Pouring Out Insights on Free Drink Sampling’s Impact on Brand Equity

  • Untapping System1 and DUSK’s Research
  • The Impact on Fame, Feeling and Fluency

Around 30% of UK alcohol sales occur in on-premise establishments like pubs and restaurants. With off-trade sales of wine, beer and spirits falling in all major markets in Europe in 2022 and inflation impacting both on- and off-trade net profits, brands need ways to keep consumer interest and loyalty brewing.

Sampling is a popular approach for food and drink manufacturers, as it allows consumers to try before they buy and, in the case of alcohol, get exposure to drinks they may not be familiar with or would not gravitate towards at a pub or on a retail shelf. One way drinks brands can execute this is through DUSK, a nightlife and bar discovery app, that partners with brands to sponsor free drinks at scale. Whether you’re an established brand or a new entry to the market, sampling can get free goods in the hands of a new audience that has the power to purchase and influence others if their experience goes well.

And free is key. There’s been quite a bit of research conducted around free products and the impact they have on human behaviours – free is appealing, even more so than a higher-quality item offered at a lower, near-free price.

Recently, System1 and DUSK conducted a joint study, “Do Free Drinks Work? Free Drink Sampling’s Dramatic Long-term Effect On Brand Equity.” Read on to learn more about the findings and best practices for alcohol brands.

Untapping System1 and DUSK’s Research

To understand how free drink sampling impacts brands over the long-term, System1 and DUSK created three research groups totalling nearly 850 consumers:

  • Control Group – DUSK users comprised over 70% of the Control Group. None of the people in this group sampled any drinks for free.
  • Group A – DUSK users who had a free sample of Brand A, a premium brand with over 100 years of heritage.
  • Group B – DUSK users who had a free sample of Brand B, a relatively new super-premium brand.

To ensure research replicated real-world brand strength, and groups could be compared between each other, all groups were nationally representative on social class and age. To ensure the groups could be compared, beyond ensuring they were Nat Rep, we controlled for brand usage. The majority of the sample had not tried any of the brands before.

The Test Your Brand studies were carried out between 1 and 6 months after the free drink sampling event. Therefore, the effects measured in this study reflect long-term brand equity shifts, not the immediate after effects.

The System1 Test Your Brand platform measures brand health using three key metrics: Fame, Feeling and Fluency. Fame reflects current brand share – if a brand comes readily to mind, it’s a good choice. Feeling predicts future brand share – if Feeling is high relative to Fame, then brand growth is likely to occur. Fluency enables brands to charge a premium – if consumers recognise a brand quickly, it’s a good choice.

Fame, Feeling and Fluency percentiles are weighted and converted into an extremely powerful, but easy to understand, brand Star Rating to predict overall brand health. The Star Rating is validated to predict in-market performance with a high level of accuracy.​

The Impact on Fame, Feeling and Fluency

Free sampling has a very large long-term effect on overall brand health, driven by large positive increases in Fame, Feeling and Fluency. ​In fact, Figure 1 uses metrics from Test Your Brand to showcase the gains made by both Brand A and Brand B when sampling is executed.

  • Fame – Sampling has a large positive effect on brand awareness, with impressive increases in top of mind and total unaided awareness, with increases between 100-300% and 145-183% respectively. This is because sampling helps a brand come to mind easily. Sampling has similar effects on top of mind and unaided awareness to advertising exposure, however, sampling with advertising exposure causes the largest increase in awareness.
  • Feeling – Happiness is the most important emotion in brand equity. Sampling leads to more positive emotions for brands and less neutrality (up to a 59% decrease in neutral emotion). In addition to increasing the percentage of people feeling positive towards the brand, the practice also leads to greater emotional intensity, ensuring lasting effects. While sampling increases emotional intensity more than advertising alone, the largest effect is when consumers are exposed to both, resulting in an increase in happiness up to 147%.
  • Fluency – There’s a common myth that free product sampling increases price sensitivity among consumers. In fact, sampling makes a product more distinctive for consumers. This means it is easier to recognise on the shelf and in on-premise environments in the case of drinks, and it allows brands to charge a premium for the product. ​Sampling alone saw distinctiveness increases of up to 45% and grew to over 53% when coupled with advertising activity. Specifically, our research found that the combination of advertising and sampling led to more consumers agreeing about “Great Taste”, “Getting More Popular” and “Trustworthy” for the brands.

Beyond brand health shifts, free product sampling via DUSK has been shown to work in three other areas of the marketing mix:

  • Increase consumer penetration
  • Increased product distribution
  • Increased product Rate of Sale

Sampling also led consumers to spend an additional £13 in-bar for every sample redeemed, leading to a 106% and 150% sales increase at sampling sites for two brands.

To learn more about these benefits, as well as 6 heuristic-based rules that inform 7 best practices for free sampling, access the report, “Do Free Drinks Work? Free Drink Sampling’s Dramatic Long-term Effect On Brand Equity” from System1 and DUSK. It is a comprehensive first-of-its-kind analysis on this topic that is a must-read for those who conduct sampling or are considering it.


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