Beerlines

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

Archive for the 'LION' 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…

09 March
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From bigger towards better: people powered beer

I saw a guy wearing a T-shirt with ‘people powered media’ on it.

As a PR I Googled that: immediately thinking of beer of course. I came up with an interesting blog post titled ‘Co-op Breweries: Craft beers in the New Economy‘ by Joshua Nelson. Fascinating ….

beer coop

This is an interesting trend: co-operatives I mean – especially when applied to beer! Economic democracy in the post-industrial era and all that.

While there a many thousands of co-operatives globally, there are few focused on brewing.

In the US there are notables such as Black Star and Fair State as well as relative newbies such as Flying Bike Cooperative. So only a few. Do you know of others?

Equity for punks? Drink like you own the place
With CUB and LION now gobbled up by foreign beverage and food companies SAB-Miller and Kirin respectively, how many Australian breweries are now on the Australian Stock Exchange? Any?

Given the success of Scots brewery Brew Dog’s ‘Equity for Punks!‘, perhaps there are lots of good reasons to co-operate when it comes to beer.

Fresh local beer in which you have a co-operative interest or, as Fair State Brewery’s website says, Drink like you own the place. And to that ….cheers

 

13 July
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Crown chases lost gold

So Crown Lager – or rather CUB’s Crown brand – has launched another line extension. This time as Crown Golden Ale.

The launch was well covered by the Herald Sun plus a solid review by Matt K at Australian Brews News (he has some unresolved issues with the Crown brand).

After the hefty consumer backlash to Crown Lager’s new taste (aka reformulation) as well as the failure of Crown Pilsner and Crown Gold, you’d think CUB would be treating Crown with more respect. Being gentle – softly softly – with such a key brand.

golden-ale-bottle-only

Crown Golden Ale in its black and gold livery

But no..

So .. this latest brand refurbishment for Crown prompts me to ask:

  • Is Crown Golden Ale filling an identified demand/niche or just line extending as CUB tends to do reactively when a brand is under serious pressure e.g. VB Original Ale?

Trend watching: OTL (other than lager)
Answer? Maybe it’s the strength of CUB rival James Squire’s Golden Ale.

Or could it be that CUB has spotted the trend in the UK where ‘golden ales’ are chalking up surprising growth in recent years?

The Guardian quotes Tesco ale buyer Chiara Nesbitt who notes: “Over the last five years ale has made a resounding revival as a flavoursome beer that is now appealing to a younger generation of beer drinkers. Golden ale with its light and refreshing taste is playing a major role in this revival as it is the beer lager drinkers first generally try if they want to switch to ale.” (my emphasis)

In support of this view, CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale in the United Kingdom) defines golden ales as a “.. new style of pale, well-hopped and quenching beer developed in the 1980s as independent brewers attempted to win younger drinkers from heavily-promoted lager brands.” (my emphasis)

Sneaking its way into craft?
Many beer experts will claim golden ale as being a style which has its origins in, and is now ‘owned’ by, the craft beer segment. I tend to agree.

So is this just CUB nudging the style boundaries and giving a hat-tip to a popular craft beer?

I think so, but does it matter? Read more…

08 March
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Beer provenance revisited: lack of transparency still a hot issue

On the matter of beer provenance I must highlight and hat tip the role Matt Kirkegaard, arguably Australia’s leading beer commentator and blogger, has played in bringing this issue to prominence.

After penning my previous post I came across an earlier post and podcast by Matt about beer provenance concerns. I urge you to read and listen to this interview with Dr Chuck Hahn by clicking on the RBN pic immediately below. Maybe miss the preamble and start 10 minutes in.

rbn chuck

While contacting Matt, beerlines took the opportunity to quickly interview him on beer provenance and secure an update on his thoughts.

Beerlines: “As Editor of Australian Brews News is provenance becoming more important? If so is there any variation between small and big brewers?”

Kirkegaard: “It’s an interesting question.

“As our shelves become more cluttered with a wider array of beers, consumers are looking to brand values as much as flavour to aid their selection.

