John Smith’s have a carefully worked out ‘brand identity’: everything is written in the voice of a “no nonsense” Yorkshireman.
But the funny thing is this: the idea that they can’t be doing with all that ponced up marketing bullshit… is marketing bullshit. There probably are some “no nonsense” businesses that employ marketing agencies, but we can’t think of any off the top of our heads.
Of course, big food producers (including breweries) have very good reasons to suggest that taking an interest in the taste, ingredients and process of manufacture is pretentious: we, the punters, ought to know our place, viz. buying and consuming without question.
When we asked for information on the ingredients in John Smith’s Extra Smooth (we’ll explain why another time) Heineken customer care (ee, by ‘eck, etc.) told us that it uses “premium malts”. There is definitely a tiny bit of nonsense in that phrase.
In the nearly five years we’ve been blogging, we’ve seen big brewers launch all kinds of spin-offs, usually with TV advertising and much public-relations brouhaha. Here are a few of our favourites and updates on what became of them.
Stella Artois Black (2010-present)
The big problem with this one is that it isn’t bloody black. Budvar Dark (still with us…) is dark; Guinness Red (see below) was red (kinda); Stella Black was… golden, just like normal Stella. In addition, it suffered the fate of most lager brand extensions: being sold on an aesthetic and an ‘experience’ which the real world British pub couldn’t or wouldn’t deliver, as Pete Brown memorably recorded here. Still with us, technically, although we don’t recall seeing it in the wild.
Artois Bock (2005-2008) and Eiken Artois (2008)
Two attempts to create a strong variant of Stella Artois. Why didn’t these take off? Because they were too posh and expensive for Special Brew drinkers and too tainted by the wife-beater brand for the la-di-dah crowd. Which imaginary niche were they aiming at? The alky wanting to treat himself on a special occasion?
Peeterman Artois (2007-2008)
See Artois Black, above: fancy glass, fancy serving ritual and cod-French marketing undermined by the actual experience of drinking it in pubs. Stella 4% (basically the same product) seems to be doing OK, though. Perhaps it was just the introduction of this dubious sounding Peeterman feller that did for it? Given that everyone calls it “Stella”, it seems odd to try to extend the “Artois” bit of the brand.
Kronenbourg Blanc (2006-?)
Not such a bad idea — launch a beer to steal a bit of Hoegaarden’s market using an established brand name — but something about the execution didn’t work. For a start, no-one defines themselves as a Kronenbourg drinker — it’s just what Stella drinkers go for when pushed, or if they’re actually in France — so the ‘familiar brand’ isn’t worth much. Secondly, it just didn’t taste enough like Hoegaarden, being sweeter and too overtly citrusy. Why didn’t they just outright clone HG? Someone (a ‘normal’) brought a four pack of this to a party at our house, drank one, pulled a face, and left it. We eventually threw out the remaining bottles last year.
Foster’s Twist (2006-2009?)
Foster’s is sold on the basis of its Australianness, which supposedly means it’s relaxed, laid-back, informal, a bit cheeky, and generally conforms to national stereotypes. Corona, meanwhile, is sold as quintissentially Mexican — relaxed, laid-back, informal, good at dancing, slightly skunked, and with a bit of lime sticking out of it. Foster’s, wanting a piece of that market, made an advert (see above) which showed Australians were also good at dancing, got some clear bottles, and put some ‘citrus hops’ in the beer. Lime lovers, nonplussed by the mention of hops and the absence of actual fruit peel, kept drinking Corona; Foster’s lovers kept drinking Foster’s… as you were, nothing to see here.
Guinness Red (2007)
For years, you hammer home this message: Guinness=black, Guinness=black, Guinness=black… then suddenly, you launch a red version. Confusing and contrary, but at least it wasn’t Guinness Blanc. (Hey, that’s not a bad idea…) It wasn’t really red, either — just a bit lighter in colour. Sort of brown, really, but they couldn’t call it that. Once again, it did nothing to tempt new customers, and gave those who already drank Guinness no reason to switch. Did not get beyond ‘test marketing’ in the UK.
Carling C2 (2006-?)
This created a bit of a buzz. When everyone else was going for a 4% variant (Becks Vier being the most successful, as far as we can tell), Carling upped the ante (or downed it?) by introducing a 2% beer. The only time we saw anyone try to order one, he was mocked and derided until he agreed to have a normal Carling. If only real blokes were as tolerant as those square-jawed, skinny, nicely tailored lads they had in the adverts.
We haven’t mentioned every Ice, Cold, Super Cold, Extra Cold and Extra Icy. It’s too early to know what will become of Animée but, suffice to say, we find it’s very existence baffling. Apparently, Foster’s Lukewarm is on the way next year, along with Stella Green. (It’s yellow.)
Like any other, the market for beer in the UK makes much more sense if divided up into segments rather than viewed as a monolithic block. Breweries, pubs and bars who know exactly which groups they’re targeting will do much better than those who spare it no thought.
We wish we had the time and money to do this more rigorously, but here’s our off-the-cuff attempt to identify some distinct groups based on our own observations.
1. COST-AWARE ENTHUSIASTS
Passionate about good beer but factor cost into their judgement about what ‘good’ means. For them, expensive beers leave a bad taste, however well made. Tend to believe that there are great beers to be had at a reasonable price and generally stick to drinking them.
Nothing is more important than drinking good beer. The cost of a particular beer is not a factor in their choice, even if that means spending more money than they can really afford to. Like to try new or unusual beers. Struggle to empathise with other groups.
3. TREND FOLLOWERS
Drink beer because there is a buzz around it at the moment. Turned off by the idea of ‘real ale’, but excited about ‘craft beer’. Not especially loyal to beer and may well be drinking more wine or cider in two years time.
4. LOOKING AFTER THE PENNIES
Driven solely by price. Know where to find the cheapest pint in town and pay little attention to its flavour. Not particularly loyal to any one brand or type of beer, but may broadly identify themselves as either lager or bitter drinkers. More interested in the pleasure of being in a pub than in beer itself.
Drink beer as a means to an end. As well as beer, likely to drink spirits, shots and other drinks on a night out. Usually choose beer based on brand recognition but may take beer strength and price into account if information is displayed.
Some people might belong to more than one group depending on who they’re socialising with or the occasion. Zealots might easily become Boozers on a night out with colleagues, for example, or become Cost Aware Enthusiasts if their financial circumstances change.
Trend Followers are particularly interesting. Any business based on their custom needs to think about what to do if it disappears.
Our evidence for this segmentation is… nothing. If you want this done properly, pay someone.
We’re Zealots with increasing tendencies towards cost awareness.