NekNominate: Why the Latest Viral Craze has Alcohol Brands Running for Cover

If your Facebook feed has been littered with videos featuring people downing questionable alcoholic concoctions and “nominating” friends to do the same, I feel your pain. If you’ve managed to elude the trend (lucky you), you may not be able to for much longer. The craze, which began in Australia and the UK, has been sweeping the globe and is set to hit the American virtual space soon.

What started out as a “fun” trend, involving mixing everything in your bar into a dirty pint and then “necking” the entire thing, has turned into something a little more sinister. The desire to create ridiculous, viral content and engage in the social media game has led to five deaths in recent weeks.

Aside from clearly promoting some seriously f-ed up attitudes towards alcohol, it has also triggered a dangerous cycle of social “one-upping”. Videos featuring people ingesting live-goldfish, contents of medicine cabinets, and other assorted substances in an effort to out-do each other, are all over the Internet.

Whether it’s by highlighting the fun, social side of drinking in their campaigns, moving into event production like Smirnoff or music production like Ballantines, alcohol companies seem to be distancing themselves from the pure act of drinking. We see plenty of ads for Beer (the most amicable alcohol), but ads for hard liquor are hard to come by. And what’s more, even beer ads shy away from the actual act of drinking beer a lot of the time.

Alcohol brands have worked pretty hard to cultivate a somewhat innocuous image for their product that makes it easy for the consumer to ignore the underbelly. They’ve painted a pretty picture that we’ve been okay accepting. What a trend like this does is undo all their work. It pulls off the rose-tinted glasses and re-opens the dialogue about healthy alcohol consumption habits. Brands that are smart will jump in on the right side of the debate.

DrinkAware, a charitable organization that promotes alcohol awareness has vehemently denounced the NekNominate trend. The organization is supported by the alcohol industry, (brands like Heineken, Diageo and Pernod Ricard, Bacardi are full members) and endorses responsible drinking practices. The organization is also a useful tool for brands that want to re-direct the narrative in their favor. By stressing their association with an organization that is deeply invested in fostering positive drinking habits in young people, alcohol brands could come out of this tidal wave of bad publicity, relatively unscathed.

What this dual conception of alcohol shows us is interesting. Content seems to be developing along two separate verticals today. There’s the no holds barred, crazy online content and the tame tempered down, TV content. Content is getting crazier online because it can. The online platform offers an honest look at things, but maybe this is pushing the boundary a tad bit too far.
Search #NekNominate if you dare.

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