Insights on beer marketing & PR by a beer-war vet

01 September

Carlton Draught: more than a joke

It’s almost unAustralian! Criticising a funny beer ad. You’re up against a chorus of “Yea but .. it’s funny!” and lots of eye rolling.

I refer to Carlton & United Brewers‘ (CUB) new television commercial for Carlton Draught called ‘Beer Chase’ which was launched a few days ago.

I’m sure the ad agency said: “everyone will love it!” And they’d be right. Check it out.

Joke with a beer brand attached
But does ‘loving it’ because it’s funny build the brand? Is ‘funny’ sufficient? Two questions asked by advertisers and their agencies for decades.

Before questioning this advertising however let me underline my view does not benefit from ‘being in the room’ where they know all about this brand’s health and where it should go. I’m a PR ‘outside the room’ simply commenting on advertising. Some will dismiss this as a typical envious whinge from below-the-line about the spend above-the-line. It’s not.

My view is that humour for humour’s sake can often lead to a TVC that’s just a joke with a beer brand attached. This observation is not original; during my years in brewing a few beer marketers have raised this concern.

The concern centres on heavy reliance on the joke – with the joke being centre stage. The fear is that the joke excludes and eclipses the brand’s special, peculiar (often complex and intangible) beer credentials: those things that drive consumer choice.

In other words: it’s funny but it leaves me with little about the beer itself. In other words: the joke eclipses the brand.

The joke trivialises the brand.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying humour doesn’t work in advertising beer. But when it’s just a joke or slapstick – when the sole takeout is ‘it was funny’ – then its brand-building effectiveness should be questioned: especially if that intense, and excluding, focus on humour is long term.

And that’s what I fear for Carlton Draught.

This TVC follows a number of similar big-scaled humour-based TVCs for Carlton Draught which kicked off with the Big Ad in mid-2005.

This ‘series’ also includes other TVCs like ‘slo mo’, ‘flashdance’ and ‘sky-troop’. There was other funny television advertising for Draught in the interim I think: the bearded guys in the car getting a Carlton Draught “tingle” for example. [UPDATE: see Leon’s comment i.e. the tingle was not released as a free-to-air TVC]

Not sure where that trio’s gone….

But back to ‘Beer Chase’ and similar Draught TVCs: I appreciate the laconic ‘this beer doesn’t take itself too seriously’ thinking behind the self-deprecating ‘Made from beer’ tagline.

But, to my mind, this adds nothing: it’s a benign (beer-value less) setting for the brand.

How sustainable is this approach in building this national beer brand longer term?: especially when it relies – almost solely it seems – on the next big joke.

And when almost every XXXX, Tooheys and VB TVC is a funny skit, the currency of humour loses value as well as its power to differentiate. Indeed, as one adverting exec said to me: “if you can easily interchange brands in the TVC with other beer brands and not really notice then you have an issue.”

It’s an issue being aggravated by criticism from the growing craft beer segment (and its social media) about the lack of difference between ‘big brand’ mainstream lagers.

I realise that a TVC cannot say it all. Nonetheless TVCs remain big (and expensive) influencers in the market.

The brand story that is Carlton Draught still has depth and strength plus extraordinarily rich beer values. But like any story it’s the retelling that keeps it alive.

These are qualities which can be promoted well through Aussie humour.

What these qualities don’t deserve is to be sent off into the wings and upstaged by that humour ad after ad.

And that’s no joke. Cheers!

