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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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Sunday, 24 August 2014

How to fail completely at social media: an object lesson from @StrongbowUK

Good marketing practice is not that difficult. It just seems that it's so much easier to screw it up.

Whenever I've been in a meeting room where marketers are discussing social media, everyone agrees unanimously that the difference between it and straightforward advertising is that it's a two-way street. Twitter and Facebook are platforms for conversations. In strategic meetings, at conferences and in marketing textbooks everywhere, everyone says they understand this.

And yet in practice, it's so very different.

Today, this tweet appeared on my timeline.


It made me quite annoyed. While I'm sure there is the equivalent of the juice from eight apples in a pint of Strongbow, by omission it very clearly implies that this is all there is. It suggests that the apples are squeezed, the juice is fermented, and that's basically it.

But this is completely untrue. Strongbow is approximately 37% apple juice . If that's the wrong figure, I'll happily correct it if anyone from Bulmers - now part of Heineken - cares to tell me the correct figure. But they won't, because they don't want you to know. Anyway, I've been told on good authority that it's 37%.

That juice has been reconstituted from concentrate, much of which is shipped in from abroad. Bulmers does use a lot of apples from Herefordshire as they claim, but there are not enough apples in Herefordshire to cater for the huge volumes it makes.

Strongbow then has more water added to bring the alcohol strength down from its natural 7-8% ABV, and lots of sugar, additives and flavourings to stop it tasting so watery.

So the tweet above is misleading, if not downright dishonest.

You can get away with that in advertising (though I will also be complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority about this tweet) but you can't get away with it in the conversation that is social media.

You might be able to make out the first response above: "that's bollocks and you know it!"

Further down the page, the responses come thick and fast:

"haven't mentioned fermented apple juice & glucose syrup,water sugar,carbon dioxide,acid:E270,E330,antioxidant:E224(sulphites)"

"how come I can't taste them then?"

"..and then bung in a load of artificial sweetener, right?"

There's even a correction to the incorrect terminology on the tweet:

"You'd probably find it easier to press them [apples] rather than squeeze."

This reminds me of the claim in another tweet from the brand which claims Strongbow is 'brewed in Herefordshire'. I'm not sure how Strongbow is made, but I do know that cider is not 'brewed'. Brewing is the heating/boiling of water with infused ingredients, such as tea leaves or hops. Cider is 'made' - at least in the method that Strongbow claims to follow here - and no brewing takes place. You'd really expect the UK's biggest cider brand to know a little bit about how cider is made.



You could argue that people who drink Strongbow don't really care about this, and there are enough 'so what?' comments on the thread to suggest you would have a point. 

But either way, what is Strongbow's response to this? How does the brand react to having its claims challenged in a conversational medium? 

It completely ignores them.

The above statements, which are potentially very damaging to the brand, remain completely unanswered. As does every other comment on the thread. The above pic was first posted on 9th August, and Strongbow UK have not responded to a single comment. 

You could argue that with regard to their critics, they simply stopped digging - but I still believe it's foolish to leave these criticisms up there, unanswered. But elsewhere in the thread there are real fans of the brand who get the same silent treatment: several people ask semi-seriously if a pint of Strongbow counts towards their five a day. One fan asks if he can blag some beer mats or other swag for his pub shed. Another asks if the tall glass featured in the shot is available to buy.

Curious, I went through a few other tweets, and its the same story every time: a mix of stinging criticism and genuine questions from passionate fans, ignored. Having looked at five or six threads, I can't find a single follow-up comment from the brand.

What a genius way to do marketing! 

Join a conversational medium and use it as free advertising space. Make outrageous claims that you couldn't get away with on TV. Then allow your critics to take potshots at you on your own timeline, leaving them there for everyone to see, making you look stupid and dishonest, and also piss off your most loyal fans by ignoring them as well.

No wonder this brand with a marketing budget running into millions has got fewer than 10,000 Twitter followers. They're actually lucky they don't have more people to watch online brand marketing commit painful suicide. 

Boys and girls of Strongbow, I'm afraid you really haven't earned it with this sad, sorry show.

21 comments:

Cooking Lager said...

Have you tried the dark fruits spin off? it's lovely whatever crap it's made of. like boozy ribena, and who doesn't like ribena?

