Even Beer Needs Refreshing Marketing

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BSG maintains strong associations with the beer and liquor industry and a variety of levels. Lately we ran a blog about craft beer. It remarked that beer sales are trending down: Is it the taste or…the marketing?

Shock and Disbelief! Beer sales are trending down in America! Certainly this is not the result of mass supplies of skunky beer or some bizarre changes in taste trends towards green tea with a bourbon chaser. Could the reason be marketing? Has the once powerful advertising power of Big Beer aged too much, or lost its message on a new audience? So, it is not about the beer, but the marketing of it.

Craft beer, as has been noted, is in a boom time that shows no signs of slowing. And craft beer is all about marketing since there is so much competition. The beer industry as whole, however, is settling near panic mode. Each quarter shows another dip down in the overall beer drinking population. How can a tiny segment of the beer world be thriving while the overall market, most notably the Big Beer brands, sees its biggest downward trend?

The answer could be a flight to alcohol quality over quantity for the average consumer as the rise in the sale of liquors and spirits coincides with the rise in craft beer; one good bottle of craft beer to be slowly enjoyed over a six pack of grandpa’s canned brand. According to the latest data from GuestMetrics, while spirits and wine both saw volume trends improve slightly through mid-August, beer trends deteriorated.

Could the answer also be marketing? Has the once powerful advertising power of Big Beer finally fallen from the precipice due to over-repetition of the same-old same-old? Trade publication Advertising Age posted a great feature that delved into the issue:

When speaking with Paul Chibe, VP-U.S. marketing at A-B InBev, it’s best to tiptoe around the subject of the farting horse. Part of a suite of ads for Bud Light that ran several years ago under a previous marketing regime, it’s become an internal symbol at the brewer of what not to do in advertising. “It’s not going to build the category,” he said. The horse spot epitomized the brewer’s once-sophomoric ad humor, though the period also produced memorable, though almost as bad ads such as the Budweiser frogs.

Former A-B Chief Creative Officer Bob Lachky — who was behind A-B classic “Wassup?!” — blames his ex-employer for overtesting. “It’s almost impossible to get a breakthrough idea through a system that may be overanalyzing in the pre-test stage,” he said. “Once in a while, you do have to take a chance.”

Mr. Chibe counters that the new regime is taking plenty of risks; it’s just using data to make smarter choices. “Everything that I am running on air is an ad that has been tested and qualified to drive purchase intent and persuasion,” he said. Mr. Chibe has put a premium on music-themed marketing, signing up artists like Jay Z and Justin Timberlake, as the brewer seeks to appeal to millennials with more aspirational ads and fewer frat-boy pranks.

Big brands are also resorting to packaging as a major marketing tool. Coors Light is pushing a “double-vented wide-mouth can” that the brewer says produces a smoother pour, harkening back to its glory days as the beer that “tastes great” and is “less filling.”

One final note: there is a lessened number of consumers voting that light beers “taste great.”

Even with beer, the world is changing substantially. How about your industry, you competition and your specific business?

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