Beerlines

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

Archive for the 'XXXX' Category

08 June
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The short-lived Bond Brewing World. An insider’s view

America’s Cup winning skipper John Bertand summarises the man well. Alan Bond was “polarising”.

And so it was with Bond Corporation’s involvement in brewing.

I had joined Castlemaine Perkins Limited in October 1986 as Public Affairs Manager. Early the next year, MD of the brewery, Frank Burnett, summoned me to his office in our Finchley Street HQ overlooking the XXXX brewery.

Without words, but with obvious disgust, Frank threw the now infamous Bond Brewing repositioning plan across his desk. I opened my mouth to object. Frank just shook his head and, as I recall, said: “Every objection you can think of has been raised. Just do it. Get the signage underway and, oh yes, you’re now editing the central magazine. Close down every brewery’s in-house newsletters.”

So, the big ugly stainless steel Bond Brewing sign on Milton Road replaced the long-standing Castlemaine Perkins sign.

Bond Brewing replaces the Castlemaine Perkins sign: a great PR lesson

Bond Brewing replaces the Castlemaine Perkins sign: a great PR lesson

For Queenslanders it was bad enough – just tolerable – that XXXX was owned by a West Australian, but to do this …

This was a serious wounding to the Castlemaine Perkins’ image and its brands. Indeed, this helped open the door to a new competitor, Power Brewing (link to an overview of that era by Matt Kirkegaard).

Sorry Bondy!
Powers launched with a stinging put-down of XXXX via a television commercial featuring Queensland rugby league legend Wally Lewis, saying “Sorry Bondy!”powers

While the other breweries went through the same repositioning it’s fair to say it was Castlemaine and XXXX that were most adversely impacted by consumer backlash and competitor response.

In early 1990 Bond Brewing went into receivership and Lion Nathan took over the breweries later that year.

Those who ignore history..
Bondy, or rather Bond Corporation, took over the Swan Brewery in his home state of Western Australia in 1981. Thereafter he took over east coast brewing conglomerate Castelmaine-Tooheys in 1983. His company now oversaw about half of the national beer market.

While the media loved the glitz of Bondy’s brewing business with his Swan airships, Schooner XXXX, sponsorships and beer jingles by Mo and Jo, the stock market was less impressed. Again: polarising.

Make ‘Bond’ ubiquitous!
To remedy this, the Corporation’s board believed they would attract major institutional investors by renaming all his breweries as Bond Brewing.

This step remains a case study in ‘how to lose generations of consumer loyalty overnight’ as well as one of corporate hubris. Indeed, it’s a lesson a number of big corporate brewers seem to have ignored .. still. And they wonder why ‘small and local’ is doing so well .. Bond Brewing XXXX

Polarising is an under statement.

Because, under the direction of Bond Brewing’s Executive Director, Bill Widerberg, Castlemaine Perkins, Tooheys and Swan were very publicly rebadged as Bond Brewing Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia respectively. As if this wasn’t enough for parochial beer drinkers of the time, Bond Corporation also changed the addresses on all labels to the corporate address in Perth. Read more…

30 March
Comments Off on Craft beer winning the ‘eye level’ war in retail

Craft beer winning the ‘eye level’ war in retail

For decades major brewers have competed and paid heftily to secure choice, high-profile positions in major retailers’ bottle shops and liquor barns.

The visual customer-facing beer war at POS
Every customer-facing cubic centimetre was precious turf. It was (and remains) a very competitive visual war for beer brand presence in major retailers.

And the big brewers were all over it! They owned it – they thought. Indeed, they devised their own science to prove it: ‘space planning’ and ‘planograms’ and whatever.

The most highly sought after POS placements in retailers’ fridges are, of course, at eye level. The grab-and-go slot.

So for years, what have we seen at eye-level? Usually six packs of VB or Tooheys Extra Dry or XXXX Gold; the result of big brewers with big brands paying the big retailers big bucks.