“It’s here that provenance can really matter. It’s also here that large and small brewers can be pushing things a little too far and muddying the provenance waters.Byron_Bay_Pale_Lager_Carton_6_x_4_330ml

“While it’s very easy to point the finger at beers such as CUB’s outright deception with Byron Bay Lager, or LION’s highly dubious labelling of Kosciuszko Pale Ale, they can quite rightly point their fingers at smaller brewers who have taken the ‘we don’t hide it, but we just don’t advertise the fact’ line when it comes to own their own contract brewing.kosciuszko

“It really doesn’t matter to the quality of the beer, but the unwillingness to be open gives everyone the right to hedge a little and that hurts craft.

Unwillingness to be completely upfront .. lowers the craft bar
“While in one sense I can understand their thinking, it’s the craft brewers’ own unwillingness to be completely upfront that allows the debauching of the craft beer market by the likes of Coles’ Steamrail brand for example: indeed one beerlines used in earlier posts.

new dan murphys_1480

“When Coles can point to their product and say, quite honestly, that it comes from the same brewery as Mountain Goat’s Steam Ale and Summer Ale, and Mountain Goat offers nothing to differentiate their beer .. well, it lowers the craft bar. Read more…

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!

16 April
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Who owns CUB’s heritage beer brands?

For CUB I think it’s now a case of too many beer brands not enough breweries as its heritage beer brands go to court.

Since the early 1900s Carlton & United Breweries (CUB), now owned by SAB-Miller, has taken over dozens of Australian breweries. This includes the original five Melbourne brewing firms which amalgamated to form CUB in the first place.

One of many famous heritage brands taken over by CUB

One of many famous heritage brands taken over by CUB

There must be hundreds of brands. From well known capital city brands to small regional brews; how is CUB going to keep them all legally under its wing given the requirements to release them to the public regularly? That’s a big task even for a big brewer.

So what’s happening at the bar?

Overnight news, here in The Age, sees local craft brewer, Thunder Road Brewery (TRB), seriously elevate its pitch to secure heritage brands from CUB. Beerlines has covered this before i.e. How to make Carlton bitter.

They’re off to court!

If it weren’t for the fact that this is now actually going to court I would say it was just more drum beating by TRB to get free publicity at the big guy’s expense. Their recent release of Terry’s Ale, based on an early Carlton Brewery beer recipe is a fine example of this.

Is there a serious case?
I’m no lawyer; here comes the ‘but.’ But as I understand it, unless CUB actively keeps those brands alive and seen to be available commercially – if only for limited release every three or so years – then CUB’s ‘ownership’ is exposed. Then such claims as Thunder Road is making have some chance I believe.

And I’m not so sure CUB will have done that. As I said, CUB must ‘own’ hundreds of heritage brands given its history of takeovers. CUB would need to re-release a heritage brand every few months to maintain its claim of ownership across all of them.

See you in court
As Thunder Road is seeing CUB in court, they obviously believe they have a case. They will need good counsel; CUB has a reputation as seriously aggressive litigators when it comes to defending its brands.

Thunder Road’s cuckoo approach to brands
Finally, from a brand-building perspective I question where Thunder Road is going. If it wins the right to take-over some CUB heritage brands then what? How much of TRB’s long term brand and marketing plan relies on the heritage of breweries long closed? What of Brunswick Bitter and its own brands? What of the central Thunder Road brand itself?

So will CUB retain ownership? The answer has the makings of a mini-series based in Melbourne. All good for bringing beer into the news that’s for sure. And for that – Cheers!

 

27 March
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Matilda Bay and Squire pump up their line-ups

Maybe it’s just me? But have both the big brewers’ major craft brands started to pump up their brand line-ups?

Matilda Bay Brewing promoted its line-up of beers and ciders today with a nice splash in Mumbrella.

New Matilda Bay line-up promotion as featured in Mumbrella

New Matilda Bay line-up promotion as featured in Mumbrella

Meanwhile, out in the streets this week, James Squire (Malt Shovel) – the other big brewer’s craft brand –  featured its line-up prominently in outdoor advertising.

James Squire struts its line-up in the streets

James Squire struts its line-up in the streets

Not sure who wins this ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ show down.

It’s fun though ..

One thing is for sure. With both the big brewers strutting their brand portfolios like this, it helps build the creds of the craft beer segment generally.

To borrow from the footy announcers: “It’s gotta be good for football craft beer!”
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!