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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Wednesday, 26 June 2013

"Let There Be Beer!" Wonderful idea, flawed execution - so far...


In my first book Man Walks into a Pub there's a chapter called 'When People Stopped Going To The Pub', about how in the 1920s and 1930s, new gadgets at home and more stuff to do outside it meant people drifted away from pubs.

Sound familiar?

This situation gravely worried Britain's brewers because at that time nearly all beer was drunk in the pub. So they came together and organised a generic campaign to remind people of how brilliant beer is. Advertising was so much more straightforward back then, and the whole thing ran with a simple strapline, 'Beer is Best'.


The campaign ran for 40 years, culminating in this classic, 'Look in at Your Local', where the legendary Bobby Moore drinks beer and patronises his wife down the boozer (15 seconds in):


After that, we entered the age of big brand advertising, with subsequent ads on the above reel helping make lager the preferred choice of the nation, and inspiring me to get the job in advertising which would eventually, circuitously, lead me to become a beer writer.

Beer, like the rest of history, is circular, and last night I was at the launch of 'Let There Be Beer!' - a new, high budget campaign aiming to remind people how wonderful beer is and get non-drinkers or lapsed drinkers to reconsider drinking it.

Memories are short in marketing - the video we were shown to whet our appetites claimed this was 'the first time ever' that brewers had come together to promote what marketers insist on calling 'the beer category' (even I still use that term when I'm not concentrating.)

As you can see, it's not. But the structure of British brewing has changed beyond recognition, and it's certainly the first time that these particular brewers have come together to promote beer, and that is no mean feat. I'm about to be quite critical of a lot of what followed at the launch, but before I am, I want to stop and emphasise this point.

Most of the British brewing industry is now in the hands of foreign-owned global brewing conglomerates (of the twelve brands being served at the launch, only three were British beers). These huge corporations play hardball. They have colossal budgets, view the beer market as a battle between brands rather than beers, and in mature/declining markets such as the UK, they slug it out like punch-drunk heavyweights, trying to grab percentage points of market share from each other. Last night, senior representatives of the five biggest brewers on the planet (they were never introduced to the audience so I don't know who they all were) sat next to each other, chatted, and drank each other's beers rather than their own. That these people even agreed to be in the same room as each other, let alone work together long term and actually produce a campaign, is miraculous and worthy of heartfelt congratulations.

Like them or loathe them, these are the guys who have the money in British beer - their budgets dwarf those of all the regional, family and microbrewers put together. And they have committed a sizeable chunk of that budget to a three year campaign to promote all beer - none of their brands will feature specifically, it's about pushing the entire 'category'. The British Beer and Pub Association has played a major role in bringing the whole thing together and is central to the whole thing, and CAMRA is firmly on board as a partner too. While smaller brewers have not been involved directly, they have apparently been 'consulted', and several regional brewers were there last night to show their support.

Whatever else happens, whatever criticisms I have, this is a bloody wonderful thing that I wholeheartedly endorse and hope everyone else will too. I hope my criticism will be seen as constructive, and I hope anyone else who cares about beer will attempt to be constructive too rather than simply dismissing the whole initiative from the start.

So in that spirit, here's more of the good stuff first: this is going to be an integrated campaign that runs across advertising, social media and much more. The Facebook page is here, and the Twitter feed is here. In a move that will delight anyone who has ever pulled their hair out in frustration at the lack of beer in TV food programmes, there will also be a tie up with Channel 4's Sunday Brunch, exploring beer and food matching. Chef Simon Rimmer is a genuine, bona fide beer fan, so this should have some real integrity to it. There's going to be an online 'beeropedia', which I haven't seen yet but which promises to be a great resource around all kinds of beer.

Big budgets committed for three years. Brands put aside in favour of 'all beer'. What's not to love?

Well for me, the main problem is that, being big lager brewers, they've managed to produce a generic big lager ad.

