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.


Curmudgeon said...

I fully understand how branded glasses (and other merchandise) work for Carling and Stella, but given that a high proportion of "craft" cask beer is sold as guest beers, seasonal beers or at beer festivals, it simply isn't practical much of the time.

If a pub gives me a pint of a guest beer in a Carling branded glass, I don't really see it as different in kind from using an unbranded glass. It's simply advertising material. Is it that so different from using a Guinness beer mat or (in pre-ban days) stubbing out a Marlboro in a Benson & Hedges ashtray?

Unknown said...

Mudgie, for you it might make no difference, and there is nothing wrong with that, but there is a subliminal message.

You are right in that for many reasons it may not be practical to put real ale in a branded glass, but a plain one is preferable from the point of view of branding real ale as a whole.

Besides, many beer festivals do put beer in branded glasses, CAMRA branded glasses, that I highly approve of.

Many beer festivals will sell off excess glassware at very reasonable prices to any pub that might be interested. Of course, festival glassware is invariably oversized lined, which most pubs will have no truck with.

StringersBeer said...

The problem with "copying ideas" for branding is not that it's a form of theft (discuss), but that, like all branding effort, it makes a statement about the brand (to those that spot it). My worry is that the statement could be read as something like "(we like) we're like stone/brewdog/whatever, but (we're) short of ideas". Which is really not the effect that we're going for.

Alistair Reece said...

You are right Dave, branding is vitally important - after all it is branding that creates the image of a company in the consumer's mind.

A lot of my British friends back in Prague won't drink real ale because it is branded subconsciously as an old man's drink, but they will drink American craft beer because it is perceived as young and fashionable.

On the glass issue, I am in the "not wildly fussed" camp, although I have a preference for plain nonic. I know fine well what beer I ordered and don't need a glass to remind me - of course drinking a beer from a branded glass is really just a way of advertising to others in the pub that I buy into the world view of the brewer in question. Perhaps my preference for a plain nonic simply says I like beer rather than I like a certain beer.

The problem I see with the Brewdog approach to marketing and advertising is that you become a slave to what is cool, especially as most companies are followers rather than innovators.

One thing I would say though about being a 4m quid brewery, that's all well and good but if the profit sheet isn't healthy your 4m quid means nothing.

Phil said...

a plain [glass] is preferable from the point of view of branding real ale as a whole

I'm confused - I was going to disagree with you, again, but in comments you've just said what I was going to say.

I think glassware is the wrong focus. I don't mind - quite often I positively like - seeing breweries advertised on beer-mats, bar towels and the odd poster. I positively dislike branding on the glass I'm drinking from, unless I'm drinking something weird & wonderful that I don't usually drink (if I'm going to the lengths of buying a Duvel or a Chimay, I might as well have the glass to go with it).

The only exception I'd make - and this is a one-off which I doubt you could emulate - is the range of plain conical glasses the Marble brought out to launch 'Pint', with 'PINT' printed on the side in block letters (and 'HALF' printed on the half). That was unobtrusive and witty. I haven't seen those glasses in use for a while, though - I wonder if they felt they could only use them when they were serving 'Pint', which would make life unnecessarily difficult in a pub with seven or eight beers on.

Brewers Union Local 180 said...


Cooking Lager said...

Branding is more than a nice logo or image created for the brand. The brand is a representation of the product. The most powerful brands in the world gained brand value by ensuring there brand was worth more in the eyes of customers than generic. Coca Cola is a valuable brand. I want a Coke and not a Rolla cola. I really don't think Carling is as valuable as people think. I like Carling but I’m not fussed if Foster’s is cheaper. Carling has great distribution and consistency of product, rather than a great brand. It’s a safe bet the Carling is drinkable, & you know its abv. If that’s a great brand, it really doesn’t say a lot for the beer market.

The problem with branding real ale is its lack of consistency. I can go out tonight and drink the grog of my local regional brewer and drink 5 pints of what is branded the same bitter, and all will taste different. Some quite nice, some horrible pongy rot. The brand has no value, no meaning. The brand means nothing. The better pubs have brand value (reputation) and the worst ones negative brand value (poor reputation), but the actual brand of the beer has no value as I would not prefer it over other brands, would not seek it out and actually sometimes I’d avoid it like I’d avoid a toothless hooker.