Craft now dominates at eye level
But a trip to Woolworths’ owned BWS shows how times have changed. Craft beers are front and centre.

This pic from BWS South Melbourne was central to the fridge fronts. There was no VB or Carlton Draught in this frontage at all. Those brands were back in the cold room.

bws2

Clearly BWS is on top of consumer interest at retail. And the consumer increasingly wants something new to try: an interesting brand or style to drink and brag about.

Okay, quite a few of the craft brands in this BWS are Woolies’ own private labels (often called faux craft) and clearly the retailers are making better margins, but the takeout is clear: craft has won this particular POS battle.

Big brewer versus big retailer – control of the POS
For years the big brewers believed this key point of sale in retail was theirs.

That sense of entitlement, I suspect, has rankled the big retailers for some time.

These facings must seriously be pissing big brewers off no end. Especially, as you can bet many of these small craft brewers are paying nowhere near as much for the privilege.

Interesting times at POS. And for that .. Cheers!

09 February
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Does beer provenance make a difference?

The title of this follow-up to ‘Australian owned: does it make a difference?’ was going to be ‘Australian made: does it make a difference?’

But I’m diverted by growing rumblings of a more fundamental issue: and that’s provenance.

Often used in connection with wines, the provenance of a beer, I understand, relates similarly to transparency over where and how a beer is brewed and, sometimes, who brews it.

I hear of a growing number of beer outlets where the owner/manager is choosing to serve only beers with very clear provenance.

Priggish about provenance
Indeed, some are taking a strict, verging on priggish, line on provenance.Soup-Nazi

This will surely upset some brewers both big and small.

For big brewers like CUB/SAB-Miller and LION, provenance concerns may rule out serving a beer brand which was not brewed at its home brewery: preferring brewery of origin as it were.

This may apply to a few global brands sold in Australia: Stella Artois, Heineken, Becks brewed in Australia or Asahi brewed in Thailand are candidates.

Concerning the big guys also, this thinking may extend to brands like Matilda Bay’s (i.e. CUB) Fat Yak ‘craft’ brand which, I understand, outgrew Matilda Bay’s new Port Melbourne home and is brewed at scale at CUB’s large Yatala Brewery in SE Queensland.

For smaller brewers this strict interpretation of provenance might rule out those who own a brand but choose to contract brew or cuckoo brew elsewhere via commercial arrangement. The craft brewer Doctor’s Orders admits it is a cuckoo brewer for example.

Breweries are the equivalent to terroir in wine making
“What I offer is breweries and all that goes with that. It’s like terroir with wine. I’m much less interested in the wine maker or the brewer in this case,” said one hotelier who was particular about this.

Faux craft fail whales
I don’t think there are any surprises that provenance concerns were quick to exclude contracted ‘craft’ brews by big retailers like Coles and Woolworths.

Often with cartoon-like branding, the thin credentials/provenance of many of these brews clearly deserve disparagement as ‘faux craft’ beers.

new dan murphys_1480

Does provenance make a difference?
For me: yes.

My time in brewing exposed me to many prolonged frustrations experienced by brew teams trying to match beer brand tastes from one continent to another.

Have you ever tried Foster’s in England? Ok – probably not. QED.

Or even within Australia; Castlemaine Perkins’ brewers for example could never brew Swan Premium at Milton – it always tasted like XXXX (funny that). And VB or Carlton Draught in Queensland are decidely different to their Victorian-brewed equivalents: to my taste anyway.

And let’s face it: why is there such a strong parallel import market for the original Stella and Becks and other global brands?

It’s because those who loved the original taste aren’t getting it. And ‘yes’ of course, there is the issue of knowing that it’s not the ridgy-didge original anyway.

Brewers always say drink fresh local beer. I fully endorse that.

However I’m also fine drinking a Heineken or Guinness if it comes from the brewery of origin – aged though it may be.

