Tuesday 12 October 2010

Beer Branding

My previous post expressed my frustration about the lack of concern amongst many on-sale beer emporiums failing completely to have any concern about putting the correct beer brand in the correct branded glass. Some readers might think I've gone a little over the top on this one, and clearly, for most drinkers, it is really something that is of little concern to them. Drinking a pint of quality real ale, for instance, out of a major lager brand glass is no big deal, the beer tastes no different just because the glass claims to be for a different beer.

I find it curious that in the beer enthusiasts world there is a faction that harbors an objection to any form of proactive brand promotion. I'm getting really quite interested in the reasons for this objection. To me it is very simple; a product sells well because people want to buy it. They will not want to buy it if they are not aware of the brand.

I'll start with an analysis of my survey. From a beer drinkers perspective it shows, that really, glassware doesn't matter much; the majority (68.2%) either don't notice, notice but don't care or only get a little irritated by incorrect glassware. From my own experience of people in pubs this is probably about right. I'd even go as far as to say that some drinkers would actually get irritated if service was slowed up due to bar staff spending a few moments looking for the correct glass.

I can turn all of this on it's head however. Very few respondents, one actually, reported that they never notice beer being put into the wrong branded glass. So, 68 of you do notice, even if you don't care. That is 98.6% of the people who responded at least notice the branding on the glass that they get their beer in. From the perspective of someone, me that is, who wants his beer branding to be noticed this is a very, very important fact. Branding on the glass is a key and important part of brand awareness; drinkers notice it.

When we launched Hardknott as a stand alone brewery, as opposed to one that was attached to a pub, we knew we would have to be much more proactive with our branding, marketing and sales. We would no longer have a guaranteed outlet and we would need to sell a lot more beer to be able to make a living at the job. We engaged a design company1 to help us out.

One of the key briefs to our designers was to be a little like BrewDog, without it being obvious that there was any copying going on. Some say that there was a failure in that last part, but then I'm not sure I care and neither do I think that BrewDog do, especially as we have a good relationship with that brewery.

Moreover, there is even more reason why copying ideas is not only acceptable but even the right thing to do. If it works then why change something if you don't have to? BrewDog after all have already copied what Stone have done. Using similar graphics, fonts, prose or any other form style copying, be it deliberate, or often subliminal, is nothing new at all, either in the beer world or for branding in general.

Take the curvacious shape of a Coca Cola bottle, or glass; it's representative of the curves of a sexy lady, so I'm told. Think of the shape of a Weissbier glass, spooky eh? You can find that curvaceous shape all over the place if you look, sexiness sells, as does controversy......

....I have had a go at BrewDog myself over the naming of Sink!. I think a few of us middle aged beer geeks were a little outraged about this. But perhaps this is just Punk marketing, shock tactics. Some commentators would like to say that it won't work, BrewDog are not going to continue to grow with this approach. Perhaps there is a limit, but currently they are brewing 50 barrels a time, 11 times a week and are turning over approximately £4M a year. That's a tripling of turnover in 12 months. They are a £4M a year business, I almost feel I need to say no more, but of course I will.

So you don't care? What you want to do is sit in a nice pub with a nice pint of real ale, no fuss, no hype, no branding and nothing to clutter up and confuse your enjoyment of a good pint. I'm with you all the way. Good beer, that's all we want. Some of us would like to see more real ale available. Some would like to see a more diverse beer styles, strengths and some way-out innovation, but that's just my personal view. Whatever our choice of beer we don't want it all cluttered with this silly commercialism that takes over the world.

CAMRA's main aim is to maintain and perhaps grow the availability of real ale. The Cask Report would seem to suggest that indeed the real ale market is quite healthy. The very same report also suggests that more could be done to grow the cask market and presumably CAMRA and real ale enthusiasts would be pleased if this happened.

If you are reading this blog then the chances are that you do not need to be told that cask beer, and more generally craft beer, is a fantastic drink; I would be preaching to the converted. Despite the fact that much of the beer that I and presumably you, the reader, drink is a far superior, and often better value for money beverage than mass produced brands, the big brands continue to be the best sellers.


Take Carling2, which I estimate to have a market value of over £1 billion3. Why has it been Britain's number one lager for over 30 years4? Branding and marketing, that's why.

Branding is crucial to growing and maintaining a product market. Branding, marketing and advertising, which are different but related activities, and to be honest I get a little confused about where one leads into another, are all important. Of course, that tacky homemade cardboard pump clip might well send a message to you that the beer is handcrafted in a shed by someone who has more time for caring for the beer than for branding. It might well be that you don't care that you got that beer in a Carling glass, or that the beer mats on the table are for a brand that the pub doesn't even have on sale at the moment. Why should you care? Perhaps you shouldn't. But the reason that your hand crafted beer is still made in a shed and the brewer is living from hand to mouth and probably unlikely to gather together enough money to buy an annuity5 when he retires is because he didn't invest in branding and so grow his business.

