As well as being the world’s third most commonly consumed beverage (after water and tea), and its most popular alcoholic drink, beer is also considered the booze that has been around the longest. Mentions in various cultures date back to as early as 1754BC when beer is cited in the Code of Hammurabi, a law code from ancient Mesopotamia.. 


Demon drink?

Perhaps beer’s global appeal and longevity is because it is actually one of the healthiest drink choices you can make – as long as consumption doesn’t involved 20 pints a day! While overindulgence certainly risks overall health (and the growth of an unattractive ‘beer belly’), moderate consumption has been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, arthritis and kidney stones. It can even protect teeth from decay and gum disease. In the long term, beer improves cholesterol levels and may help consumers live longer than their abstinent friends. Even before science had provided proof, Thomas Jefferson was claiming that: “Beer, if drank with moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit, and promotes health.”

Beer is in fact one of the most natural drinks available, much more so than some apparently healthy non-alcoholic drinks such as smoothies and juices that are highly processed and loaded with sugar. Beer is fat- and cholesterol-free and low in carbohydrates and calories. It’s also very nutritious: high in vitamins, fibre, antioxidants, bitter acids that prevent inflammation and aid digestion, silicon that assists bone health, and xanthohumol that promotes the growth and development of neurons and protects brain cells.


Key trends

For a commodity to remain relevant, however, it generally has to evolve – and beer is no exception. This year, Suntory launched a product called ‘Precious’, a beer containing 2g of collagen in each can. Will this benefit the skin in the same way as collagen is claimed to when added to upmarket skincare and cosmetics? The jury is out as the digestive system may not absorb collagen in this particular form. However, Suntory is now at the forefront of the ‘health benefit’ trend in beer, pioneered originally by the ‘lighter’ and ‘lower calorie’ brews that gained popularity a few years ago.

Spiros Malandrakis, senior alcoholic drinks analyst at Euromonitor International, predicts this year will witness a peak in craft beer and microbrewing, thereby toughening the competition and favouring the stronger key market players. ‘Speers’ – hybrid beers with a spirit base typically of bourbon, tequila or rum and a higher ABV – are also predicted to enter the mainstream. The current crop of flavoured, low and non-alcohol beers, meanwhile, are expected to lose popularity, as will high ABV IPAs (India pale ales). In their place will be more ‘session beers’ with relatively low alcohol content – beers that don’t lack taste, but that enable enjoyment without consumers getting too tipsy.


BrewDog leads the pack

One example of a craft beer that isn’t facing the zenith of its peak sales anytime soon is BrewDog. Since two ambitious twenty-somethings launched the company seven years ago, BrewDog has enjoyed non-stop expansion. It now employs over 350 people and has bars in Tokyo, Gothenburg and Sao Paulo. According to the Sunday Times Fast Track 100, BrewDog was the UK’s fastest growing food and drink company in 2013.

Due to the strength of demand, the Scottish brewer is planning to expand its eco-friendly, high-tech HQ in Ellon with the addition of a new 4500m2 building housing a 300HL brew house. BrewDog has also recently announced further overseas expansion with a 100,000sq ft state-of-the-art craft brewery in Columbus, Ohio, to contain its US offices, a 100-barrel brew house, a visitor centre, a craft beer restaurant and a taproom, accessible via both road and bike path. Funding for this project will be sourced from the on-going crowdfunding project, Equity for Punks, which has already helped BrewDog raise substantial amounts of money for its projects. Within three weeks of the launch of the IV share offering, by May 2015 BrewDog had raised £5 million based on 525,000 shares and a minimum investment of just £95 for two shares. A US version of crowdfunding is to be launched later this year with a minimum share purchase of just $95.


Category crossover

What’s trending in beer can also be seen in other alcoholic beverages. The cider category has similarly seen significant growth in craft products as consumers look for new and more premium products. And in an echo of speers, ‘Spiders’ (spirit-based ciders) are also entering the market; for example, key player Magners released an Irish whiskey-based cider in January 2015. The fruit ciders category is still booming with a focus on new product development, for example innovative flavour fusions and products like Kopparberg’s Frozen Fruit Cider pouch. 


Anyone for a pint?

Beer festivals are growing in popularity and scale, many drawing inspiration from Munich’s long-established and world-famous Oktoberfest. However, in recent years, the focus has been more on craft, niche producers of small batch bitters and ales.

The most renowned UK beer and cider festivals are the London Craft Beer Festival (Bethnal Green), the Great British Beer Festival (Earls Court), the Birmingham Beer Bash, Craft Beer Rising (Glasgow) and the Reading Beer & Cider Festival. However there are many smaller events across the country, a large number of which are organised by CAMRA, the Campaign For Real Ale. 


Attracting consumers’ attention

The rise of smaller producers with limited marketing budgets has had a noticeable effect on the advertising campaigns of the big players. Some try to portray themselves in a more ‘crafty’ way, while others purposefully differentiate themselves from so-called ‘hipster ales’. Others still prefer to use their sense of humour or shock value to attract more attention.

