Beerlines

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

Archive for the 'Carlton & United Brewers' Category

20 March
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CUB tells Foster’s to F off!

Good signs for brewing, quite literally, at Southbank in Melbourne’s CBD.

On the busy corner at 77 Southbank Boulevard, Foster’s corporate signage has been pulled down at its HQ of many years. The F word has gone, making way for a return to the traditional roundel logo of Carlton & United Breweries (CUB).

The earlier stainless steel Foster's corporate

The earlier stainless steel Foster’s corporate: pic from ABC Radio AM website

The new/old CUB sign replaces Foster’s at the Southbank HQ

The move will ruffle a few feathers. Some old guard Foster’s corporates, going right back to its foundation in John Elliot’s days, might wince.

At the end of the day however it was simple physics. Foster’s Group Limited never created the critical mass required to be a global player. Pity; it could have.

Good to see CUB back though. Great to see that SAB-Miller stuck with the more familiar and established logo and did not go with that silly overly-designed (glass of friendship) CUB logo devised under CEO John Pollaers.

Bringing it back to the consumer
SAB-Miller now faces a similar challenge to that faced by Lion Nathan when they took over Bond Brewing i.e. In the wake of very high profile corporate ownership changes, how do you bring the traditional brand back to the consumer?

Answering this question is even more challenging nowadays with corporate ownership made so much more public and transparent through online and social media.

We will watch and see and perhaps have a Carlton Draught every now and then to plot progress.

Cheers!

 

02 February
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Renaissance beers

Amid the current froth and bubble about craft beer provenance (beerlines included), it’s inspiring to see breweries revitalising traditional brands.

Perhaps driven by this undercurrent need for beer-brand authenticity and tradition, there’s a renaissance of historical beer brands underway.

Topically, Thunder Road Brewing features on the front page of today’s (Saturday) The Age newspaper. (Great PR BTW.)

Terry’s Ale: a Carlton tale
The article announced this inner Melbourne brewery is bringing back to life a beer recipe created in the 1870s for the then Carlton Brewery.

Alfred Terry: pic from The Age article

Terry’s Ale will be crafted in honour of Alfred Terry, the brewer whose recipe the Thunder Road brewers discovered.

While Terry’s in not taking CUB’s legals head on, it certainly smells like Thunder Road Brewing is trying to get under their radar. TRB complained last year about being prevented from procuring CUB’s older beer brands.

A few years ago CUB released a renaissance McCraken Brewery Ale: one the original Melbourne breweries united into CUB in 1907. Perhaps Terry’s might prompt a rethink. CUB’s very heritage-looking website would suggest they are paying more attention to their history. Good stuff.

Mike (left) and Andrew at the old Carlton Brewery with The Brewery. [pic from The Age article]

As an aside, this initiative reminds me of the passion and enthusiasm of Melbourne-based beer label collector/designer, brewing historian Mike Bannenberg. Mike collaborated with Andrew Bailey to create The Brewery; a beautiful book on the Carlton Brewery.

Grafton Bitter
Just last month, Thunder Road Brewing Company also announced the reintroduction of the heritage beer Grafton Bitter in the town of its birth, Grafton N.S.W.

Known as “The Pride of the North” Grafton Bitter – and the Grafton Brewery that produced it – was “enormously successful in the years after the brewery commenced operation in 1952” according to Thunder Road.

Parisienne revivals through a Monocle
Coincidently earlier in the week I noted a great article in Monocle magazine (p.60 Feb/13 edition) about the revival of two beer brands from Paris. Sorry I can’t link to the article yet; there is a podcast about it though.

1953 saw the end of the Demory brand (Bières Demory Paris). Now it’s alive and well thanks to effort of passionate brewers – and now bar owners – keen to “bring the vintage theme into the present day.”

Demory: new and old

 

 

 

 

1969 saw the Gallia brand disappear in a takeover: now broadly available.

Vive la Renaissance!
The renaissance of these brands deserves a resounding “vive!” Not just for recapturing lost heritage but for deepening a broader interest in beer: a trend craft breweries have, mainly, led over the past decade or so.

Vitally, each renaissance prompts drinkers to ask: Who brewed this? What style is it? Where is it from? What’s its history? Does it taste good?

And for that I say “Cheers!”

03 November
1Comment

VB reborn or VB back to the future?

I like the new VB advertising.

Not because it goes back to the ‘good old days’ but because of the relevant, fundamental beer values it appeals to. Marketing/advertising jargon would probably refer to beer drinkers’ special ‘need states’ like ‘thirst’ and ‘reward for effort’ etc etc. Whatever ..

Unlike Carlton Draught’s recent effort, of which I was under-whelmed because it was just a joke with a brand attached, I’m impressed with VB’s new TVCs.

Previous brand management of VB at CUB decided that the blue-collar, ‘reward for effort’ message for VB was worn out.

There was no doubt that, like other brands, it needed to be refreshed and updated. But not trashed! To throw decades of equity out and reposition it with the benign (nil need state) ‘The drinking beer’ .. well enough said.

