Pete Brown has an excellent article in the Daily Mail. If you wanted a Beer Marketing 101 primer on beer marketing and why what’s on the bottle is often more important that what’s in the bottle, I’d highly recommend it.
My Brodie’s Notes version is below…
By the time I joined, Stella was growing at an incredible 20-30 per cent every year. It was my job to analyse this success and make sure we didn’t do anything to spoil it, researching consumer trends, talking to beer drinkers about their tastes.
It was a tough job – from 9am every morning we were all thinking about beer. Was ‘refreshing’ a better word than ‘quenching’? Was Stella’s assertive bitter bite an asset or a problem? Did the way the light caught the glass, making it shine like liquid gold, look good enough in the new commercial?
Inbev made Stella a priority global brand, and it started playing by big-brand rules. At the same time, supermarkets became increasingly aggressive in price-promoting beer, using it as a loss leader to drive people into the store.
The idea of a pint in the pub is under assault from all sides.
One brewery executive recently admitted to me, ‘If the supermarkets could take beer off the shelves as soon as they’d got you in through the door, they would. Once you’re in there, no one wants to sell it to you because no one makes any money from it.’
Since 2000, the price of beer in pubs has increased by around 40 per cent. In supermarkets it’s actually fallen. As Stella nears a national average of £3 a pint in pubs, the same beer retails for the equivalent of £1 a pint in Tesco and Asda. On promotion, it can fall to as little as 67p a pint – in some instances, cheaper than bottled water.
Other beer brands do discount more often and more steeply than Stella, but Stella is the only one doing so that made a virtue of its expense to build a premium image. Increasingly people recognised it as a big brand. But not a particularly special one.
After the merger, Inbev instituted an aggressive cost-cutting culture. Out went the lavish TV ad production budgets. In came cheaper, high-visibility posters. Out went the embossed cans; in came a smaller bottle size for supermarket multipacks.
The beer itself, brewed in the traditional style with quality ingredients, had always tasted more full-bodied than its competitors. That put some people off. Inbev started to brew with maize, cheaper than barley, producing a blander-tasting beer.
Two brands that replaced Stella were Peroni and Pilsner Urquell, both brewed by Miller Brands. Peroni, with lavish ads recreating the film La Dolce Vita and a £4 price tag, reminds me in some ways of where Stella was ten years ago. Nick Miller, managing director of Miller Brands, disagrees.
‘We’re in a completely different market to the big mainstream brands,’ he argues. ‘We’re in the “world beer” market – beers that are brewed in their country of origin (the Stella we drink is brewed in Wales) and that offer the consumer something genuinely different.’
I’m not sure about that. Some of these ‘world beer’ brands feel like a desperate marketing gimmick. Beers from countries such as Russia, Estonia, Brazil or Peru are sold at a premium to established brands and are considered fashionable simply because they come from somewhere we haven’t seen beer from before. But inside the bottle, they can be very average. When they lose their novelty value, what’s to stop them disappearing like any other fad?
There’s another problem for the old guard of premium lager brands: as you educate consumers, they become more discerning. Stella has always been brewed in Magor, south Wales, and Samlesbury in Lancashire.
‘There was a time when drinkers would not have been concerned by this,’ says one industry insider, ‘but if you spend years telling people your lager is genuinely continental they’re going to be disappointed when they find out it’s made in a shed down the road.
The comment from the Miller Brands MD is almost identical to the answer I got when I asked if XXXX Summer Bright Lager was competing against Corona (same clear bottle, same coloured beer, similar label). So similar in fact that you see comments like this,
I saw a bus stop ad this morning for XXXX’s new Summer Bright Lager. My immediate thought was “Those look a lot like Corona or Sol, I wonder if they are anything alike. I want some.” I’m not sure there is any logic in this line of thinking, but the marketing obviously worked on me, I picked up a six pack on the way home, along with a Corona for comparison. The six set me back $14.99.
But in beer marketing terms, they are completely different, “Corona are an imported beer from Mexico, we’re brewed here”.