Category: Beer Marketing

| Beer, Beer Marketing

The 2022 Beer and Cider Marketing Awards: Winners Revealed!

It’s been a rocky road back after four years away, but last Thursday we once again pitted brewers and cider makers of all shapes and sizes against each other to celebrate creativity on the outside of the bottle, can, glass or plastic tub.

We did the first Beer Marketing Awards in 2015, and added cider in 2017. The awards last ran in 2018. This year, in conjunction with Brew//LDN, we revived the contest. The idea for this event has always been that it is for the whole industry: a craft brewer with an idea and a social media account can compete against a multinational with a seven figure budget if the idea is good enough. Everyone has the same amount of space on a can or bottle label, or the same 280 characters on Twitter.

We had also hoped to host an event where the whole industry could come together under one roof to socialise and network. By 2018, our awards ceremony had built a strong reputation as a breath of fresh air in industry events. But in these strange and uncertain times, most of our entrants preferred an online, virtual presentation instead. So we broadcast a short announcement last Thursday, which you can view here:

Hopefully we can all get together again physically next year.

We made awards in thirteen categories, with our overall Beer and Cider Marketer of the Year chosen from those category winners. You might notice a distinct absence of cider – we only had TWO cider entries this year. I hope that changes next year. Anyway, the results were as follows.

Best Branding/Design

Gold: St Austell – Korev

This is such a big step change from where the brand was and pulls it away from the traditional cask style branding previously being used. It created a clear set of assets that have been consistently applied, and delivers a broad appeal whilst still anchoring back to the brewery’s Cornish roots with the nice line, “The coast is our compass”, combined with imagery inspired by the Cornish coastline.

Silver: The Potting Shed – Little Big BrewCo

Great approach literally applying named identities to each of their range. Although using some tried and tested visual approaches from the craft world, the result is a clean look and feel that position the product well in the market place.

Highly Commended: Asahi – Dark Star rebrand

Highly Commended: Vocation rebrand

Best Community Engagement

Gold: Brixton – The Beer Exchange

The Beer Exchange campaign promotes keeping things in the spirit of the community, wherever you are.
The brewery has created a first-of-its-kind beer “exchange,” encouraging beer lovers in New York and London to buy each other a pint from across the pond. This transatlantic brewery collab came about in June 2021, as the Harlem and Brixton Business Improvement Districts started an exciting twinning partnership to celebrate the shared heritage, culture and values of the areas. Brixton Brewery has donated all the proceeds from the exchange to Norwood & Brixton Foodbank. 

Silver: No award made.

Best Corporate Responsibility Initiative

Gold: Place of the Way – Please/Thank You

The goal of this charity is to raise awareness of mental health issues in the hospitality industry, which it did with colour and verve. They worked with no budget, collaborating with brewers who paid for production and artists’ time. Otherwise, they pitched for investment, received donations (mostly people’s time) or did the project for free. A great way to help an industry that serves us with a smile, by donating towards one-to-one therapy. They created a truly big impact with minimal resources.

Silver: Toast Ale – Companion Series

No strangers to these awards, Toast Ale’s founding mission is to create great beer while reducing food waste. This year they amplified their message by collaborating with a range of brewers to create beers using food waste to rase funds for charity partners and to send a message to world leaders in the run-up to the COP26 climate summit.

Highly Commended: Portobello – Polari

Best Digital Marketing 

Gold: No award given

Silver: Untold Agency and Budweiser Budvar “Greetings From the Republic of Beer”

The aim of this campaign was to evoke the spirit of the Czech Republic in the minds of every Budvar drinker. The results were impressive across the board, resulting in Budvar overtaking its main competitor, Pilsner Urquell, to become the most successful export lager from the Czech Republic.

Best Experiential Marketing

Gold: Asahi UK, Peroni – House of Peroni

House of Peroni has been one of the most lavish and impressive experiential brand activations for years now. In 2022 they took the concept to BST Hyde Park, elevating the festival drinks experience in a way that was easily shareable with the wider world.

Silver: Cannabrew – Head in the Clouds

Not really experiential in the way we mean it, but what’s not to love about strapping your mum to the wing of a plane with a can of your new cider stuck in her hand in order to launch the new CBD-infused drink? Mum knows best!

