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Thursday, 5 April 2012

Greene King and Bombardier to go head to head on the telly

Real ale is about to burst onto our screens in a big way.

The week before last, two of the UK's biggest ale brands launched their new advertising campaigns to beer writers and trade journalists.  I was invited to one launch but, for some reason, not the other one the day after - even though seemingly everyone else who was at the first one was.  Please believe me that this in no way colours what I'm about to say about these two campaigns.  I'm bigger than that.  No, really, I am, honest.  But I tell you this so you can filter the following for any perceived prejudice.

Anyway, I used to work in advertising so this, for me, is in part going back to the day job.

The second event - the one I wasn't invited to - was launching the next wave in the new campaign for Well's Bombardier.  Now, I get the feeling that I'm going to come across as disliking this development a lot more than I actually do, so let me say some positive things about it first, and hopefully this will prevent a hit squad being despatched from Bedford - home of William Charles Bedford, 'your dashing hero on the battlefield, with a caddish twinkle in his eye,' according to the press release (I am at least still on their email distribution list - at least until they read this.)

Basically, what they're doing is extending the campaign they launched last year, with Rik Mayall playing the Bombardier, drinking the beer and extolling its virtues with what Well's & Youngs clearly hope will become a pub catchphrase: 'Bang on!'  They're going for a heavyweight promotion on Dave, the channel for blokes who like repeats of the programme Stewart Lee refers to as 'Mock the Weak'.  Ten and fifteen second idents will frame peak time programmes.  I haven't seen the idents because like I said, I wasn't invited to the launch, and didn't get to meet Rik Mayall, but the press release says 'viewers can expect to see the Bombardier's take on the English sense of humour, values, our love of pubs and our social habits.'

They're spending £5m on this, which is great news for Bombardier and great news for ale too.  It's the highest ever spend they've put behind the brand (but not the highest ever spend in the ale category, as the press release falsely claims).  Whatever your views on the beer and the campaign, this is brilliant because it helps propel ale into the mainstream, makes it more visible and more contemporary.  When I do focus groups, many people assume that if a brand is on telly it must be good, must be doing something right, and this leads to greater social currency.  So here Bombardier are helping ale look more modern (with some caveats, below).  It's also a great sign of confidence - they wouldn't spend this money if they didn't think cask ale was in good shape and people were ready to consider it.

Secondly, they've got with the programme and done a Facebook page and taken the Bombardier on to Twitter, extending a true brand property and providing content which people can interact with.  That's a good thing as far as marketing, brand building, and the saliency of real ale is concerned.


For me, this entire campaign feels like it's aping lager ads of the seventies and eighties, and even lagers don't behave like that any more.  Rik Mayall is reprising a character he played in Blackadder thirty years ago, in a slightly less funny way than it was then.  Is this really the way to make ale feel fresh, contemporary and appealing to new generations of drinkers?

To make my own mind up, I followed the link to the youtube channel at the bottom of the press release I was sent.  And I got this:

Woof woof! Bang Off, chaps!

The ads launch 16th April and run from 9pm to midnight weekdays for twelve months.

The other campaign is from Bombardier's rival, Greene King.  Disliked by many readers of this blog and diehard ale drinkers in general, scorned for bland beers and nicknamed 'Greed King' for their sometimes voracious business practices, booed when they were runner-up Champion Beer of Britain a few years ago, they can sometimes come across as difficult to love, and have clearly been doing a bit of soul searching.

I think the results are a pleasant surprise.

Greene King IPA is the UK's biggest cask ale brand.  It still only has a 7% market share - the diversity and fragmentation of the ale market is (most of the time) one of its main strengths. But GK IPA is, for better or worse, still the biggest brand.  I don't tend to drink it myself, but clearly lots of people like it.  And like Magner's does with cider, if it attracts people to real ale for the first time who then start to look around and trade up, that's no bad thing.

In marketing theory, one classic strategy for the brand leader is to do a job that grows the whole market rather than trying to steal share form your competitors.  The theory is that if you're already the biggest, advertising what's good about the whole market means you benefit everyone else, but if the market grows proportionately then you'll gain more in volume terms than everyone else does.  Most new entrants to any market tend to go for the biggest brands, so you'll probably grow disproportionately, benefiting everyone but, most of all, yourself.

