Can Tatty Old Lager Brands Be Fixed?

SKOL advert, 1962.

We got an email from someone at a public relations firm asking as to share our thoughts about a lager brand they’re working with.

We said no because, frankly, what’s in it for us? But we had to admit, the questions were thought-provoking, especially one about how the lager in question could be made to ‘seem more premium’.

Note that word seem: presumably, any change in the way the product is manufactured is out of the question — this is an exercise in presentation.

In the days when brewers could conceal the strength, composition and origin of their lagers, implying ‘premium-ness’ was a lot easier: foil, embossing, heraldry, and the name of a foreign country on the label.

Increasingly, however, punters want to know why you’re charging them extra for a product, and have a right to know. Tesco’s  ‘Finest’ pasta, for example, isn’t just in a fancy-looking packet — the blurb makes clear that it was cut with bronze dies (apparently that’s better) and is packaged by a particular family firm in Italy.

If you really can’t  come up with a story like that — if you’ve spent decades streamlining any romance out of the process to compete on cost, and don’t want to launch a genuinely decent sub-brand for the sake of the ‘halo effect’ — what options are left? Complete transparency –embracing the fact that your product is made in Britain, despite its livery — seems to us to be the only available route.

As we’ve learned while researching the career of early microbrewer Bill Urquhart, Carlsberg has been produced in Northampton since the early nineteen-seventies. If we were Carlsberg, we’d hire the bloke who made this to produce a beautiful film about the building of the then state-of-the-art brewery, and its grand opening by Princess Benedikte of Denmark. We’d get twinkly-eyed retired brewers and ex-pat Danish technical experts who came over with the plant to talk about their work together. Carlsberg, as we in the UK know it, is Danish, but also British — and has been for forty years.

Telling that story won’t make the beer taste better, but being honest about it might make the brand more likeable, which is half the battle.

The PR firm who approached us aren’t working with Carlsberg, unfortunately, so they’re screwed.

14 replies on “Can Tatty Old Lager Brands Be Fixed?”

People are increasingly wise to attempts to polish turds, of course. Carling have succeeded by stressing its Britishness, though – whatever you may think of the beer, it’s established itself as the market leader and the defining product of its category, whereas in my lager drinking days in the 70s it had a pretty poor reputation and very much came across as a manufactured brand.

‘People are increasingly wise to attempts to polish turds’

That’s a more elegant way of expressing it!

I know this isn’t (likely) what your caller wanted to hear, but I’d “fix” (improve) the product itself. The rest will follow. There is a precedent: Heineken. About 20 years ago, it went back to an all-malt formulation. IMO, this ensured its continued growth and to this day it remains a hegemon amongst international brands – no easy feat when one looks to declining names like Budweiser or of course the many great international names that are now in the basement.


I’m not sure Heineken has any more cachet here in the UK than any other lager brand. Also, in marketing terms, picking one thing you’re doing ‘right’ and the refusing to discuss everything else can be worse than saying nothing.

I think most people who like Carling just think its better than Fosters or Carlsberg. Which it is.

Well, its brewed in Britain and has been marketed as British for the past 40 years.

Guinness on the other hand is British owned and British brewed (or at least was until recently), but marketed as Irish.

Yes, Carling does very much position itself as a British brand – it never really stressed its Canadian roots in the same way as Labatt’s.

Even when Park Royal was in production, Guinness for the North of England and Scotland was imported from Ireland.

Eye, don’t help them. They want to premiumize the lout to charge more for it.

Lout ought to be dirt cheap, it’s like a human right.

Expensive ‘orrible tasting brown muck for the discerning. Lovely cold fizzy and CHEAP lout for the rest of us. I cannot emphasise the importance of cheap more. Lout must be kept cheap.

It ought to be a campaign or something.

Keep lout CHEAP !

Another one with deep Canadian connections. Labatt was part of the original group that planned this. The brand itself was sold here in the 1970’s and I recall seeing it and probably had tried it. Lager was really thing new for British brewing itself especially in Wrexham and Alloa, but one can see a strong push was made to create a big image for it amongst younger consumers, especially women (in most of the ads). Skol, and also Carlsberg, when first released here, did have a different taste to the beers, even lagers, hitherto available here. I remember the first time I tasted Carlsberg, at a party in an apartment on Cote-des-Neiges Road in Montreal. It seemed talc-like in comparison to our standbys of Molson Export Ale or Labatt 50 Ale.


All hail the power of branding! BTW, apparently over half the cheddar in Britain was from Canada in the 1800s, too. And what thanks do we get?!?

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