This weekend sees the re-launch of
the marketing campaign formerly known as Let There Be Beer. After the
disappointment of the last campaign, can it redeem itself?
Disclosure and disclaimer: I have
been paid for my time to act as a sounding board for the development of this
campaign and to say a few words at the launch event. I have not been paid to
endorse it in any way and would not risk my reputation by writing anything
about it that I did not believe.
There was never any doubting the intent, or that it was a good idea on paper: a generic campaign that promotes all beer, that seeks to get people who have stopped drinking beer and stopped going to pubs, people who turn their noses up at beer and think that wine – any wine – is intrinsically better than beer – any beer – people who think that beer is just lager and lager is just for football hooligans – to think again about beer, to reappraise it, to question their bias.
It was a great idea in principle. It’s just a crying shame that the first attempt at executing such a campaign, funded by a collaboration of the world’s biggest brewers, was so disappointing.
Let There Be Beer has been carrying on in the background, and some of the low-level PR stuff has been quietly improving, selling beer on its diversity and getting promoted features in national press pushing beer as an accompaniment to various activities and events. But mostly the campaign was keeping its powder dry, having a rethink, bringing on board new executives and new agencies, chucking the money that couldn’t be spent on the old ad into the pot for a new approach that wasn’t going to be launched until it was right.
Along with representatives from CAMRA and the big brewers, I was invited in at various stages to see work in progress. Immediately, the difference in approach was obvious. The thinking last time had been that people who were walking away from beer just needed to be reminded how great it was, and if Big Lager was pretty much the only product featured, well, Big Lager was paying the bills.
But consumer research and industry comment both pointed out that people hadn’t simply forgotten about beer. How could they when it’s still being promoted so hard in the pub, at the supermarket and on the telly?
Beer had become commoditised, boring, taken for granted. The last thing people needed was to be reminded of what they already thought. They needed their perceptions changed.
So the new campaign set out to get people to think again about beer by focusing on beer’s variety, its quality and its versatility as a drink. You could write books on this – and many beer writers have – so it was decided that a simple way to launch this approach was to focus on beer’s suitability with food.
This doesn’t tell the whole story because that’s an impossible task for one ad campaign. But it’s a great place to start – anyone who’s taken part in a beer and food matching dinner knows what a powerful way this is of changing opinions. More and more alcohol is drunk with food these days. And it’s classic wine territory – even when people start off drinking beer, they switch to wine when the food comes out simply because they think That’s What You Do. And when beer has managed to alienate 50% of the population by being boorish and sexist in its advertising for decades, meals are a great way to make it seem more refined and suitable for everyone.
So, once again, the theory is great. How do you make sure the execution works this time? By hiring one of the best film directors in the country, and persuading him to make his first ever ad.
Michael Winterbottom (24-Hour Party People, The Trip) can shoot people brilliantly, food wonderfully, and he loves beer. Here’s what he did.
It’s real and naturalistic, and avoids all the cliches of the first film. It’s warm. And it does that thing that’s so hard to do – show modern Britain in all its brilliant diversity without seeming forced or contrived.
Trainspotters can sit and pick up the different beer styles in each scene. We can go online and discuss a particular scene and whether the Beer For That really is a wheat beer, or maybe it’s a pilsner or a pale ale, and I’m sure many of us will. You can argue they should have mentioned more beer styles by name, or should have shown more shots of pubs, or more hipsters, or fewer hipsters.
But you have to look at the broader takeout here. Most people won’t take away specific beers from this campaign, whether we’re talking Carling Zest or Weihenstephan weissbier. What they will hopefully take away is that beer is part of the cultural fabric of our lives, that’s it’s versatile and rewarding, that it can be everyday or special, craft or mainstream, ale or lager, big or small, and that however much you think you know about it, it’s always got something new to offer.
The target audience for this ad is people like my wife’s friends who still think I’m eccentric for being a beer writer, who smile indulgently and ask if I’ve ever thought of writing a ‘proper’ book, and who always, always choose wine – because That’s What You Do. I can imagine then watching this ad, then asking hesitantly, “So… what beer DO you think I might like with my Chow Mein?”*
And the best thing is, if anyone thinks they have an idea to make it better, the framework is now there for us all to input, for people who know about beer to pool their knowledge so it can be communicated more widely. There’s a massive social media element to the campaign that will be launching over the next few weeks, and Tim Lovejoy will be nowhere near it. Instead, beer writers and beer sommeliers will be providing beer match suggestions to hundreds of dishes on Twitter, and hosting live social media ‘beer clubs’ on classic styles. (I’m doing Belgian beers on 28th November). If you think you can do better than what’s out there, the nice thing is that, this time, they’d love to hear from you and for you to get involved.
For me, this campaign puts right pretty much all of what was wrong with the last one. It’s what I hoped the last one was going to be. The timing of it is perfect. I believe people are open for this kind of message right now, and think ‘There’s a Beer for That’ will capture, solidify and amplify the current excitement around beer.
You’ll always be able to pick faults in a campaign like this, that has to go through careful research validation and approval by committee. But it’s a bold and extraordinary move on the part of the big global brewers to celebrate so much of beer, so far beyond the core of mainstream lager. This isn’t a campaign to promote craft beer or real ale or mainstream lager; it’s a campaign to promote all beer.
I like it. I hope you do too. Whatever your tastes, this is a good thing for beer.
*OK, they don’t really eat Chow Mein. We live in Stoke Newington.