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

13 July

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.


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?

“No” says Australian journalist Glen Humphries in his blog beer is your friend.

His post on Crown Golden Ale notes: “.. geeks can get very protective about the craft beer segment – even as we debate what “craft beer” means.”

While Humphries admits “.. if they [CUB] take a few tricks from the craft beer world, then so be it.” He also doesn’t “think this golden ale is marketed as a craft beer, any more than Crown Lager is.”

Get as prissy as you want; in the end it comes down to taste: who likes it and who buys it.

Premium ain’t premium anymore
For decades Crown Lager was a cash cow for CUB. The brewery made massive premiums from this self-titled premium. But the influx of imported ‘premium’ beers; the growth of quality craft alternatives; and often confusing price points at retail (e.g. Crown Lager cheaper than VB) have all undermined Crown’s premium claim.

Indeed, these forces challenged the whole concept of what a premium beer really was.

CUB marketers retain their long-held view that big television commercials are cure-alls: that they’ll turn brands around. For Crown it’s recently featured earthy stories about barley growers.

But once a premium positioning is lost – it’s lost.

While the TVCs may well be award-winning for the agency, back in the market, sadly it’s the Crownie loyalists who’ve been let down by Crown in recent years. And sneaky claims that “time is the fifth ingredient” have not helped.

And, speaking of Matt Kirkegaard, I believe he’s right. “It is surprising that SAB-Miller has elected to extend the brand before fixing it.”

Gold and black remembered
Probably irrelevant – and probably superstition – but worthy of discussion.greg norman and Swan Premium

There are a few battle-scarred beer marketers who cringe about heavy use of gold and black livery to underline premium brand claims.

Swan Premium Export Lager took that just a bit too far. “They said they’d never make it!” And they were right.