Thoughts 02.12.14

Should drinks brands act local or global?

Our head of planning, David Howard, considers whether drinks brands should have a local or global propositioning.

An immediate apology, any perspective offered in discussing this question is not going to be rooted in cost efficiencies or ‘economies of scale’ with regards to production etc. Whilst these obviously are a consideration, it’s worth noting other factors that might be considered as a counterpoint to the issue of outlay by describing potential consumer efficacy.

The first point I would want to make is that there are no such things as ‘alcohol brands’. There are spirits, beers, ciders fortified wines, liqueurs etc, and the distinction that needs to be made is more than just a linguistic one. It is a distinction that goes to the heart of the question about acting globally or locally. The first distinction is that as a general rule, spirits brands are more intrinsically rooted than beers, lagers and ciders etc. Intrinsically rooted refers to the fact that spirits brands generally have a distillation, recipe or origin story that defines them. They are products of a particular culture and have accompanying ‘rituals of consumption’ and an archetypal ‘serve’.

It is because of this intrinsic nature that the positioning and communication of spirits brands is more likely to be universal and therefore more applicable globally than tailored on a market-by-market basis. Culturally Scotland, Greece, Japan and any other whisky markets might be very diverse but the values and cues whiskey drinkers in these cultures respond to will be extremely similar. Therefore, the strategy for any whisky brand is to find a universal territory that is able to appeal to these category motivations, whilst also establishing a unique space within it; through product story, image, price or a combination of the three.

Nor does this intrinsic nature need to be rooted in the exporting of a ‘provenance’ only. Obviously, Scotch is only Scotch if it has been distilled in Scotland and for any brand to have consumer credibility, this kind of provenance will have to be reinforced in markets where each particular Scotch brand is consumed (although the communication cues can be attitudinal rather than merely geographic). A brand like Grey Goose Vodka however, which has France as its country of origin and therefore cannot rely on any particular historical product associations, needs to amplify its production story to underpin its super-premium positioning. This is done not through, ‘historical authenticity’ but through universal connoisseurship.

In contrast to spirits, beers and beer marketing is generally more extrinsic, that is, rooted in the consumer culture in which each particular brand is drunk and enjoyed. Budweiser may have a strong heritage in the US, and America may be appealing to UK consumers at a general level, but the brand still needs to find a ‘local’ extrinsic connection. The obvious example of this is the sponsorship of the FA cup. This might be efficient in media terms with regarding the reaching of target drinkers but it also provides a local extrinsic expression of the brand’s worth – giving it a local voice.

Carlsberg is another international beer, which has vastly differing cultural resonance by market. This is partly price-related and partly historic. In the UK it has effectively ‘lost’ any connection to its country of origin and instead has also had a long tradition of connecting with British football and British humour, where the brand’s ability to stay relevant and therefore in repertoire is prolonged by reflecting local ‘attitudes’. These are obviously not hard and fast rules and there are obvious exceptions. Heineken and Coors have pursued regional strategies which are focused on establishing international stature but it is interesting that in Heineken’s case, this has still been supported by significant investment in sponsorship to support the brand message.

The final consideration has to be the inevitable globalisation of any activity of the internet. How much this is acting as an actual cultural driver for drinks brands or just providing ‘broader’ low cost access to target drinkers by local market requires further discussion.