Best Innovation

Gold: Signature Brew – Beer Grant

Signature Brew’s founding proposition is that music and beer go hand in hand. Giving beer grants to struggling live music venues post-Covid put their money where their mouth is, did genuine good and worked well for the brand too.

Silver: Place of the Way – Please/Thank You

A great charity initiative that raised awareness around mental health in the hospitality industry. The campaign put spotlight on a very important issue. 

Best Integrated Campaign

Gold: Lucky Saint – Dry January 2022

This perfectly executed 2022 Dry January campaign was run in multiple platforms, from socials to newsletters, from on-trade to off-trade, from e-commerce to PR, and from sponsorships to events.
A great job from a team that with a single beer has helped changed the perception of the Alcohol-Free category among premium brand drinkers.

Silver: Black Sheep – Drink Cask Beer

A lovely initiative to support local pubs and real ale, with a very simple message that’s executed in a fresh, modern way in a sector that’s often seen as conservative, old-fashioned and behind the times.

Best New Launch/Start-up

Gold: Anspach & Hobday – London Black

A nitro porter aiming to provide an alternative to Guinness. There’s a sly dig at Guinness with the tagline “Some beers taste better in Dublin. London Black tastes better everywhere.”  Also, the offer to install nitro lines free of charge and take professional photos of the pubs for them to use as promo shots, are both great touches in growing relationships.

Silver: No award given.

Highly Commended: Place of the Way – Please/Thank You

Best Public Relations Campaign

Gold: Heineken – No and Low Product Placement

Used product placement for the first time in soaps to market Heineken 0.0 by placing in the viewers’ subconscious that no and low products are available and now part of the normal pub landscape. A bold new way to market alcohol to a wide audience.     

Silver: Heineken – I am the twelfth woman

Used the opportunity of Women’s Euros to create a campaign to challenge gender bias in football. They created an advert with famous faces in men’s and women’s football in the UK and created and sold a T-shirt (I am the12th Woman) with all the profit going to Women’s Football. 

Best Trade Marketing Campaign

Gold: Anspach & Hobday – London Black

Although small scale, this approach is a really great example of a mutually beneficial approach to trade support. Providing hi-res photographic assets is a great value add to maintain distribution alongside sharing that content through brand channels to add further value and create great content. 

Silver: No award given.

Highly Commended: Magic Rock – Saucery

Best Use of Merchandise/Point of Sale Material

Gold: Brixton – Tap Handles

These US craft beer-style tap handles did a great job, helping the pubs that have decided to stock their beers as well as the brand itself, by creating really strong impact.

Silver: St Austell – Korev

The Korev rebrand that begins on the bottle and pump clip extends naturally and effectively into pubs and bars.

Best Use of Sponsorship 

Gold: Asahi UK – Fuller’s London Pride x The British & Irish Lions

A sponsorship idea that genuinely links the ongoing strategy of the the brand with a core truth about the sport being sponsored. The depth in the sponsorship is great to see in terms of the content created and the use of ambassadors, and content in and around the fixtures themselves. The trade customer activity really landed how well the brand understood the tournament, celebrating not only the Lions team but also the host nation. 

Silver: None

Overcoming Adversity

Gold: Place of the Way – Please/Thank You

The judges loved how the campaign managed to engage with a consumer base without the conversation becoming too heavy.

Silver: No award given.

Grand Prix: Beer and Cider Marketer of the Year

There were three or four strong contenders, with Heineken in particular deserving a special mention for simply owning the PR category for most of the history of these awards. To take both gongs in the category in the same year is an incredible feat.

But our winner – for the second year running – is St Austell, this time for the rebrand of Korev lager. It may have won gold in best branding, but it worked well across the board: great visual presence in outlet, and some nice activation activity outside. There’s a creative idea at the heart of it. It’s bold, eye-catching, linked to a strong sense of place and to the brand itself. The result: growth that outpaces even the runaway success of the world lager category.

Think you can do better? Look out for details of next year’s awards!

I was a marketer long before I was a beer writer, and I still like to keep my hand in. For more marketing insight, sign up to my regular industry newsletter, or get exclusive, paywalled content via my Patreon. If you’d like to have a chat about you business specifically, drop me a line.

| Beer, Beer Marketing, Marketing

How to win big at the Beer and Cider Marketing Awards

Our awards are under three weeks away and entries close this week. But there’s still time for you to send in something that’s going to win a shiny gong. Yeah, you need to have done some really good work. But you also need to write a good entry. Here’s how.