The reason Carling is successful is because you got served your micro-brewed ale in a Carling glass.

PumpClipParade concerns itself with poor beer branding. Perhaps it is overly concerned about branding that is objectionable to the instigator of that site, after all, there are people who like that sort of silly joke. But to be fair, the proportion of the population that will buy a product because it comes with a silly joke, badly designed graphics, or even in some cases grossly offensive sexism is rather small.

So, you may not care about the branding on the glass you drink out of, but you do notice, don't you? You might not care that the beer mats and bar towels in the pub are provided by and carry the branding of a major corporation, but you do notice, don't you? You might not care that the pump clip looks bloody awful, in fact you notice and you like the fact that the unprofessional style makes it obvious that it's made by an amateur, don't you?

All those people who don't drink real ale, but you think should, also notice too.


1They are, like us, doing well enough for their website to be a low priority. I expect that as our increased brewing capacity will soon necessitate our web presence to be improved.

2Yes, take it, take it a long way away as far as I'm concerned. But it is not going anywhere, really, not without strong brands that compete with it.

3That's a reasonable estimate of the value to the owner of the brand, Molson Coors. Based on 5 million barrels per years and a brewery gate price of £200 per barrel. If all that volume was sold through pubs it would be nearer £4 billion as total contribution to the UK economy. Moreover the contribution to reducing the deficit is over £500 million per year. I suspect Molson Coors put a shed load of £millions into branding too.

4At least, that's what I believe. Heard it somewhere, can't think where.

5I hope to be able to live a reasonable life when I retire. For this reason I am greatly concerned that my brewery is successful. If that means I have to copy stuff other people have done then I think I may well do so. To have a reasonably comfortable retirement I may well not need a £1 billion business. I may not even need a £4 million business. However, I will probably need to be a lot closer to that last figure than I am now, and to do that I'll have to work on branding.

Hoppy Blog Day

It is apparently two years today since I started this blog. Mark Dredge also started blogging about beer on the same day. We both won awards for our blogs in last years British Guild of Beer Writers annual competition and I was pleased that it was Mark that beat me, he's a good writer. It was Mark who alerted me yesterday about the anniversary and I'm pleased because with everything I have going on at the moment I'd have forgotten otherwise. He also suggested that I should be doing a post to mark1 the occasion.

I can't sleep as it happens, perhaps I'm feeling guilty about my lack of postings. Still, over the two years I seem to have notched up over 350 posts, which is nearly one every other day, and several hundred thousand words. At this time of the day I would normally be asleep, but I believe Mark gets up early especially to write. Today something has me here in front of the keyboard, perhaps my blogging twin has kicked my subconscious somewhere.

Starting this blog on 12 October 2008 started something of a life's revolution for me. At that time I was a lover of real ale, a lover of good food, chef, brewer and a committed but somewhat frustrated licensee of our own pub. I started this blog because I couldn't see how I could make my pub a financially viable business without it completely sending me potty2.

We never really did find the answers. I did seem to be quite good at communicating my frustrations and in turn that helped me to cope, but ultimately, for many reasons associated with the location of the building, and arguably our outlook on life, the pub was never going to be a sustainable lifestyle for us. I hope to return to that subject in time, with a more dispassionate, detached and analytical viewpoint. Running a pub is not in anyway as simple as people would like to think it is; it is incredibly easy to get wrong occasionally and terribly hard to get right all the time.

Looking back, without the pub I would not have started writing. Without the pub I would not have started brewing beer. Without the pub and the subsequent blog creation I might not even have become the beer enthusiast that I now am. Beer seems to have taken over my life, and that of Ann's, who doesn't even drink much and suffers this obsession with much more tolerance than she ought.

I have not only joined the British Guild of Beer Writers but also seem to have found myself on the committee. I want to do more to promote the world of beer, to see it featured more on T.V. and to see wider acceptance of beer as a quality drink rather than the current mainstream view of it's somewhat unglamorous status.

I also want to write more; I have ideas for books and shorter articles, but currently am finding it difficult to put aside time. I am getting frustrated at the lack of blog posts I manage to write. Perhaps this is the reason I couldn't sleep these early hours of the morn. I am quite busy with the brewery at the moment, and this is something that I'm enjoying.

And so here I am, two blog years on, we've sold the pub and now we are growing, it would seem with some success, a brewery that is consuming ever more of my time. It's good, it's rewarding and satisfying.

I've met many good people through this blog and associated Twitter. Much beer has been drunk in many interesting places. My horizons have widened so far that I doubt I can ever reach all of the beery land masses that peek ahoy in the distance. I have discovered new beers and new breweries from which to try their beers and found that there is much more to beer than the pint quaffing norm of the pub, although I still enjoy a good quaff much of the time.

So here's to the next year, let's hope I can get back up to an average of 3 or 4 posts a week sometime soon, just as soon as this brewery is properly up and running.


1I'm already wondering if the word "mark" appears too often in this post.

2At least, more potty than I already am.