So is it VB reborn or VB: back to the future? Enjoy the new TVCs while you ponder that question.  Cheers!

27 October
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Brand building versus brewing

Not sure I like hearing ‘brewery’ and ‘brand building’ in the same sentence. There’s a clash.

But that’s what happens when beers, and their brands, go corporate. Brands become company assets and brand building is a tune played for shareholders and investors.

Don’t get me wrong. My concern is about letting that tune (the C-suite?) get too loud in consumers’ ears.

I know how critical and strategic the brand development process is, or rather must be, for beer brands to succeed. I am in awe of it and those who do it well.

But …

While I know that consumers buy brands, I’m not sure how engaged they are, or want to be, in branding per se: in the science and conceptual landscape that is ‘brand’.

When brewers call themselves ‘brand builders’ I can’t help but think beer lovers put their fingers in their ears and yodel “la la la la”.

The trick is to keep the audiences separate: consumers and their beers on the one hand and investors and their brand building on the other.

Easier said than done.

Heritage & Tradition
Does the process of building a brand mean that a beer should lose its heritage and tradition?

I raise this query after reviewing the website for Australia’s biggest ‘beer brand producer’, LION. It’s now a food and beverage corporation, and tell a good F&B story.

However I’m not sure after viewing their website I’d warmly call LION ‘Australia’s biggest brewer’ – as it is.

LION’s website states: “We are a brand building company, focused on growing our strongest brands and markets. We recognise the importance of clearly differentiating and developing our brands, to excite and engage our consumers and grow returns for our customers.”

The lyrics of beer & brewing 
To my ear LION’s tune is missing the lyrics of beer and brewing, the bricks and mortar stuff, you know, where the beer comes from. Warm and fuzzy – well probably ‘cold and fizzy’.

Yes I know it’s a corporate site. Maybe they need to sing those words elsewhere. Maybe as my colleague Michel Hogan (who knows more about brands than most) suggests LION provide an online space for those who love beer in preference to brands.

To be fair LION has an Our History timeline noting the business is: “Formed by the amalgamation of some of Australia and New Zealand’s most celebrated food and beverage companies, Lion has a rich local heritage.”

But somehow ‘rich local heritage’ are not the words I’m hearing. Rather: I hear the bass beat of ‘brand building’ loud and clear.

I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to also drink the heritage and tradition that goes along with my beer of choice. I like the reality and the geography that goes with ‘my’ Castlemaine Perkins Limited, or my Swan, West End, Tooheys and CUB. Just as I like it with my Cavalier and Mountain Goat.

I believe beer drinkers love that stuff and want to hear it in preference to brand building aggrandisement.

Consumers or shareholders: website as shopfront
It’s an almost impossible job confining corporate language to the Boardroom and C-suite. But nowadays your website is your shop-front.

Choices are made to put that corporate language out there – front and centre.

Maybe LION’s website needs a separate ‘tradesman’s entrance’ for investors and equity houses as many other corporate websites have.

Speaking of appealing to investors to the exclusion of consumers: one hopes LION learned from its infamous corporate shift to Bond Brewing.

Just as it would appear CUB has learned from its brief use of the ugly tagline ‘Building Great Australian Brands’ and – more ugly – changing its name to Carlton & United Beverages.

And ..really? When was the last time you heard anyone say they ‘consumed beverages’?

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!

 

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…

17 June
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How to make Carlton Bitter

It was ballsy. I loved it. Thunder Road Brewing Company (TRB) in Melbourne’s inner suburb of Brunswick had a swipe at major brewer Carlton & United about CUB’s claim to heritage brands.

Classic David and Goliath. The media lapped it up: which I suppose was the point. See the press clip below and the original by Eli Greenlblat here at The Age.

As seen in The Age: Brunswick vs Carlton

Brunswick Bitter: building its own heritage
CUB’s heritage brands and their labels are fantastic. What brewer wouldn’t want them? While I empathise with that envy and admire the PR pluck of TRB, they face a long and expensive road trying to get them.

BB on tap at the Builders Arms

The old labels are ‘heritage’ because they were successful brands.

Brunswick Bitter can do the same. Build its own heritage. It can; it’s a great beer. Indeed, as Crafty Pint notes, the brew, “..tips its hat to Australia’s brewing heritage, this time with the ‘From 1876’ a reference, we assume, to the Brunswick Brewery that opened in that year.”

I recently tried it on tap at the Builders Arms Hotel in Fitzroy.

The Builders Arms

It has the hallmarks of being a great Aussie tap beer. It’s balanced, approachable, refreshing and drinkable (indeed ‘sessionable’) but with more character than your average mainstream front bar draught. It was served too cold however and was better after warming a few degrees. Hey .. it’s Melbourne in June!

TRB doesn’t need CUB’s old brands. Every beer tap they gain today in the highly competitive draught beer market will worry the big brewers much more than a back-room tiff with lawyers. Every single tap.

Cheers!