Judging the Beer and Cider Marketing Awards is always an educational experience. 

Our judges are recruited from across the industry to provide a cross-section of opinions. I’m always delighted to find that when we get everyone together in a room, discussion is friendly, but robust. 

One year, we had an entry that was all about a piece of experiential marketing at a beer event. It was an installation I’d visited personally, and when we came to discuss it, I waxed lyrical about how brilliant it had been, how original and immersive it was, how professionally it had been executed, describing all the little details that made it truly special.

The rest of the judges looked at me blankly, and when I finished, one of them said gently, “Yes, Pete, but none of that is on the entry form.”

I looked again, and realised all we had actually been given was a very brief written outline of what the event entailed, with little supporting imagery. I had to concede the point. The entry didn’t win its category. 

It should have, because it was one of the most original and engaging pieces of marketing I’ve seen in recent years. But it was let down by a poor entry form. 

Conversely, I’ve judged many pub awards schemes in the past. These usually consist of written entry forms in the early rounds, followed by scheduled visits to the shortlisted pubs. There was one particular pub that I’d seen shortlisted in every competition I’d judged. Every time, I was entranced by the stories of the location, the building, the events they put on, the beer selection, the energy and enthusiasm that leapt off the page. I was desperate to visit, so much so that when it came up one more time, I offered to do the site visit myself, at my own expense. 

I went and stayed at the pub the night before my morning visit with the licensee, in one of the rooms they had to let (it really did have everything.) The service was lackadaisical to the point of rudeness. The food was awful. The beer wasn’t conditioned properly, and the whole place was shabby. When I met the licensee the following morning and they asked me if I’d come far, when I replied that I’d stayed the night before without their knowledge, the look of horror in their eyes said it all. This was a licensee far better at writing entry forms than actually running a pub.

The quality of the entry form in any awards scheme that asks you to present your case in narrative form rather than just submitting work is vital. 

I’ve been in these situations myself. I know that something like an entry form keeps getting bumped down the To-Do list until the last possible minute, and then gets rushed. 

But I also know that once you create some space, if there’s time to sit down and do it properly, you get genuine joy out of reflecting on your achievements and presenting your case to someone else. If the entry is one you genuinely believe in, it reminds you of why you do what you do.  

If you’re proud of your work, it deserves a strongly written entry. There’s a saying in advertising that nothing kills a bad product as quickly as good marketing, because you drive people to the product in droves and they quickly discover it doesn’t meet up to expectations. That’s what happened with my multi-awards nominated pub. 

But conversely, nothing kills a claim to great marketing quicker than a rushed or poorly written awards entry. So here are a few tips on avoiding a premature demise:

  • Read the form through first. There’s a shape to it. You shouldn’t be repeating yourself endlessly in each section.
  • Make time – do a really bad early draft that you can come back to and polish later. It’s always easier to edit than to start from scratch.
  • Use the space you’re given – if there’s one sentence in each section, they’re going to have to be pretty amazing sentences to make much of an impression.
  • Think of it as an argument rather than a form filling exercise. You’re not presenting information; you’re trying to convince a knowledgeable, engaged reader. Each section should support the others, building your case. By the time we’ve finished reading the form, we should be desperate to look at the work.
  • Avoid jargon. You may be being read by an expert in your discipline, or you may be being read by a brewer or publican who is very smart but doesn’t come across reach and OTS, spontaneous and promoted awareness or CAGR in their jobs.
  • When you have a draft, show it to someone outside your team, preferably someone unfamiliar with the work, and ask them if it reads in a convincing way.
  • It may sounds obvious, but please include examples of the work! If you’ve done TV or press advertising, it kind of helps if you send the ads in for people to look at. If you’ve done an event, think how best you can capture it and bring it alive. If there’s video, press coverage, captured tweets – anything – send them to us. 
  • Confidentiality – you’ll have your own internal guidelines on this. If there’s anything on the form that you don’t feel comfortable answering or are unable to answer, just explain this and give us the best indication you can. No specific details or information will be shared beyond the judges without your permission.