There are three scenarios in the TV ad that acts as the flagship for the whole initiative: a bloke battling his barbecue, another bloke nervously meeting his girlfriend's dad, and a woman in a nightmarish office anxiously awaiting 6pm so she can get down the boozer. These are three of the seven classic beer advertising tropes: beer as refreshment, beer as social bonding agent, beer as reward - all seen on our screens countless times in lager ads over the years. And in every single scenario in this ad, the beer in question is lager. Despite repeated assurances that the campaign will celebrate 'lagers, ales, bitters, pilsners and stouts' (er... you really might want to rethink that as a description of beer styles or types, chaps) they've made a reassuringly familiar lager ad.

Here's a sneak preview clip:



"Well that's perfectly understandable," some people said to me last night, "They're the guys putting the  money in, it's only right that it's their products that are featured. And despite what you craft beer ponces say [OK, they didn't quite say it in these words] lager is still where the volume is in beer."


Both points are true. But my abject disappointment with this mainstream lager ad is not grounded in my personal preference for craft beer or real ale; but in my dodgy past as an adman. I think the execution scuppers the likely effectiveness of the campaign, for various reasons:

  • This is a campaign that hopes to improve the image of all beer. Within beer, lager now suffers a boorish, laddish image and is seen as a commoditised product. Craft beer and real ale are already driving positive image associations about beer, recruiting new drinkers, and creating interest. Featuring these beers in the ad wouldn't just help promote a broader appreciation of beer, it would make people see lager in a different context, as part of a broader range - lager would get a positive halo effect from being next to more stylish and interesting beers.
  • It's not just that lager is the only style of beer featured. The tone of voice of the ad - the situations, the comic stylings, the hammy acting - all feel like deeply familiar lager territory. They reinforce current perceptions of lager (therefore beer) rather than prompting us to reappraise them. These big brands spend tens of millions of pounds a year making ads like this, and they haven't stopped people drifting away from beer. So why on earth would yet another typical lager ad prompt people to do anything different just because it doesn't have any brands in it?
  • Following on from that, I'll bet you a month's salary (or ten quid, whichever is higher this month) that when people see this, because it looks exactly like a lager brand ad, they will misattribute it to one of the brands involved. Even if they enjoy it, it will be, "Have you seen that new ad by... ooh, was it Fosters or Carlsberg?" If there had been a range of beers featured, and if the styling of the ad had been different, it would have been (excuse me while I put my marketing hat on) disruptive to category norms and more likely to prompt reappraisal - in other words, impossible to mistake for a lager brand ad. And that would have been of more benefit to all styles of beer, lager included.
Apart from that, the other really annoying part of it is that in a thirty second ad, there is one fleeting shot of a pub - about three seconds long, if that. And it's more of a 'bar' than a pub (probably a 'bar and kitchen').


Astonishingly, for a campaign that purports to be embracing all beer, they've even managed to find a place that only has lager fonts on the bar - no real ale handpulls. It's actually quite difficult to find a stylish pub or bar these days that doesn't have handpulls on the bar, but somehow they managed it. I'm guessing the brains behind the ad disagree, but in my view the pub improves positive associations around beer, and simply mirroring people's out-of-pub drinking misses a trick.

If the campaign is three years long, I hope that when this commercial fails to prompt people to reappraise beer or remind them how good it is, some of these points might be taken on board and new, better executions might follow. We were given no opportunity to ask questions last night - instead, bizarrely, an occasionally sexist Eamon Holmes conducted a scripted interview with the brand owners*. But when I raised my concerns with individuals I was told that other beer styles would be featured in the layers of detail behind the TV ad. Fine, but they must surely be in the ad as well.

About that detail: we were told that this is a campaign they would like the whole beer and pub industry to get behind. So if you're looking for interesting content, might it not have been a good idea to approach the Guild of Beer Writers at some point, or the broader beer writing community? To the best of my knowledge, writers and bloggers have simply been told about this campaign, rather than being asked for any input. (Disclosure: I did some paid consultancy with the ad agency that went on to win the pitch to make the ad, but that was at a very early stage.) One of the major themes of the campaign is 'conversation' - the great conversations that happen around beer. Perhaps if there had been more conversation about the aims and ideas of the campaign before it launched, its flaws might have been avoided.