Transparency rules: inform inform inform
There will always be purists and ‘beer nazis’ who will never rest. From a marketing communications perspective however, what the consumer wants most is transparency.

Don’t try to be tricky with me. Don’t make the print small. Don’t hide stuff I might be interested in.

Be open; make a clear effort to over-inform.

Little Creatures Geelong
Provenance, as I said, relates to transparency. I’ve appreciated the openness and transparency which Little Creatures has displayed in opening a like-named brewery in Geelong. The label is up-front about its Geelong origins.

But it begs the question.

I wonder what those who are very particular about provenance think of Little Creatures having multiple breweries. Is it any different to Stella being brewed under licence here?

Cheers!

02 February
1Comment

Australian owned: does it make a difference?

Back after a sabbatical, I note Coopers Brewery signage re-emphasising its Australian ownership.

Not surprising in light of CUB and LION – the majority of the national beer market – now being foreign owned.

I question how much of an influence this appeal to national loyalty is with beer drinkers.coopers sign

Years ago national, or rather state, loyalty would have been far more important to the parochial beer consumer.

Not any more.

For a number of reasons, not least is so many brewery ownership changes and global brand swaps in recent years, consumers can barely keep up!

Ownership is no longer as influential
Who owns Corona or Cascade? Who owns Little Creatures or Löwenbräu? Who owns Stella Artois or Stone & Wood?

Who cares?

I doubt we’ll see again the outcry and consumer backlash created when the traditional big state brewers like Swan, Castlemaine Perkins, Cascade and others were bought by interlopers from interstate or overseas.
xxxx

I’m not dismissing loyalty – in this case nationalistic – as a marketing influence: albeit I think it a waning one.

But as modern beer consumers increasingly choose from an expanding personal portfolio of preferred domestic and global brands and styles to suit various drinking occasions, I question the value of putting too many marketing dollars behind appeals to Australian ownership.

Parochialism is not dead. It’s just not guaranteed state-wide anymore 
While Coopers is talking more about ‘national share’ and pitching itself against the foreign-owned big guys, many new and emerging craft breweries are securing solid local loyalty and support.

I mean really local: local local: micro local.

In many ways the beer market is coming full circle.

As the big breweries aspire to globalised ownership clouds, savvy craft breweries are reclaiming local grassroots.

And to that: Cheers!

20 October
3Comments

Will big retail replace big brewing?

Swan Brewery’s closure was announced by LION this week. 

I could go on about how sad that is in many ways.

Instead, taking a bigger view of the beer market, I suggest that in that swan-song we can hear chords of big retail replacing big brewing in Australia.

In many respects Swan Brewery was a dinosaur. It reflects the entitled view of ‘owning’ state markets that the big capital city breweries had for decades. Indeed, almost all these big breweries – like Swan, Tooheys, CUB and Castlemaine Perkins – were constructed to produce enough beer for 100% of ‘their’ state’s market.

And why not? In the good ol’ hey days (not so long ago in the 1970/80s) Swan had over 95% of the Western Australian market and Castlemaine had almost 90 of Queensland for example.

But times changed and those breweries haven’t.

It’s been a challenge for them. On the one hand, the tradition of owning mega-brands, market dominance and the advantages of economies of scale. While on the other, pressured for flexility to create small batches of new styles and innovative beer brands.

Hard to do in one brewery where you’ve already invested heavily in the biggest brewing equipment available on the planet. Hard to have both mindsets in the one company.

I’m not saying that Swan’s closure means we’ll see more big breweries in Australia ‘rationalised’. However, no matter how you spin it – they got their marketing wrong.

In that market you can almost hear brakes screeching as big brewers rapidly seek more flexible operations.

LION has invested in smaller craft breweries, notably Little Creatures and James Squire. CUB took over Matilda Bay. Both of them are rapidly topping up their traditional big-brand portfolios with small craft and niche boutique brands from both domestic brewers and international.