Entries should be submitted here. The clock is ticking. Good luck!

| Beer, Beer Marketing, Events, Marketing, The Business End

The UK Beer and Cider Marketing Awards are Back!

The awards ceremony is back after a four-year hiatus, and is happening on the trade day of BrewLDN on 6th May.

As one of the original founders and Chair of Judges for the UK Beer and Cider Marketing Awards, I’m delighted to team up with the guys at BrewLDN to bring the awards back. We’re going to be holding them in the evening of the Trade Day, at Printworks in London.

Back in 2015, when James Cuthbertson, Jo Miller and I first launched these awards, we had two specific goals in mind. 

Firstly, we wanted to create something that was relevant to the whole brewing and cider industries, from the biggest global brewer to the smallest start-up. When I first joined the industry, the best work came from those with the biggest budgets, but this simply isn’t true any more. In the four editions of the awards we ran between 2015 and 2018, we gave out our heavy, pint-shaped trophies for everything from international sponsorship campaigns to cool T-shirts. If a great Insta story or fifty quid spent on sponsoring a local bike ride showed as much creativity and effectiveness as a TV ad, it stood just as much chance as winning – if not more. 

Second, we wanted to break the mould of industry events. We know people come to big events to network. So there’s no black tie, no bloke off the national lottery making booming announcements, no rubber chicken. We’re informal, we’re businesslike and efficient with the awards presentation, and we allow as much time for mingling and chatting as we can.

My founding partners have both stepped back from the awards now, and with their blessing, I’m delighted to enter a new partnership with BrewLDN. We quickly managed to build a reputation as one of the best nights in the industry calendar and this is the perfect fit to carry that reputation forward and build on it.

Entries are now open and we have some new categories to broaden the opportunities for small and medium-sized brewers and cider-makers to get involved. So if you sell beer or cider t any scale, or work for someone who does, there’s an award for you. Entries close mid-April, so check out the website here and write your way to glory!
https://www.beermarketingawards.co.uk

| Art of Beer, Beer, Beer Books, Beer Marketing, Beer Writing, Books, Writing

Brewers! Design agencies! I want YOU for my next book project.

You wait ages for a book and then two come along at once. Here’s a new project I’m delighted to be working on with CAMRA Books: “The Art of Beer”.

In a perfect world, as a full-time writer of books you should be promoting the book that just came out, finishing off the next one, and planning the one after that, all at the same time. Lead-times are long in publishing, and a years gap between finishing one project and starting the next can easily turn into a three-year gap between the publication of one book and the next.

It never works out like that in reality. Timelines get stretched in some places and compressed in others. Coronavirus has really exacerbated this.

So: the paperback of my last book, Pie Fidelity, was published on 23rd April but thanks to warehousing and distribution issues related to lockdown it is only available this week. I’ll come back to that later in the week.

My self-published book, Craft: An Argument, is almost finished and will be published on 25th June.

And now I’m starting work on my next one. The Art of Beer will be a lavishly illustrated book about beer design and packaging, published by CAMRA Books in October 2020.

I came into beer from marketing and still occasionally get involved in consultancy on packaging design. As Chair of the Beer and Cider Marketing Awards, I’ve had the job of overseeing the judging of best beer packaging design sat a time when designers have thrown the rulebook out of the window. Now I get to celebrate all of this in book form.

It would be very, very easy to gather together images of the coolest craft beer labels and cans around at the moment, and fill a book with wonderful designs like these:

Magic Rock, by Richard Norgate

Black Iris, by Kev Grey

 

Siren, by voyagebrand.co.uk

 

And we will certainly be doing a lot of that. This is book to be gazed at with longing.

But I wouldn’t be able to think of myself a a writer if that was all it did.

So while the book will major on beautify craft beer designs, it will also tell the story of beer design, labelling and packaging from when it really took off as a discipline in the late nineteenth century until the present day.

We’ll start with why brands became so important, looking in particular at why the UK’s first ever registered trade mark was for Bass Pale Ale:

The first UK trade mark

We’ll look at the theory of how branding is supposed to work, and the tricks designers use to make a product stand out from the competition, and make you desire it.