This is early days in what promises to be a long-term campaign to support beer and make people think about it in a different way. The TV ad launches on Saturday morning, at half time in the British Lions game, and I'm guessing (there was no press release available last night) that the website and social media stuff will all go live at that time too. There's loads more to come. Some of the best TV ad campaigns in history only really found their feet with the second or third executions, once they'd worked out what the idea was really about. I hope 'Let There Be Beer' will eventually fall into that category. I also trust that the wider campaign will indeed do much more for beer than the TV ad does. But the TV ad is where the biggest chunk of money is. For now, for aims, intention, initiative and thinking: 10 out of 10 - outstanding. For execution: 6 out of 10 - must improve. I still think this execution is better:




* Woman on panel: "I was given my first ever pint of beer by my boyfriend at the time." Eamon Holmes: "Well, we know what he was after!"


26 comments:

Curmudgeon said...

Does this have some similarities to It's Better Down the Pub?

Cooking Lager said...

I think one of the difficulties the executives of corporations have in coming together in this fashion is that it can give the appearance of operating a cartel, the ramifications of which are costly. If you look at other sector based advertising like the cream cake adverts that used to be shown, the dairy industry at the time had a state dairy council.

Though the whole thing would be better with a story type narrative. A bloke in a pub necking lots of bitter and smiling. He’s happy because he drinks bitter. A lager drinker is with him but he isn’t smiling. He looks ill. He runs outside into the street and pukes in a bin. A horrified young mother looks on and shields her children’s eyes. He is a menace because he necks mainstream lager. Send me the cheque.

py0 said...

So what you're saying is that its good... but its not Carling.

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

Afraid you haven’t sold it to me, it all sounds deeply soporific, but then it’s probably not aimed at me though I do wish it luck.

Pete Brown said...

Mudgie, it's sort of like a grown up version of that.

py0 - I guess I'm saying it's good, but it IS Carling!

Cookie, you need to assert copyright before you go throwing ideas like that around. They'll get nicked!

Phil Mellows said...

I've had an invite to a pub quiz to launch the campaign next week. I've stared at it for a long time and I still can't believe it but it's NOT being held in a pub. This isn't quite the way to support the trade. Nor is it true to the idea of a pub quiz. I'm baffled.

Pete Brown said...

Phil - I haven't been invited to that. Where is it?

Tyson said...

Sounds rubbish to me. So far at least. I agree with your critique and feel it's already missed the boat by sidelining craft beer. And would it have killed them to have featured a pub?

chriso said...

So, it's just another big bucks, ad-based, brand building exercise. Just the same as every other campaign by these big spenders except that the brand is (a little) more generic. I can think of many ways to promote the glories of beer and brewing. However, the products that these guys are trying to promote, albeit a touch less directly than usual, wouldn't feature prominently, if at all.

Tony Leonard said...

So it's big brands coming together to promote supermarket sales of their mainstream products. Hmm, it might be a good idea from their point of view but it does nothing for my business.
I'm also very wary of these generic campaigns. There's currently an ad fronted by Jimmy Dogherty that features lots of lovely happy pigs in the open air. It's for the Red Tractor logo and the clear implication is that all pigs reared in accredited farms are kept in similar conditions when that is absolutely not the case. The campaign upsells intensively reared pork as being reared to considerably higher welfare conditions than is actually the case, while making it considerably harder for free-range farmers to make the case for their pigs having sufficiently different living conditions to justify their necessarily higher prices.
That's my long-winded way of saying that cask & craft brewers have nothing to gain by being lumped in with the big boys. Industrial producers, however, can benefit through the association with genuine quality.

Curmudgeon said...

