that people face every day. Like most grave concerns they often reside out of our control. It’s now believed rituals are so important to humans because our ritualistic behavior allows us to have a sense of control in an otherwise hectic life.

“If you remove the appearance that they are in control, both humans and animals become stressed. During the Gulf War in 1991, in areas that were attacked by Scud missiles, there was a rise in superstitious and ritualistic behavior.” – Dr. Bruce Hood, University of Bristol

Humans have been susceptible to stress over the entire course of our evolution. Today we fear war and our economy. Thousands of years ago we feared getting eaten and things as simple as thunder storms. Take a look back through time and realize every single culture before us has had its rituals. No wonder putting a lime in your beer just makes sense for most people.

The future of Icing

Icing is a ritual that has caught on in the short term. It has a shared set of understood rules, actions, and for some “bros”, very passionate beliefs. Smirnoff has denied any marketing effort in creating the ritual of icing, and I believe this to be true because it’s too simple and effective for any marketing mind. But for now bros will keep icing bros and that leads to six packs of Smirnoff Ice flying off the shelves.

My gut feeling is that the Icing trend will wear itself out by the end of the summer. The key to any ritual is that it is relevant, and this is where Icing lacks the proper horsepower to sustain itself for months or even years to come.

Corona has and always will ride the wave of the ritual of the lime, because flavor is the relevance of their ritual, and that is universal to all beer drinkers. Like Smirnoff, Corona didn’t invent the lime ritual, but I’ll be damned if they don’t embrace it. Look no further than their marketing for proof of lime branding.

Smirnoff Ice has gained notoriety because the ritual of Icing.  How long they choose to sustain this notoriety is up to Smirnoff’s marketing dept. One thing remains certain in this game of rituals and marketing – they work, and in different capacities at influencing our behavior to buy.

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2 thoughts on “The Neuromarketing Merits of “Icing”

  1. Eventually “bros” will get tired of carrying around a bottle of warm malt liquor with them everywhere…..or will they? haha

    Anyway….great article as always

  2. Funny, I never really thought of the Corona lime as a ritual. I really just prefer the taste with the extra lime, but I suppose that every preference has its roots.

    As for the icing, I think it would be wise for Smirnoff to take this on…but I don’t think it would become as big of a ritual as the Corona’s lime. People will eventually begin to get sick of it. The beauty is in the shock of the unsuspecting bro.

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