We’ll explore the how and why of beer logos:

Since 1964, the ‘e’ n Heineken has been tilted so it ‘smiles’.

Milton Glaser’s original sketches for the Brooklyn logo

We’ll talk about why some brewers prefer typographical designs, and how that works:

Devastatingly simple, universally admired, and much copied: The Kernel

And we’ll look at why certain picture-led routes are enduringly popular:

Local history is enduringly popular for cask ale

We’ll also  be looking at the history of bottles and cans, the clever use of different bottle shapes, crown cap designs, and secondary packaging such as gift boxes, six-pack holders and so on. 

If you are a brewer or design agency that is really proud of your design work, and you’d like it to feature in the book, please drop us a line on petebrownsemail@gmail.com. We have only two rules:

  1. 1. While we’re not limiting this to British beers only, any beer featured must be readily available on sale in the UK.

2. Whole there’s a lot to be written about poor or questionable design, this book will only feature designs that the team think are beautiful or are otherwise important in the history and evolution of beer design. 

So please – sen us your beers! And if you’re a beer fan rather than a brewer and you think there’s a beer we should definitely feature, let me know. (And thanks to everyone who did so when I asked this question on Twitter and Facebook last week.)

  •  

 

| Beer, Beer Marketing, Catalonia, Craft Beer, Skullwatch

Craft Beer Skull Watch: The first in an occasional series

Last month I went on amazing press trip to Catalonia. We visited about fifteen breweries in six exhausting days – and I quickly spotted an interesting trend…

I blame Beavertown. While their beers are always excellent, part of their astonishing success surely rests on the brand world created by Creative Director Nick Dwyer. It’s modern yet retro, shocking yet fun, and was, when it first appeared, utterly unlike anything else in the beer market. Beavertown’s packaging set a standard for craft beer that many of the brewery’s contemporaries have risen to, and others have aspired to.

So we got to Catalonia on Friday 16th March, just in time for the Barcelona Beer Festival the following day. I’ve written in the latest issue of Original Gravity about how exciting and inventive the beer scene is over there, and how it’s not just in the centre of Barcelona (which now has over thirty breweries) but throughout the entire region.

We met several brewers at the festival itself, and then spent the next four days travelling around the whole of Catalonia, from the wine region just outside Tarragona in the south, to the foothills of the Pyrenees in the north. I don’t think we tasted a single bad beer, and there were very few average ones. Craft beer culture may be new to Catalonia, but it’s always had a strong gastronomic sensibility that’s democratic rather than exclusive, and craft beer has fitted into that as if it was always meant to be.

We experienced everything from traditional British-style cask bitter, to Belgian-style dubbels and fruit-influenced sours to the inevitable New England-style IPAs. But while the beers themselves were astonishingly diverse in their scope, a consistent pattern in their design quickly emerged.

Sour Skull from Cervesa Marina is a blend of stouts aged in red wine barrels for three years. It’s astoundingly bright and zingy on the palate, with a hint of balsamic vinegar and a lot of wood – you can taste the age. You just want to roll it around your entire mouth and keep it sloshing. The label has a giant, cracked skull rearing over the name.

But Cervesa Marina is pretty found of skulls generally.

 

They’re not then only ones. NaparBCN is a very classy craft beer bar in the heart of Barcelona. I would love it if there was a bar like this just round the corner from me, but then I’d love it if the buildings around the corner from me were as elegant as those in the centre of Barcelona.

There’s a consistent theme to Napar’s promotional activity.

From Napar, we went to a beer and food pairing dinner at Raco d’en Cesc, which has an astonishing reputation based largely on the talents of its sommelier, the talented Edgar Rodgríguez. As beer dinners go, it will always remain in my memory as one of the very best – both for some of its individual parts (the best egg I’ve ever tasted, my first opportunity to try the legendary Xyauyù barley wine from Baladin) and for the way the whole lot was woven together into a wonderful journey for the palate. If you’re ever in Barcelona, please try to get a reservation there. You won’t regret it.

Towards the end of the meal, we were served veal cheek that had been slow cooked for eighty and a half hours, paired with a Doppelbock:

Doppelgänger, from Cerveza Menduiña, took the richness of the dish as far as it could go, creating a pairing that was sticky, sweet and heavy. The beer label also bravely branches out from the norm, into skulls of other animals.