  • Great post (as they all are) and a interesting issue. Humour in advertising is always a dangerous approach (what one person finds funny, other think is stupid) and of course only really really funny stuff is still funny after multiple airings.
    I should say I love the ad, I think Carlton does humour in a better way than the other big brands, I find Tooheys and XXXX’s humour bogan and predictable, Carlton’s more self referential, which means it’s more inclusionary, which for me does say something about the brand.
    I like the Big ad, I liked the made for beer ads, Horses, canoes, all good. Slo-mo was brilliant, hell I even liked the tingle (unlike CUB executives apparently) Flashdance and Sky-troop were ordinary in my opinion., which just proves that much like beer taste, you can’t please everyone all of the time.
    I also see why the big brands use humour, I know craft beer people (who will never be happy with anything big beer do) want all advertising to focus on beer values, but the truth is the market for Carlton don’t really care about beer values, beer for them isn’t about hops and malt and yeast (if it was they would be drinking craft). I think it’s about mateship and the social experience of drinking beers., particularly Carlton which is still and on-premise beer.
    And that’s why you need humour, what do people do when they get together? They laugh, if you can associate your product with laughter, particularly with something a social as beer, then you are onto a winner.
    I also find it interesting that they have released this in social media first. Non beery folk are not going to share it unless it’s funny, and it’s working, I note it currently has over 2 million views, and 16 odd thousand likes on you-tube, impressive, including the massive PR push behind it.
    I’m not their media buyer (although I’ll freely admit I do personally know the people who are) but if I had to guess I would say this ad will be launching over the footy finals, with the full version in prime position in the Grand Final – AKA the biggest social and beer drinking event of the year, and if you can make the twenty guys at the Pub laugh on that day, I reckon you go a long way to getting them their next order to be ‘Two Carlton’s thanks.’

    I’ll be fascinated to hear your thoughts on the ‘We got it all wrong’ VB strategy. Personally I think it might just work for them, even if it makes them the easy target for the craft beer haters.

    • beerlines

      Thanks Leon. I’ll jump to your last point first re ‘news just in’ about CUB’s retrofit of VB.

      It’s one biggie of a rethink. It includes changing the new ‘The drinking beer’ tagline for VB back to the earlier ‘For a hard earned thirst.’

      Leon, do you think that maybe CUB’s new owners might push rethink/rewind for Carlton Draught? To my mind Carlton Draught’s ‘Made from beer’ and ‘The drinking beer’ sound very similar and equally benign.

      Back to your comment. Some compelling points and I agree with many of them: including liking the ad. Interestingly you raise some of the reasons why I wrote the post.

      You note: “Carlton does humour better than other big brands..” This just underlines to me that they are all doing the same thing: regressing to the mean perhaps. Funny is fine but when it’s not differentiating and building the brand and prompting sales then it’s just entertainment.

      You note: ‘The market for Carlton don’t really care about beer values’: at one level I think you’re right. The whole hops and malt palaver is irrelevant to a lot of beer drinkers. As you suggest: maybe its best to leave craft beer fans to gush over that stuff.

      But that doesn’t mean that mainstream beer drinkers don’t seek beer values. Far from it.

      Beer values are not just linked to ingredients, kettles and Clydesdales; they include lots of other conscious and sub-conscious motivators which drive beer brand choice. They drive me to desire and then to choose and then buy and then drink that beer because it’s soooo appealing: I want it over the others. I can see myself – imagine myself – drinking that brand: all that ‘Matter of fact I’ve got it now’ and ‘I can feel a XXXX coming on’ sorta thing.

      Importantly it comes back to the vital need for differentiation. I think this Carlton Draught series of TVCs are thin on beer values and heavy on joke. Big bomb-burst TVC jokes. Over the long term and, and in spite of high-fives for great viral spread and Facebook ‘likes’, that’s a worry: especially for a brand in this highly competitive and increasingly ‘samey’ and cluttered mainstream space. And add to this the many imports and premiums which are being price-pointed alongside Draught and VB.

      Leon I agree entirely with your view that humour, sociability and beer go well together. But I’m not sure it’s the guaranteed winner you suggest. The real challenge is to bring them all together in an amalgam that works to build the brand and crank sales.

      But as I said: a TVC can’t do it all and I was ‘not in the room’. Perhaps some of your advertising contacts know more about CUB’s thinking. SAB-Miller has colossal beer brand experience: clearly it’s bringing that to CUB as this week’s VB change shows. As beer bloggers we’ll both be interested to see what they do with Carlton Draught.

      Cheers & thanks for the comment.