Anonymous said...

Don't slag us off.I work there and Hereford will be lost without this asset.The company Heineken, are pumping a lot of money into the area,jobs also.

Pete Brown said...

So the company creates jobs. That's great. Really. But if that means none if it's actions can be criticised, no mattr how bad, that's truly disturbing.

It doesn't matter how many jobs they create - lying to and then ignoring your customers is not cool. Your point has no relevance.

The Beer Nut said...

It's the poor media studies graduate at the agency, running this and 15 other Heineken-brand Twitter accounts, that I feel sorry for. I bet they have neither the time nor the information to respond usefully. And I bet it was their idiot boss at the agency sold Heineken a Twitter presence, rather than Heineken demanding it. Everybody loses, but the agency gets paid.

Carletta Sorrels said...

Be truthful & honest, know what you are selling as if your livelihood depends on it, it does after all. The quickest way to loose your followers is to treat them as if they don't mean a thing to you.

letslookagain said...

I read that all the Strongbow apples come from either England or France.

Sarah said...

More to the point, it's their inept and alienating marketing rather than a niche blogger pointing it out, that's more likely to endanger those jobs.

Anonymous said...

Are there any examples of major drinks producers really interacting with customers on social media in a meaningful way?

Pete Brown said...

Anon, sadly I'm not aware of many big drinks brands that use social media well. I wrote about it for Brewers' Guardian a few years ago. Small brewers use it brilliantly, and as a result often have much bigger audiences online than the giants. As Sarah says, I'm a 'niche blogger' and I have more followers than most big beer brands with marketing budgets of tens of millions.

Of course you could argue that if you have a seven figure marketing budget, you don't need to bother with social media. But I disagree. And if you look at other sectors - everything from retail, to mobile phones, to transport, to soft drinks, there are plenty of examples of brands with way bigger budgets than drinks brands using social media the way it should be used - to have conversations with people and answer queries and complaints.

It's sad that drinks brands still don't get it - and the bigger the brand, the more clueless they seem.

Emrys said...

Great blog, on which I'll make a couple of comments. Bulmer's was a family run, independent company and a great place to work. A massive, covered-up overspend of around 6 million pounds by the marketing department left it vulnerable and it was taken over by Scottish & Newcastle, and subsequently Heineken. Thanks Marketing! As an independent it employed some 800-1000 local people. Since the takeover it employs around 180 so Anonymous, your assertion is questionable (and irrelevant).

Anonymous said...

They've taken off regular Strongbow in my local and replaced it with Dark Fruit. Take out some cider... Add cheap cordial... Charge THIRTY PENCE more per pint. Bastards.

Cooking Lager said...

I’m not agreeing with Anon but, sorry always a but, the point of your blogging and writing is in some ways about influencing peoples consumer decisions which if effective is market altering. If more people drink beer that affects the demand for the commodities that beer is made of. The likely effect would be to increase barley production in the next agricultural year. Growing orchards is a longer term prospect. Increasing demand for high juice ciders would not result in an immediate increase in supply. You would likely just increase the price of those products.

Further at the cheaper end of most products, substitution exists. Do you believe that the cheaper wines are pure grape juice? It’s more than possible that by study of the chemicals that naturally occur in higher grade grapes it becomes possible to produce those flavours by adding flavouring to lower grade grapes and using other fermentable sugars. Making a nice nice tasting cheap wine out of grapes that 50 years ago would produce rougher stuff.

In addition transporting fruit around the world has a larger carbon footprint than transporting juice concentrates. Concentrates also put a factory in a less economically developed country. There are environmental and ethical reasons in favour of juice concentrate.

Making a nice drinkable easy going fizzy cider out of only a third concentrate is hardly a crime, though the dark fruits variant is the nicer one.

Carletta said...