This is the strategy GK has chosen, and I think it'll paid off.

They've created an ad that quite simply celebrates the joys of good cask beer in a good pub - not the joys of hops and malt and yeast, but the moment that beer - and only beer - can create.

This has always been what's excited me most as a writer, and it's lovely to see a brand that has wonga to spend and an ad agency with creative skill taking this aspect of beer and celebrating it.  It's an ad for the pub as much as it is an advert for beer or Greene King IPA specifically, and I think it's rather fucking wonderful:

I particularly like the opening, in the cellar - just enough beer craft for the mainstream viewer without getting too technical or boring.  Even if you don't understand what you're seeing, you get the impression of craft and care, the sense that this is something a bit more special than what you can buy in the supermarket.

The ad was shot in the Hornsey Tavern, north London, and the music is by a precocious eighteen year-old called Jake Bugg, who is to my ears like Ed Sheeran, only good.  The gaffer is an actor, but many of the people are real punters, sharing real beer moments.  The finished ad has been culled from about five hours of footage, the film crew just passing through the pub as people relaxed and shared a good time having a beer.  It's the kind of positive image of beer and pubs the whole industry sorely needs more of.

GK is spending £4m behind this, and it's breaking on 14th and 15th April, during the FA Cup semi-finals on ITV and ESPN.  It's also going to be on Sky and Dave.

Coinciding with this, they also launched two new beers under the Greene King IPA brand: IPA Gold, a 4.1% golden ale, and IPA reserve, a 5.6% rich, mellow, fruity ale.  For anyone who drinks or works in a Greene King pub, these beers are welcome additions.  The golden ale is a golden ale, no better or worse than many in the market just now, while the reserve is in Fullers ESB territory, and dangerously drinkable.  They won't set RateBeer alight, but they're not meant to - that's not what they're for.  But they are quite drinkable beers that bring Greene King's portfolio a bit closer to what drinkers want.

My only, obvious, quarrel is that, already under fire for calling a 3.6% session beer IPA, they've now brought out two new beers that are very different from the original, obviously not India Pale Ales in any shape or form, and called them India Pale Ales.  This reveals that as far as Greene King is concerned, IPA is a brand name and not a beer style.  I could just about defend the mainstream GK IPA because while it's not a traditional IPA, IPA is an evolving style and in the mid-twentieth century this is what it was to most brewers and drinkers in the UK.  But by calling these new beers IPA rather than just 'Greene King Blonde' or 'Greene King Reserve', GK have created a needless rod for beer enthusiasts to beat them with - a silly own goal at a time when they're doing some big things right.

GK has also launched an attractive Facebook page to support the campaign.

One tip to both brands: Facebook is an interactive medium.  If people ask you if it's possible to buy Bombardier in North America or who did the music on the IPA ad, it's good manners and good business sense to reply.  Don't fall into the trap of bigger brands who pretend to be there on Facebook but don't actually read or respond to comments, thereby actively alienating some of your biggest fans.  oh hang on - EDIT - GK actually did respond.

I'm anticipating many tiresome comments about how both these beers are shit, boring and bland, made by big corporations, and that it's a bad thing they're on TV.  My answer to that would be that these beers, and these ads, are not aimed at people who write beer blogs and drink in craft beer bars.   We're fine - we don't need to be told that real ale is a decent drink or that pubs are nice places to be.  No one who is already drinking great craft beer is going to suddenly start switching to Bombardier or Greene King IPA as a result of these ads.  The useful job that big brands can do is bring more novices into ale for the first time - and remind people how great pubs are.  With nearly £10m being spent advertising real ale over the next few months, this is fantastic news for beer as a whole - whatever you choose to drink yourself.

Cheers to both of them.  Especially the second one.


Steve Lamond said...

liking the julian barrat (howard moon) cameo at 0:23 in that GK vid!

wowninjas said...

A good point well made. It's also noteworthy that as a brewery who own a large amount of pubs GK benefit not only from increased sale of IPA but increased pub attendance as a whole.

I was also trying to think of another beer advert were there was someone drinking something other than what was being advertised; like the woman with a glass of wine in the GK ad. I think by doing that it makes the pub scenes seem less manufactured and more like, as they actually have done, just gone into a pub and filmed people having a knees up and a few beers.

Velky Al said...

