It was with great amusement that I saw Carlsberg relaunch their Export brand last month – or, in other words, splash the cost of 15 brewery start-ups to make it look like an IKEA house beer and inadvertently changes the pronunciation of the beer from Export to “expurt”. They also have done their homework finding drinkers’ associations between craft and Scandinavia, which they have summed up as plywood and proceeded to build their taps out of it.
To be fair, it looks clean and trendy in a flat-pack furniture kind of way, and it would likely work for a new brand. But it won’t work for Carlsberg because the branding isn’t, and never has been, the issue.
These macro rebrands are bound to fail because either the focus groups have failed to spot the real issue, or it has been wilfully ignored. You see, I am not creating a new form of marketing by saying that if a product isn’t selling, the first thing you check is the product. If it hasn’t changed then the consumer must have, and therefore the product needs to follow suit.
Ten years ago that wasn’t the case. Back then, all the bland macrolagers tasted the same so the only way to differentiate them was the marketing. Consumers made choices based on the way they felt about each brand, which is exactly what has led Carlsberg to their IKEA Malm-bed-set style reinvention.
But the beer industry – indeed the whole alcohol sector – is faced with the same customer-led problem. Their young, target market don’t drink as much as they used to, and when they do they are far more discerning. They may be lulled into trying Export, but they won’t try it again because the issue is the flavour. Drinkers are moving on and the Carlsberg recipe is out dated in a way that the old brand never was.
When I see campaigns like this I can’t help but think what could be achieved if £15m was spent on product redevelopment rather than rebranding. The declining macro-lager market points to one clear thing – people want provenance, quality and sustainability. Carlsberg think this relates to the brand, people marketing for craft breweries know it relates to the product. This is what they need to fix, and then they can look at getting the new message across.
This rule isn’t restricted to the macro breweries. Regional brewers in this country have had one eye on the craft beer movement and many have decided to take the plunge. The worst of them simply added “crafted” to their pack copy in a distressed font (they didn’t have £15m to waste) but a few developed new products that, where done well, have been a success.
Some did exceedingly well – Fuller’s and Adnams continue to maintain their hold on the real ale market while producing a few beers that even the most hop-obsessed beer drinker is happy to try. Even better, St Austell’s Roger Ryman has built himself a stunning test kit and now makes all sorts of Belgian and American-inspired beers that are genuinely brilliant (try their saison if you don’t believe me).
Sadly though, no brewery I know of in the UK has had the guts to rework their core product, which is exactly what Carlsberg need to do. Stone Brewing Company did just that when they brought out Stone Ruination 2.0, a replacement for their original Ruination double IPA. The new recipe was inspired by the fact that technology and tastes had moved on since the original beer was conceived. To stay relevant, the beer had to change and improve.
Quite why macrobreweries refuse to see this is beyond me. The sluggish, uniform nature of beer and stranglehold they have distribution has saved them for now – if a technology company was so complacent it would be out of business in a matter of years.