If you want to create a beer brand that means something you have to do the following. Maintain consistency. If I drink one of your beers and like it the name Hardnott means something to me. It means nice beer. Your brand has value. I’m likely to try another, whether the same beer or different. I have a duff one; your brand no longer has value as your product is now no better than generic in so far as it’s the same gamble most pong is.

Create something not only distinct but better. Why drink a Hardnott beer over and above another brand?

All the crap about image and mates together in the Carling ads, or even the jokey Foster’s ones are not about creating a brand. There about maintaining an existing brand and keeping it the minds of punters.

For the best brand creation exercise in the UK beer market for the last 10 years, look at the growth of Beck’s Vier. From nowhere to a lout most lager customers express a preference for when given the choice and able to command a price premium over other 4% louts. The secret? Letting punters know what’s in it and ensuring the grog tastes okay.

Not complicated my friend.

Cooking Lager said...
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Cooking Lager said...
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StringersBeer said...

Cookie, I suspect part of the secret with Becks Vier was spending 4m quid on marketing it in the first year alone. It tastes pretty much like Becks regular (i.e. not much) and was nicely established to replace Castlemaine XXXX when InBev's license ran out.
Which would be the point.

I reckon if we gave Dave 4m he could have us all drinking Continuum in 3 years.

Cooking Lager said...

A possibility stringer, but my point remains.

Brewdog, the chaps our Dave loves, maintain consistency whilst establishing an image geeks love and us normal despise. Great growth so long as the geek market is big enough. They keg & brewery condition.

Beck's Vier has transended the parent brand to establish it's own place. Something the rest of the premium standard brands have failed to do. Ignore it if you don't like that sort of thing, but you're a mug if you don't learn from it.

By all means hate Macdonalds but you're a mug if you don't read "grinding it out" by Ray Kroc.

Curmudgeon said...

Yes, as I've said in my piece about premiumisation, one of the keys to establishing a successful brand is maintaining some degree of control over the distribution chain, which is very hard in the cask beer market. Compare it with the control BMW exercise over their dealership network.

Interestingly, Hall & Woodhouse, brewers of Badger beers, have withdrawn from the free trade in draught beer as they felt they couldn't exercise enough control over the end-product.

I agree with Cookie that Beck's Vier has been an outstandingly successful branding exercise - it is now THE lout of choice. And all the advertising in the world can only sell a bad product once.

Unknown said...

Sorry guys, should have returned to comment earlier but I'm happily content fixing up my brewhouse, I'll tell you all about it soon.

Stringers, I see it more a a style genre. Saying we copy BrewDog is a little like saying a 12 bar blues song has been copied off the pervious song that used E, A7, B7 etc. Or as someone said recently, all the crap branded pump clips that have a gold border.


"..... won't drink real ale because it is branded subconsciously as an old man's drink, but they will drink American craft beer because it is perceived as young and fashionable." - yup, becoming the case in UK too.

Plain is always preferable to wrongly branded glasses. You are correct that turnover by itself does not ensure profitability, but it does help.

Phil, now you've confused me. Why do you positively dislike branding on glasses unless it is something special? Are you saying you normally drink boring beer?

BUL180, yup, retire, or at least remove the NEED to earn money a long time before I die.

The remaining discussion between Cookie, Stringers and Mudgie need no more comment from me. I like the point about consistency, I agree this is very important. I believe Stringers is rather good at it.

However Cookie, a hooker without teeth? I thought there were some advantages, providing appropriate barrier methods were used?

Leigh said...

RE: labels and Beer pumps - vitally important to attracting new drinkers. Many people (despite our efforts) still thnk of Hobgoblin-esque style cliches when they think of Real Ale, and we have to turn that around. We all know it's not the case.

StringersBeer said...
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StringersBeer said...
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StringersBeer said...
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StringersBeer said...

Ooops. Sorry. Long comment bug?

Dave, lots of small brewers are good at consistency. Or good enough anyway. The myth that small brewers can't do it is just so much fud. Granted, there are some crap brewers out there - including some big ones who are consistently crap.

Rest of long comment here