Up in the Pyrenees, where we were surprised by a sudden heavy snowfall, we saw this theme developed to reflect then local wildlife by CTretze in the small village of La Pobla de Segur. These guys are using beer and food, plus regular live music in their wonderful state-of-the-art brewery and taproom – and animal skulls of course – to try to put their brewery firmly on the tourist trail.

One brewery that’s already making waves in the UK is Cerveses La Pirata. The beers are stunning, particularly the west coast-style Imperial IPAs.  These guys really understand hops.

They also understand that if you style yourself around a pirate vibe, skulls become central to your concept. I think that’s why they chose the name.

Not far down the road from La Pirata, we were next welcomed by La Calavera, named after La Calavera Catrina, a key symbol in Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations

The name translates as ‘Dapper Skeleton’ or ‘Elegant Skull’, and the guys at the brewery have embraced this theme wholeheartedly, fusing it with other craft beer tropes such as punk (there’s a giant mural of Johnny Rotten on the outside of the building) outrage (past beers include ‘American Motherfucker’ and ‘The Original Piss of Cat’) and simply not giving a shit. Their Medicinal Stout has some of the best packaging I’ve seen in a very long time.

And the theme of “Ooh, I bet the Portman Group wouldn’t like that” is developed quite wonderfully in the secondary packaging.

On our final day, we visited Cervesa del Montseny, one of the oldest and largest breweries in the region. As befits one of the few breweries that sells into supermarkets and is introducing craft beer to new drinkers for the first time, the core range packaging is quite conservative. There are two markets in Catalonia: the beer geeks who are in touch with international trends, and the majority for whom serious beer is a new thing. The brewers seem proudest of their range of Imperial stouts, which are indeed excellent – my favourite is the one aged for eight months in fifty-year-old brandy barrels from southern Spain, which presents laced with marzipan, fruitcake, liquorice and a spiritous warmth. Given that these are the beers for the craft aficionado, for this range, some design concession have been made.

I wish more of these beers were available in the UK. Hopefully, some of them soon will be. Catalonia has, in the space of a few short years, become one of the world’s most exciting and dynamic craft beer regions, taking its brewing cues from all over the world – even if it does take its design cues quite specifically from Tottenham.

CraftBeerSkullWatch will return – if it needs to.

Disclosure: This post was written after a trip organised and paid for by the Catalan Tourist Board. You can find out more about Catalonia’s gastronomic heritage at www.catalunya.com        

| Advertising, Beer, Beer Marketing, Marketing

How Big Lager Lost The Plot And Developed Narcissistic Personality Disorder

As anyone who has read Man Walks into a Pub will know, my entry into the world of beer was via Big Lager.

I loved lager ads when I was growing up as a teenager.   

Later, once I was helping make those ads, I was fascinated by the tribal loyalty people had to their favourite beer brands. If you were a group of mates in your twenties, Carling or Heineken or Carlsberg was like another one of your gang, always there when all the best times happened. In research groups you sometimes do an exercise where you ask people to imagine what brands would be like if they were people at a party. Beer brands were always characterised as confident, friendly guys, witty and popular without being an arse, enjoying a drink but never getting too drunk. This guy was never the pack leader, not necessarily the most popular or pushy guy in the room, but everyone liked him.  

Things started go go wrong around 1997. Advertising regulations grew ever tighter and the funny campaigns of the eighties were no longer possible. And beer started to take itself seriously. It wanted to provide a bit of substance behind the good-natured banter. Fair enough. But the picture started to blur.  

As sales of Big Lager shifted from pubs to supermarkets, price became a more decisive factor than brand image. It was widely believed that all these brands tasted the same. Not true, but if you’re drinking your lager ice-cold straight from the can, you’d have to have a delicate palate indeed to spot the difference in flavour.   

With very similar products, preference had been shaped from the mid-seventies to the mid-nineties by who had the best ads, the most likeable personality. (I once looked at thirty years worth of image research, and perceptions of which lager was the most ‘refreshing’ tracked the brand that had the funniest ads, rather than the brand that was banging on about refreshment specifically).   

By the mid-noughties, that differentiation was based on price.   