The duty campaign was won by the whole industry getting together and speaking with one voice. If people go back to squabbling amongst each other and saying "it was the nasty big boy wot did it" then nobody will benefit.

Anonymous said...

Lots of good and interesting points about a campaign which (as far as most of us are concerned) has come out of nowhere. Parallels with "It's Better Down the Pub" were going through my mind as I read this but at least IBDTP isn't just top down - it's also bottom up and coming at you sideways too! This does seem like a missed opportunity, that just seems to be aimed at supermarket drinking. Perhaps, the conglomerate-brewers and supermarkets are in league here, or is that just one conspiracy theory too many?

Fewer and fewer publicans are selling mass-marketed products, so is the supermarket "Buy One Get One For Free" the only answer for the volume that they need to keep their factories open? Is the token nod to the pub a representative of the token role that these anonymous executives (executioners?) see as our future relationship with them?

I hope not for, although my business is built on selling quality real ales to a discerning clientele, I also happily sell Amstel. Some people want that as opposed to anything else I sell, so it helps the overall business. However, if I didn't sell the real ales, the vast majority of my business would be gone. If this campaign does limit itself (despite what it may say) to promoting lagers only, Pete Brown is right that most people will see it as "just another lager advert"!

John Ellis
Crown Inn, Oakengates and
Elephant & Castle, Dawley

Dan said...

I think you're being extremely generous. They don't want to promote beer, they want to sell more lager.

Eddie Grace said...

I didn't know anything about this until I saw a tweet the other day. Then saw The Drinks Business article on it and checked out who was behind it, i.e. precisely those corporations who have spent the past 30-odd years making beer as boring, dull and homogenous as they could in the pursuit of profit. Would be nice to think they're interested in promoting all kinds of beer, but as you pointed out, you only have to look at the beer styles described to see their hearts really aren't in it. Less 'Let There Be Beer!', more 'Stop drinking wine and drink our lager please', if you ask me.

Alex said...

I think the great British sewing bee for beer would do a lot for this campaign. You feel better about spending £70 on a shirt, If you know how it is stitched together. But it doesn't stop you spending 15 quid on a T-shirt either. If consumers are walking away from beer, then re-familiarising them with the process of its production would seem to be a good way of bringing them back. I agree that making craft beer truly a aspirational product in the sector will help secure the whole beer business.

Eating My Own Words said...

To your point about the fleeting shot of a bar-like pub in this ad, I agree and raise you this Greene King ad. They definitely over-egg the fun that people are having (starts to look like a Tourism Ireland ad) but overall, I think the Greene King ad does a much better job of making you want to go down the pub than Let There Be Beer does. (I think the Jake Bugg saves the Greene King ad from being schmaltzy).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xt7LZpZLseI

Emma Sweet said...

Hi Pete, I thought your blog post was extremely well put together, and gave some good constructive criticism in a diplomatic way.

I was there myself on Tuesday and found the whole thing very off-trade/lager focused, which as far as I can see from the BBPA's figures needs no further support to encourage sales. I was glad I arrived late and didn't see the ad until the end as I'm not sure I'd have been able to keep my mouth shut, and I'd have chirped up something about the lack of pub/cask ale focus in the ad.

I've always been a big fan of the BBPA, but feel this advert has very much forgotten the P aspect in their name, and I hope in the coming months, there is far more emphasis on cask ale and pubs.

I really wanted to like it and get behind the campaign, but it just left me feeling a bit resigned to the fact that off trade beer sales will very shortly over take on trade beer sales, which will be a sad day indeed.

Looking at the BBPA's figures, since 1999 on trade beer sales have declined by 57%, which is a shocking statistic, whatever way you look at it.

Tony Leonard said...

Hi Emma, you're a big fan of the BBPA? I really am not being sarcastic here but I've never heard anyone ever say that before. Please would you drop me an email at tony@thesnowdropinn.com, i'd love to talk more.

Anonymous said...

