Thoughts 06.10.14

A look into the beer market

Our Head of Planning, David Howard, discusses why beer marketers should keep it simple and embrace conviviality.

As Oktoberfest comes to an end for this year it got me thinking about a very simple truth about beer, all beer. That the product itself is all about sociability. It is then, in short, a product that is focused on (responsible) enjoyment and (sensible) relaxation. How is that for a cast iron ‘intrinsic product attribute’ or ‘essential product truth’? Pretty simple, pretty universal, pretty obvious? Strange then that much of the marketing of beer in the UK seems to have forgotten this most ‘mundane’ of connections, transposing it, via a more ‘sophisticated’ kinds of analysis, to a series of need states reflecting such things as attitudinal segmentation, demographic segmentation, drinking occasion, time of day / week and (my own personal favourite), hi-energy / lo-energy drinker behaviour. Who to drink, why to drink, with what and with whom to drink, when and with what kind of attitude to do so. Surely any ‘normal’ person finds this kind of marketing prescriptivism more than a bit odd? Like being sold a car and being shown where it should be driven.

Does this mean then that I am advocating that in the beer sector it is just not possible to influence drinker choice? Of course not. It just means that it might be time to concede that it is a sector with its own particular mores and that certain kinds of marketing just do not resonate as effectively as they might in others. Nor is this to suggest that there can be no rational underpinning for any and each beer brand. In fact I would suggest it is the overlooking of an essential fact that seems to get so much thinking by agencies and clients alike to become bland and formulaic.

Beer brands are company. Not in a lonely drinking way but in the way they contribute to the drinking occasion. There is not a single beer consumer in the UK (and in 20 years I have listened to a few) who actually believes that they are ‘being an Australian, American’ etc when they are happy to choose a brand. They respond to the way a brand attitude contributes to a sense of relaxation and enjoyment. Even quality claims are processed through this lens of conviviality. It is not by some objective ‘taste’ standard that some of the most famous and effective ‘beer quality’ campaigns have been characterised but by the sense they have of contributing to the brand’s social acceptability.

The challenge remains the same as it always has. To present one brand to be more enjoyable company by being part of a drinker’s social landscape today, in 2014 and on into the future as that landscape changes. It is a race that is never over. This need to be socially relevant brings up a final comment. Alcohol marketers are currently pre-occupied with connecting with ‘Millennials’. This is not surprising as younger consumers are important in volume and repertoire terms. The issue is that they are also the most sophisticated in history. They are not ‘marketing savvy’. They are way beyond that, able to develop and communicate their own social identity in a way that is genuinely the envy of most brands. Just look at the Newcastle Brown Ale campaign from 2012. Its No more ‘nonsense’ approach might not be the most original of territories but surely it would not be possible if it was not true that consumers are wholly bored with being peddled…’nonsense’.

Hoping to build connections by showing that your brand knows what a hashtag is or what Facebook is will not cut it. Nor does a ‘passive’ approach to sponsorship. (If) Millennials are different they are not elusive. They just demand to take brands on their own terms. Give them something they can choose to enjoy and utilise, shape and evolve. Brands have to entertain, educate and involve. If they fail to then they have to keep trying until they do. What they cannot do, I leave one to a younger consumer to express in words better than I ever could which I heard in a recent research group. “For God’s sake! No more fence sit bullshit!” Indeed.

This article was published by Marketing Magazine. Download a PDF of the article at