Incredibly, most shopping is still done by the wife/mother in a family. The person who buys Big Lager is usually not the person who drinks it. As the distinct personalities created by ‘Reassuringly Expensive’, ‘This Bud’s For You’, ‘I Bet He Drinks Carling Black Label’,  ‘Follow The Bear’ and all the rest receded, the lager buyer knew her fella had a set of big brands that were all OK – nothing special but fine, all as good as each other – and she knew she could buy the one that was on the best deal and he’d be happy enough.   Brewers hate offering these deals. Headlines like ‘lager is cheaper than bottled water’, whether they’re true or not, don’t do anyone any favours. Margins shrank to almost nothing. If any big brand could get away with not doing supermarket deals, they’d jump at the chance.  

So it’s completely understandable that in the last few years Big Lager has started trying to build a sense of value and worth back into brands. Beer is cheap and commoditised, so how can we make it special again?   

The strategy of putting some premiumness back into mainstream beer is a good one. The execution of that strategy, however, is starting to look pretty horrible.   

I haven’t worked on any of these brands for a long time, but I know exactly the kind of language that’s being used in meetings. I’d bet my house on the fact that most Big Lager brands have a creative brief in the system that’s about ‘creating differentiation’, ‘making lager special again,’ by ‘making the brand more iconic’ and ‘improving perceptions of premiumness’. I’ll bet they also all have research that shows you don’t do this by banging on about the quality of ingredients and provenance. These might be mildly interesting copy points, but as Kronenbourg has demonstrated recently, it doesn’t wash as your main message to a typical mainstream lager drinker, especially when the substantiation behind your claim is paper-thin.   

So what do you do?   

You create an iconic, premium image. High production values. Brand fame.    And before you know it, you turn your brand from the genial bloke at the party into an arrogant, preening narcissist.   

From Psychology Today: “Narcissistic Personality Disorder involves arrogant behaviour, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration-all of which must be consistently evident at work and in relationships… Narcissists may concentrate on unlikely personal outcomes (e.g. fame) and may be convinced that they deserve special treatment.”

    You demand to be revered, claiming outrageous titles for yourself with no justification.  

      You start telling your drinkers they’re drinking the product wrong, or using the wrong terminology. You demand they start showing some respect.

    You imagine that you are some kind of treasured prize, rather than a simple, straightforward beer.  

      You start to think you embody and represent something much bigger than yourself. 

    And lose all sense of perspective.

      On the bar, you make your fonts ever bigger – sorry, more ‘iconic’ – until punters can no longer see the people serving them and bar staff have trouble passing the drinks across the bar.   

Who do you think you are helping here? How exactly do you think you are ‘enhancing the consumer experience at the point of purchase?’      

My aim here is not to slag off any individual campaign – some of them have merits, and like I said, I understand where they’re coming from up to a point.   

My aim is to demonstrate the aggregation of so many big brands taking this approach at the same time. Brands demanding to be worshipped and respected, rather than liked and tolerated. The cumulative effect is dreadfully cold and alienating, aloof. This, for a drink that is supposedly all about the good times, about kicking back and relaxing with your mates.    Big Lager has lost its way and forgotten its place. This collective arrogance is not credible, and it’s certainly not appealing. Where’s the warmth gone? Where’s the sociability?   

Premiumness in beer is not about this kind of cock-waving, and it never was. It’s about the premiumness of the experience the beer creates – the experience for which the beer is the catalyst, not the central focus.   

Big Lager should be reclaiming its territory as the catalyst for the perfect occasion with friends. Ale is more for savouring, more introverted. Craft beer is more exploratory, adventurous and product-focused, and cider is more refreshing, but has a limit on how much of it you can drink in a session.   

Yet all these drinks are stealing share from lager. All are looking more interesting, engaging and appealing than that big lager at the moment.    Mainstream lager should be solid, dependable, and reliable, and I’m sorry if that’s not sexy enough for career marketers.   

As the Beer Marketing Awards demonstrated, in some areas – particularly social media and trade marketing, where you actually have to talk to people and deal with them on a one-to-one basis – Big Lager is doing some brilliant stuff.   

But in advertising and branding, it has collectively lost the plot. If you think your brand should be revered and worshipped by its drinkers, you need to get out of beer as soon as possible and into therapy. Or maybe Scientology. They’ll love you guys.