This sense of urgency to ‘get niche’ is almost palpable.

Big retail: big threat
One very big reason for this urgency by LION and CUB is because of Woolies and Coles.

Big retail and the colossal impact they can have on brands has been a big threat to the big brewers for years.

Now that competitive tension is really out there for all to see.

Retailers have tried in various ways, year on year, to squeeze more and more profit from the brands of the big brewers. They’ve tried just about everything including bringing in their own imported premium beers.

Now retailers are becoming brewers. Well .. almost.

Four new Sail & Anchor craft beer brands in pride of place at Dan Murphy’s

Here’s a recent case study: Woolworth’s through its Dan Murphy’s owns the Sail & Anchor brand. They also have an interest in another WA brewer, Gage Roads. Dan Murphy’s has just released a clutch of new ‘craft’ Sail & Anchor beer styles/brands which have been brewed under contract at Gage Roads.

Own the brands: not the brewery
It’s a great position to be in: own the brands but not the brewing equipment as well as owning almost all the retail. And given that LION’s website focuses exclusively on ‘brands’ as opposed to breweries (and all the heritage that used to go with them) perhaps that’s their plan too?

So who will own the title for ‘BIG’ in future? BIG brewer or BIG retailer?

Clearly the tectonic plates of beer market ownership are shifting. Maybe that’s a good thing. One benefit is that as the big guys battle for niches, their marketing has a halo effect for small craft brewers like Cavalier or Mountain Goat.

Woolies Lager?
One outcome of bigger retail power in the beer market that I am not looking forward to is homebrand beer. The huge UK retailer Sainsbury’s provides their version of Crown Lager for example. Shudder…

Cheers!

 

01 October
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XXXX and HRH: “We could go a cold one son.”

Just a short post to celebrate that it’s thirty years today since the XII Commonwealth Games kicked off in Brisbane.

Many have said the event put Brizzy on the map. 

XXXX was a major sponsor and Castlemaine Perkins’ Games Special beer at 6% ABV caused quite a stir.

But it was this pic in Brisbane’s Daily Sun with, as I recall, the caption, “We could go a cold one son,” which must have delighted XXXX marketers.

Cheers!

19 September
6Comments

VB and Alan Bond: big lessons in taking beer consumers for granted

‘We put the consumer first.’

Any trust which mainstream beer consumers held for this claim, and the big brewers that made it has, too often, been shaken.

This post highlights two big lessons from both of Australia’s major brewers.

One is recent concerning VB. The other is from the 1980s but still provides relevant learnings in how not to treat loyal beer consumers. It concerns Alan Bond and his Bond Brewing empire.

Alan who? 
Fair question. The lesson however comes from what his Bond Corporation did to the three major state breweries it took over. They made up over half the national beer market and are now owned by LION, Australia’s largest brewer.

Bond Brewing corporate stainless steel replaces the Castlemaine Perkins sign

There are two great articles in Australia’s Beer and Brewer magazine which cover this fascinating and calamitous period in Australian brewing : one by ex-Four Corners journalist Paul Barry and the other by leading beer writer Matt Kirkegaard, editor of Australian Brews News.

A band-aid approach to trust
High-profile and public ‘whoops: we got it wrong’ flip-flops might help restore some trust. In the end though, loyal consumers still think they were taken for granted and ask ‘when will it happen again?’

The silver lining to these marketing and PR blunders is some big lessons for small brewers in what not to do in building and maintaining consumer trust.

Trust is hard to develop; easily lost; and unforgivingly hard to patch up. Band-aids only go so far.

If consumers really are your number one priority then you must live and breathe that focus 100%:  honestly, openly and transparently. Otherwise – especially in our increasingly networked market – your ‘trust’ credentials will be probed and found wanting.

Here are the two classic case studies in taking Australian beer consumer trust for granted:

VB’s apology letter in the press

VB: stuffing the golden goose Read more…

01 September
2Comments

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. Read more…