I really like the GK one, reminds me of all that is good about the British pub! It also reminds me, stylistically of some of the Caffrey's and Tullamore Dew adverts of years gone by. Perhaps it is just me but the dark haired lassie looks like Katy Perry.

Gareth said...

I don't watch Dave (too many adverts), and don't really drink GK or Bombardier. So it in no way effects me personally. Therefore I agree with your point - why get aggrieved about it? Can't be any worse than the usual beer ads, and hopefully in a decent boozer people will be encouraged to try something else too!

Tandleman said...

Nice advert although they must have had a LOT of GKIPA to enjoy themselves that much!

I quite like the lactic sourness of GKIPA, but it needs to be kept properly, served cool enough and through a tight sparkler of course.

Cooking Lager said...

Interesting post, and interesting who they are aiming these brands at. Dave, ESPN, FA CUP on ITV. Blokes. The Bombardier ad is clearly blokeish, put the Greene King ad is a bit more gender neutral. They might want to put it in front of some lasses.

Andrew Bowden said...

I think that Greene King advert is a lovely one and whilst I find the beer a trifle dull, I have a lot to blame Greene King for as it was a pint of Abbot Ale that converted me to real ale in the first place.

A lot of people were amazed when it got as far as it did one year in the Champion Beer of Britain, but I once went in a pub in Ealing where they sold one cask ale (and about two lagers, one cider and one stout - massive pub, tiny selection.) That cask ale was Courage Best. And blimey was it an absolutely fantastic pint.

Jordan St.John said...

Clearly, BrewDog ought now to hire Adrian Edmondson to promote the Punk IPA as a rehashed Vyvyan Bastard in order to subtly mock Wells.

DJ said...

Although stylish, I found the GK ad rather nondescript. If you hadn't made me aware of the ad I doubt it would have got my attention long enough to see what it was actually advertising. The Bombardier ads are rather cringey but at least they get your attention.

DJ said...

Although stylish, I found the GK ad rather nondescript. If you hadn't made me aware of the ad I doubt it would have got my attention long enough to see what it was actually advertising. The Bombardier ads are rather cringey but at least they get your attention.

@jimthebrewer said...

I really like the GK one, clearly done by a PR company with their head screwed on....Didnt vent that cask for long though.

Ron Pattinson said...

So what about Rye PA, White IPA, Black IPA and all the other ludicrous names that American brewers have come up with? None of them are "real" IPAs either. Idon't see wwhat Greene King have done as being any worse than that.

The line between Pale Ale and IPA has always been an arbitrary one in Britain.

Anonymous said...

Both these beers are shit, boring and bland, made by big corporations, and it may be a bad thing they're on TV.


Rob Nicholson said...

Anonymous - that doesn't matter. The GK advert equally advertises "Having fun at the pub" and "cask ale" which right now is like a breath of fresh air.

I remember now why I like the pub - you tend to forget your problems and have a laugh.

Anonymous said...

Bombardier wins hands down vs GK. the Rik ads are hilarious and some of my friends have even mentioned seeing the ad and ordering a pint or two of this ale - so clearly the ad works. Cant wait to see the new Bombardier ads!
new GK Ad = Zzzzzzzz

Non Plot Stuff! said...

I've always thought that the some of the best beer ads, are for the "not-so-best" beers!

Eddie86 said...

Who cares what the beers are - it's great to see ale at all being marketed on TV. If I wasn't already in a pub, that GK one would certainly make me wish I was. Looking forward to trying the Reserve as well.

As you point out Pete, GK aren't aiming at people already drinking and enjoying ale, but getting new people to try it. If they can get people trying 3 ales, purely by sticking to a recognisable brand, they can be forgiven for using IPA where it doesn't belong can't they?

Jeff Alworth said...

Pete, I think your analysis is exactly right on the big picture: expanding the market is the only way to really grow, and if GK can do that, they will have simultaneously fused themselves to the "brand" of real ale--a win-win for everyone.

As for the ad, I'd recommend various cuts that could be placed in age- and group-specific contexts. Great to see young people in the ad, but the emphasis on nostalgia will alienate them a bit (or would in the US, anyway). Budweiser had an amazing run in the 90s when they managed simultaneously to be the beer of tradition, youth, rural, and urban. If you identified as any of those groups, you identified Bud as your beer.

