• Beer Branding: Image is Still Everything

    by  • June 4, 2013 • Branding, Leadership, Marketing, Strategy • 0 Comments

    Labatt50Locally and globally, maintaining resiliency of a beer brand is as exciting as it is challenging. But once your brand is on the outs with the prime target group, cardiac arrest sets in. Oh sure, everyone tries to resuscitate their beloved brand with scads of Hail Mary endeavors ranging from “cool” package design to “cutting edge” advertising and “fun-loving” promotions.

    Marketers of Michelob, Fosters, Miller Genuine Draft, Black Label, and Labatt’s 50 have all walked this path. All have failed to maintain mass brand appeal over the long haul. Labatt 50 Ale used to be the leading brand in Canada. A generation later, young beer drinkers starting calling it “Dad’s beer.” Two generations later, Labatt 50 became “Granddad’s beer,” and the gig was up for good.

    Twenty-three years has passed since Andre Agassi introduced us to “image is everything” in a television ad for Canon cameras. Initially, this campaign was criticized for putting style ahead of substance. But, in very short order, outstanding sales results erased the naysayers. Canon had the goods and Agassi personified the brand’s new image.

    Experienced and astute beer marketers ought to know by now that it is far better to milk the cow than flog the dead horse. The key to success in beer marketing is keeping the brand fresh. Easier said than done. Marketers continue to seek that creative silver bullet, and once in a while an ad agency nails it, with outstanding creativity that imbeds the brand with the right emotional imagery. Last year, Carlsberg’s Belgian agency Duval Guillaume Modem introduced the concept of putting regular people through stressful predicaments and then disclosing the sting. They began with a cinema full of bikers. The video below went viral and had 11 million views within 8 months of launch.

    The slogan, That Calls for a Carlsberg, represents the consumer’s payoff for demonstrating courage in the most adverse of situations.  Carlsberg’s latest commercial, Carlsberg Puts Friends to the Test is equally powerful. The brand challenges people to call a friend in the middle of the night and ask for money to bail them out of a poker game amongst the most unsavory of characters.

    Creative such as this is the vehicle to extend Carlsberg’s life cycle in every market in which it competes. The challenge facing Carlsberg and every other long-standing beer brand, including Budweiser, is how to hit a home run every time. Even Babe Ruth couldn’t do that.

    PS: For the record, my consulting assignment with Labatt’s was to re-invent Labatt 50 Ale. Knowing that its days were done as a big brand, I recommended a niche strategy. Back then, big beer marketers hated niche strategies. Craft brewers are delighted that this view has yet to change. 

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    Formerlife: Jacobs Suchard CEO (Kraft, Nabob), Strategy Consultant. Afterlife: Palgrave Macmillan Author, Historical Novelist, Business Journalist

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