Something along the lines of the excellent advert Green King did recently would have been much more effective.

Liam Dawson said...

Having seen this commercial for the first time last night and not having seen any of their other activity I was actually convinced this was an advert for drinkaware.co.uk as their logo seemed more prominent on this ad than it is in most other alcohol ads.

Shockingly, given what I now know about the objective of this ad, it would actually be an amazing teaser commercial for a fairly hard hitting drinkware campaign.

On the one hand you have a beer drinking dad next to a fairly out of control Bar B Q who then proceeds to dive underneath of a busy trampoline! That can be followed up with a scene featuring the fire brigade and a paramedic.

Then you have an image of a woman who quite literally has mountains of work piling up but who dismisses all of this when the bell goes at 6pm on a Friday to sprint down to the local...style bar. That moment can be followed up with tears and a copy of her P45 in her hand.

Don't know where to begin with an exploding fish tank once the young lad gets on the side of his prospective girlfriends Dad.

Don't let alcohol ruin your life...drink responsibly! That's exactly what I was expecting in the follow up.

#Fail in this modern social age.

Also, is Cider included in this? Isn't part of the problem that the arrival of Magners and the subsequent hysteria for every other large brewer to create their own cool new Cider brand part of the issue. They gave the beer drinking male an alternative to the norm and once we embraced Cider with ice, the pub or the alcohol counter was our Oyster!

They've made their bed.

Liam Dawson said...

Having seen this commercial for the first time last night and not having seen any of their other activity I was actually convinced this was an advert for drinkaware.co.uk as their logo seemed more prominent on this ad than it is in most other alcohol ads.

Shockingly, given what I now know about the objective of this ad, it would actually be an amazing teaser commercial for a fairly hard hitting drinkware campaign.

On the one hand you have a beer drinking dad next to a fairly out of control Bar B Q who then proceeds to dive underneath of a busy trampoline! That can be followed up with a scene featuring the fire brigade and a paramedic.

Then you have an image of a woman who quite literally has mountains of work piling up but who dismisses all of this when the bell goes at 6pm on a Friday to sprint down to the local...style bar. That moment can be followed up with tears and a copy of her P45 in her hand.

Don't know where to begin with an exploding fish tank once the young lad gets on the side of his prospective girlfriends Dad.

Don't let alcohol ruin your life...drink responsibly! That's exactly what I was expecting in the follow up.

#Fail in this modern social age.

Also, is Cider included in this? Isn't part of the problem that the arrival of Magners and the subsequent hysteria for every other large brewer to create their own cool new Cider brand part of the issue. They gave the beer drinking male an alternative to the norm and once we embraced Cider with ice, the pub or the alcohol counter was our Oyster!

They've made their bed.

Ed Davies said...

You mention the website going live. Just had a look, and the website currently tells me something big is brewing for the 11th of August...

MarkoJamesKelly said...

Great post. When I first saw the ads I was nodding in agreement with the general message but sort of doubtful that it was going to be effective in any way. Only seen it once on the telly but surely they can do better.

Matt said...

Ooh, discussing the merits of Beer V Lager.
I'm not sure there's an argument there.
We've been doing lots of 'beer' work (we do advertising), and I loved the comment by 'COOKING LAGER, I think he's hit the nail on the head.

Plus, I think you owe him a cheque.
Matt

Anonymous said...

I noticed that several of the people featured on this underwhelming ad were drinking straight from the bottle. Apart from being a silly affectation, this is a bad way to drink beer as it prevents the flavours from developing in the mouth. As such, it is usually confined to immature lager drinkers. I think this reveals the advert's target audience.
I note CAMRA have associated themselves with this nonsense. They never learn, do they?

String said...

Eurgh, just saw the advert/segment on Sunday Brunch this morning. Tim Lovejoy promoting Fosters and Bud as great beers, with a food pairing to boot.

This campaign seems like a dressed up way for the macros to cash in on the 'craft beer' movement.