It was all tied together in the bright red, white, and blue ribbons of patriotism. You see hints of that in GK's ad, which is a good move. Real ale is a unique national tradition, and something to be damned proud of. The cellar man in the first scene is a great way to signal Britishness. No other country could pull that off.

Phil said...

Legions of shy teenagers are going to head (individually) to the pub after seeing that GK ad - booze! laughter! girls! dancing! snogging! people actually snogging, right there in the pub! What they find when they get there will probably put them off for life.

Apart from that, I think it's a great ad.

K biz said...

I think bombardier is amazing shut the f up Pete xxxxx

paul said...

For anyone who drinks or works in a Greene King pub, these beers are welcome additions.

Well, good luck to them, and I'd be interested to try the new beers, but there's a large number of GK pubs that simply never venture beyond IPA & Abbott. There may be various reasons for this but, if that's all that's been available in the past, is there any certainty things will be different in the future?

Martyn Cornell said...

Tandleman, please - if you put GK IPA through a tight sparkler, you'll have two inches of whipped cream on top of a completely flat pint with even less taste than usual. Try not to be such a troll, old chap.

Derbyman said...

Pete, how egotistical that you expected to be invited to a poxy beer ad and frame your opinion around that 'slight'. Grow up and be thankful that both ads are getting more people into cask ale.

Tandleman said...

Martyn. You have never drunk a good pint have you? It's all about condition. As in cask conditioning. When done correctly, you can sparkle away and if you have two inches of head, then it has been pulled by a numpty! Chin chin.

Pete Brown said...

Derbyman - er... I was, if you actually read what I wrote.

Follow this link - it may prove useful in future when reading stuff:

TaleOfAle said...

Really like the second one. Like many bloggers, I can't attest to being a big fan of GK IPA or Bombardier for that matter. In fact I would take Bombardier over GK IPA in a heartbeat.

However the GK ad makes me want a GK IPA and the Bombardier ad just makes me want to should Bang On! and order something better.

One of them is doing its job, the other is just having a laugh.

Martyn Cornell said...

Good try, Tandleman, but you're definitely trolling. No one could seriously suggest putting a South of England cask ale through a sparkler unless they were just trying to wind everybody up.

TaleOfAle said...

Oh and it looks like the Bombardier press release missed an "S"

Tandleman said...

Martyn. Not so. It is not exactly my suggestion to do so, but it happens all the time in the North and Greene King in fact does not mind you doing so, hence its double tap dispense system, specially "invented" for the purpose.

See here:

A simple "Oops I got that wrong" will do. :-)

Anonymous said...

While I can understand if you tend not to drink GKIPA as, let's be honest, it's quite often served in awful condition (not racked long enough methinks). However, if you ever find yourself in Cambridge, do try it at the Free Press. It's unrecognisable as the same beer sold nearly everywhere else.


Rob said...

I tried the Hornsey Tavern on moving into the area but there wasn't even a Greene King IPA on offer for the non-lager drinker. Is the choice of pub symbolic of Greene King's target market? I wonder if it's now serving ale.

Have A Pint At... said...

Great piece. Saw GK advert for first time this weekend, and it was a nice surprise. I hate the Bombardier ads. Interesting that the link to the Hornsey Tavern states it doesn't serve real ale, and therefore makes me feel a bit cheated by the ad. Why not choose a recognised good real ale pub to be more sincere? GK just like the rest of corporate Britain. However, point regarding getting non ale drinkers drinking ale is the most important aspect - I guess.

TaleOfAle said...

The only reason you know it's the Hornsey Tavern is because Pete told us. It's not in the ad. The ad was shot in a pub, I'm sure they had their reasons to pick this one like atmosphere, logistics etc. It could have been shot in a studio and made little difference to the message. In fact the choice to use a real pub deserves a little praise at least.

That said, I think not using an actual Green King pub is a missed opportunity for themselves and that potential pub. Especially if the start of the ad showed the name of the pub. It might have inspired a few Google searches and then pub visits.

Beer Goggles Reviews said...

There is one very important difference between Greene King and Bombardier. Greene King is pure brewed using only natural ingredients, whilst Bombardier is brewed with Maize Corn, Sugar, and has its ghostly insipid ingredients disguised and painted an inch thick in E150c colouring, and E405 meringue headed snot gummy Propylene Glycol Alginate.