Cooking Lager, I can see that you have a great understanding of supply & demand. I have to say that the right understanding of the times and always being a step ahead of them can go a long way in producing the what the customer wants and winning the race in pricing and the market share.
I've worked on a development team for beer tasting. When I criticized the fact that none of the selections were smooth and blended for a pleasant experience I was ridiculed for saying that to the group. I told them beers in general didn't need to become an acquired taste, they should be a pleasant experience for the consumer. One of them asked how they were suppose to do that and I told him maybe they should flavor them to go after the market share directed towards women, whom by the way after my horrifying comments agreed they hated beer also. They unfortunately for them ignored the comment and lost out of the initial trend others began toying with.
I told one of my superiors I can prove that social media is a wonderful tool if used correctly. I challenged myself to change their number one brand to another within a year. Within that year the sales flipped on their products, but in the mean time it left an impression on me about listening to the consumer and I now have completely changed brands, to a nice flavored beer and I'm far willing to loose brand loyalty if they don't produce the flavor I expect.

Jeff Alworth said...

Heineken has made one of the biggest blunders you can in communications: they have inadvertently revealed something their business model depends on concealing. I don't know the percentage of cider drinkers in the UK who know that it's legal to make cider from anything but apples, but here in the US, the figure approaches zero. Every time I explain this to a new cider drinker (of whom there are legion each week), they are appalled and instantly want a list of "honest" ciders.

Virality is usually considered a huge, if difficult-to-spark, asset in brand management, but it's a two-way street. Clumsily introduce something to social media without understanding how it will be used, and it may well go viral for all the wrong reasons. And then you're screwed.

jordie said...

Spot on Pete, however you did overlook the fact that the picture of the strongbow pint surrounded by the apples looks like a cock and balls! There is some honesty and transparency in their marketing after all!

Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

> Cooking Lager said " ... Making a nice drinkable easy going fizzy cider out of only a third concentrate is hardly a crime ..."
... could you clarify please? I read your point to mean that Strongbow contained only 37% apple juice AFTER it had been reconstituted from concentrate. Suggesting the finished drink would be made from around 5-10% concentrate.

Cooking Lager has read it differently, which did you mean?

Pete Brown said...

Anon, yes, as far as I know it's 37% juice AFTER being reconstituted from concentrate.

Mark Dexter said...

"Niche."

My dictionary has the following as its first definition...

"A position particularly well suited to the person who occupies it."

Gary Gillman said...

Carletta, I am not sure what you mean by "blended". Beer is not blended except, by some large breweries, to iron out relatively minor taste differences in batches (to promote consistency in a word). I think you probably meant "flavoured". It sounds too like the tasting group was chosen from a broad base, i.e., not beer connoisseurs. If the purpose of the tasting is to introduce people to a reasonably representative range of beers, I have no problem with including a beer flavoured with orange juice, say, or ginger. But it is well to remember that beer is already flavoured - with hops. Adding juices or spices adds further flavours and doesn't (or shouldn't in my view) fundamentally change the taste of beer.

It is true that the taste of beer - any beer worthy of the name - must be acquired. I doubt anyone loves oysters, caviar, blood pudding, haggis, spinach or any of a thousand foods without learning to appreciate the particular flavours, which can take time. I think to sell beer to people, rather than try to sell them on added flavorings, few of which are traditional and most of which don't do much for beer, it is better to educate them on why beer tastes as it does, on what to expect in other words. If you do that, they stand a much better chance of appreciating a drink with an age-old history.

Trying to sell fruit beer which only partly disguises what beer is all about is unlikely convert that many, I think. Fruit is all very well, if one likes that, cider, subject of the current blog entry, should be considered. Or some wines - I say some because not all (most?) wine really tastes fruity. And I fully agree with your second comment, below. Indeed, respect your customers, but the best way to do that IMO is be honest with them as what real beer tastes like and, more important, why (what hops are, how they balance off the sweet malt, the role of yeast. This can be done in 20 words in a clever advertisement).

Gary

Beer Bottle Brian said...

A post appeared on my Twitter feed (can't quite figure out where it came from), amidst a few comments from fellow beer lovers regarding new arrivals on the scene. The post was from Bulmers, showing a rainbow coloured assortment of drinks loosely associated with cider... how I had to restrain myself from making some sarcastic comment. In fact I couldn't comment at all as I just knew I would get myself into trouble!

Neil said...

Have you seen their latest cock-up? An appallingly badly photoshopped picture of cider fonts in a shed! Their marketing department should be ashamed to be using such shoddy work. http://twitter.com/strongbowuk/status/509381639395618816/photo/1