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Three buses

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Genuine marketing innovations are rare - here's three to start '16

Ground-breaking marketing initiatives in brewing are like the old adage about buses: you wait forever for one to come along and then suddenly there are three at once.

And so it is to kick off 2016, with new approaches from multinational brewing concerns times three. One is patently commonsensical, the second long overdue while the third charts waters unknown for purveyors of international beer brands – nay, sellers of drinks alcoholic of all description. 

Let’s start with a clear-cut winner, with news this week of two craft products from Kona Brewing in Hawaii now being distributed in Brazil by market leader AmBev. The multinational brewer connection is, of course, Anheuser-Busch InBev. Beyond its AmBev assets ABI holds a 32% stake in the publically traded Craft Brewer Alliance which acquired all of Kona back in 2010.

With similar cultural references to sun, sand, and superb beaches there’s the possibility that Brazilians will identify with the Kona brand image. And the beers themselves, a lager and golden ale, should be a match with existing Brazilian beer drinker preferences. 

But the takeaway here is that ABI is thoughtfully starting to make more of its acquisitions of American craft brewer portfolios. And not throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks; rather, choosing a portfolio, probably relevant beer styles, and presumably seeking scale and thus permanency in market.

Contrast this with an effort dating back to 2014 when Heineken introduced in several markets across Western Europe beers from Monteith’s, a New Zealand craft brewer owned by DB Breweries that was in turned owned by Asia Pacific Breweries – and thus subsequently became wholly owned by the Dutch brewer. 

The ambitions back then were modest – a launch party in London’s trendy Soho, a few thousand hectolitres per market the initial target. And since then, well, if Monteith’s is still available in a pub or bar near you, please do let us know. 

Scattergun approaches won’t work any better with craft beer any more than they would with established global brands. And multinational distribution and marketing muscle can be used effectively to expedite the success of a craft newcomer. 

All of which makes Heineken’s ambitions for Lagunitas and its excellent IPA beyond its American base one of the more anticipated reveals in next month’s round of year-end financial results. Analysts should be champing at the bit to know when and where Lagunitas beers will appear. (And a thanks from here for the IPA arriving in the UK already, bottled product happily available in our office's neighbouring Wetherspoon’s pub.)

ABI also deserves congratulations for this month’s announcement that it will be introducing full ingredient and nutritional information for its multi-market beers. While most brewers make a stab at listing ingredients on their packaging, what’s interesting here is indeed the nutritional breakdown. Take a moment to visit to see the detail on offer, especially in regard to calorific values.

Publication of nutritional information by the brewing industry is long overdue. Up to now calorie counts have been treated as an ancillary to marketing efforts – as examples, Miller64 in the States and Carling 99, a rebranding in early 2009 of England’s leading lager that was intended to attract female drinkers to a male-orientated brand. 

And that’s not a satisfactory state of affairs. We’re all part of increasingly health-conscious societies where beer drinkers may not be aware of how many calories are in their brand and serving size of choice but can find out at the order counter of their local McDonald’s chapter and verse regarding the calorific and nutritional information of a Big Mac. If fast food purveyors have the upper hand on disclosure of information, well, you definitely have a problem.

Provision of nutritional information should also carry some weight in the pitched battle the alcoholic drinks industry has been waging with governments, bureaucrats and health lobbyists – nothin’ to hide, here, folks. And if there’s a concern that such information may not put beer in a nutritionally favourable light compared to, say, fruits and vegetables, it boils down to this: consumers have a right to know what they’re ingesting.

While ABI’s efforts are underway, it may be a while before the results show up on the packaging of their brands in your market. After allowing for changeovers in packaging materials and presumably some local regulatory labelling excitements the Brazilian-Belgians project that 80% of their brands across Europe will carry the information by the end of 2017.

Finally, last but certainly not least, we have Heineken’s latest execution in its effort to position their namesake lager as the choice of responsible drinkers everywhere. Dating back to 2011 with Sunrise and subsequently Dance More, Drink Slow, the message has been unisex, appealing to urbanities that a night on the town goes much, much better when not drinking to excess.

There’s a change a tack this time around, with Moderate Drinkers Wanted, which will be rolling out globally during 2016 but the TV advertisement can be seen here now. The ad, and I’m quoting here directly from Heineken’s press release on the subject, offers a “clear message that women prefer men to be moderate drinkers.”

It’s not clear that using what essentially amounts to sex appeal to get one’s message across is a great leap forward in the social politics of our day and age, nor for advertising of beer brands in any way whatsoever. (The real-life equivalent of Mad Men’s Don Draper must be smiling somewhere.)

Yet, for males from the ages of legal drinking age to 24 in their markets hoping to meet someone – yes, let’s be honest, this should have some resonance. And the ball is in Heineken’s court as to whether a male-voiced version of this lament is in the offing. It should be: it’s not just men who are abusing alcohol; sadly, increasingly so, the concern is also with female drinkers. 

But what does stand out – and note here a modest spoiler alert – is the shot at the end of the ad where the man at the bar refuses to accept another Heineken from the predictably attractive and suitably impressed female bartender. Can you think of another example where a brand owner has had the courage to have an order of their beer refused by the drinker in question? 

Interesting, this. It takes some courage to allow the dissing of one’s brand, no matter the context.

What ties together these three initiatives? They’re all best practice that can be replicated elsewhere in your company and corner of the world. Happy New Year, everyone. 

A version of this article was first publcished by the good folk at

The Beer World Cup

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