With their massive budgets, it’s perhaps no surprise that Superbowl commercials are the ones eliciting the most comment. This year, Budweiser released its ‘Brewed The Hard Way’ campaign, designed to appeal to people who simply like drinking, not ‘dissecting’, beer (as opposed to ‘pumpkin peach ales’) in thinly-veiled references to the craft beer industry and its fans. The video caused a lot of controversy and was labelled hypocritical and anti-craft beer. But Budweiser must surely have melted a few hard hearts with its ‘Lost Dog’ ad, a continuation of the #bestbuds campaign.

Marketing campaigns are also tending to employ more guerrilla tactics; a 360º approach involving a lot of interactivity, often digital, is believed to lead to deeper consumer engagement. One example of a brilliant activation that went viral is Sol’s 2013 ‘Free Beer for Free Spirits’ campaign which challenged office workers to bin their ties on the way home in exchange for a beer.  Another is Carlsberg’s ‘That calls for a Carlsberg’ cinema ad in which couples who dared take their seats among 148 poker-faced bikers were rewarded with a Carlsberg and an appreciative round of applause. 

Carlsberg also launched a very interesting campaign in 2013, ‘Standing up for a friend’, which tested friendships in the middle of the night. A hoax call asked a friend to bring money to pay off a gambling debt; faithful friends who made it through the den of iniquity with money intact were rewarded for their loyalty with a beer. Heineken’s ‘The Candidate’ ads in 2013 were secret recordings of applicants for internship programmes where the interviewer deliberately acted very strangely to gauge how candidates acted under pressure. The candidate deemed to have reacted the best in the eyes of the marketing team was rewarded with the internship.

This year’s campaign from Britain’s Beer Alliance is definitely worth mentioning, too. It comes from a cross-industry group of brewers, pub groups and beer organisations working together for the good of the beer industry in Britain  (www.beerforthat.com). The campaign, ‘There’s a beer for that’, promotes the huge diversity of beers suitable for different occasions and the individual preferences of drinkers. 


On-trade activation

As the highly competitive marketplace demands ever greater creativity to capture the imagination of consumers, so brands are recognising the increasing need for bartender engagement and advocacy programmes and competitions. Stella Artois is one of the leading brands in this area. Its Stella Artois Connoisseurs programme trains bar staff on the history of the brand as well as the art of pouring the perfect beer. Stella Artois also runs the World Draught Masters competition in which competitors are judged on their skills performing the Stella Artois 9-step Pouring Ritual. The winner of this global competition embarks on a journey around the world, visiting over 30 countries as the brand ambassador. 

Heineken runs a workshop programme focused on the craftsmanship of the serve, ‘The Art of Pouring’, which is led by Franck Evers, Heineken’s Beer Craftsman from the Netherlands. Heineken has also launched the Passion 4 Beer platform, developed to acknowledge the role that bartenders take as guardians of the brand who provide quality beer experiences to consumers. The online hub has been designed as an information resource covering beer ingredients, the brewing process, tasting and pouring etc. 

Pilsner Urquell continues to run the Pilsner Urquell International Master Bartender Competition in recognition of the fact that, ‘The brewmaster brews the beer, but the bartender makes it’. The brand has developed a trio of ways to pour, each of them providing a different experience to the consumer as they influence carbonation, smoothness and the flavour profile. 

The growing creativity in marketing beer has been recognised not only by generic marketing awards bodies, but also by the newly created Beer Marketing Awards, ‘reflecting the UK consumer’s increased interest in beer and dynamism in the market (...) making this the only awards ceremony which bring the whole beer sector together’ (beermarketingawards.co.uk). 


Some of our favourite brand stories

Marketing of any brand often involves simply telling the brand story in an engaging way to connect emotionally with consumers and increase brand loyalty. But how well does this technique work in the beer world? Which of the brand stories work for the target audiences?

A good example of a successful storytelling campaign is the ad from Seleção Especial, a special edition beer from Brahma designed for the 2014 World Cup. The advert depicts the product in a very emotional way, showing not only that it’s a great beer, but also how it’s made from barley grown on the ‘Granja Comar’, the famous training pitch for Brazilian football teams. This connects both with patriotic emotions and with consumers’ passion for football. 

Newcastle Brown Ale has been telling its brand story authentically in the ‘No Bollocks’ campaign in a full-on, straightforward and honest way, no matter what the situation. Their social media activation encouraged consumers to do the same with the #NoBollocks Subtexter tool, exposing the harsh but hilarious ‘real meaning’ of photos posted on social media. 

Guinness is a fantastic example of a brand conducting powerful yet stylish storytelling that evokes an instant connection to brand values and heritage. 2014’s advert, ‘In Pursuit of More’, shows the brand as a family-run business that cares not only about craftsmanship and beer, but also about community and people. The previous year’s campaign, ‘Made of More’ – featuring the ‘Clock’ and ‘Cloud’ adverts that highlighted passion, hard work and commitment – delivered extraordinary results.


Last orders

All in all, we predict exciting years to come; booming interest in the beer and cider categories will see brands innovate accordingly both in product development and marketing strategies. We’ll drink to that!

 

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