John McGee: Beer marketers need to up their advertising game

'The IBA also estimates that there are over 100 microbreweries dotted throughout the country, with 72 of them being full production breweries with as many as 69pc of them exporting.' Stock image
‘The IBA also estimates that there are over 100 microbreweries dotted throughout the country, with 72 of them being full production breweries with as many as 69pc of them exporting.’ Stock image

Anybody who has seen the latest TV ad for the Diageo-owned Smithwick’s can be forgiven for feeling a modicum of incredulity. Some might even experience mild outrage. In case you’ve missed it, it’s the one where Smithwick’s attempts to seamlessly segue its brand into the day-to-day lives of Ireland’s home-brewing aficionados who never give up in their tireless quest to brew a good brew.

By trying to cheekily align its brand with these home-brewing warriors – many of whom sport the obligatory hipster beard that is all too common in advertising these days – Smithwick’s is valiantly trying to put down a marker in a market which has become incredibly competitive and cut-throat.

In marketing parlance, it’s called trying to remain relevant among a target audience that is spoiled for choice when it comes to consuming new beers, lagers and ciders.

Smithwick’s, of course, is not the only Diageo brand trying to woo Irish drinkers who may have strayed over to the dark side of home brewing or, heaven forbid, imbibed one of the many craft beers now available in the market.

Its Rockshore lager brand, for example, is clearly targeting market leader Heineken and other younger craft lager drinkers with campaigns that feature, yes, fun-loving urbanites with beards having the craic on a beach somewhere in the west of Ireland.

Its Hop House 13, meanwhile, has cast itself as a premium craft beer that should appeal to the legions who have played a role in giving craft beers around 4pc of the total beer market.

It’s against this backdrop of rising sales of craft beer and a proliferation in the number of craft breweries around the country that brands such as Smithwick’s, Rockshore and, indeed other brands manufactured by rival Heineken, find themselves competing for the hearts, minds and taste buds of Irish consumers. And they have every reason to be concerned.

According to the Irish Beer Market report, which was published by the Irish Brewers Association (IBA), the craft beer sector continues to grow with production rising from 86,000 hectolitres in 2014 to an estimated 238,000 hectolitres in 2017, an incredible 177pc growth.

The IBA also estimates that there are over 100 microbreweries dotted throughout the country, with 72 of them being full production breweries with as many as 69pc of them exporting. Walk into many pubs around the country and you will be confronted with a wide choice of craft beers, including some on tap alongside regulars such as Guinness, Heineken, Carlsberg and Smithwick’s.

As with the renaissance in the Irish spirits industry, where there’s a total of 17 working distilleries and a further 14 in the pipeline, the growth of the Irish craft beer industry is one of the great unsung post-Celtic Tiger success stories.

But here’s the thing: the bulk of the industry’s success has been achieved without the big marketing and advertising budgets that multinational brands such as Diageo and Heineken have at their disposal. When was the last time you saw a big brand TV ad for Wicklow Wolf IPA or Galway Hooker? Struggling? Me too.

What the craft beer industry lacks in marketing resources, however, it more than makes up for it in terms of its passion and refreshing chutzpah. Some of its success is down to word-of-mouth marketing, clever social media, aligning itself with local communities, telling a good brand story and assuming all the attributes of a challenger brand.

At a time when Irish society has been giving the two fingers to the old establishment for the last 10 years, it has also opened itself up to new ideas, tastes, experiences and, yes, new beers that often taste better than more established mainstream ones.

None of this, of course, has gone unnoticed by the big multinational manufacturers and, if anything, these developments have forced them to respond by way of innovation, new product development and big advertising campaigns.

The issue about who has the biggest and glitziest advertising campaign may become somewhat academic when the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is enacted, possibly before the end of this year.

Apart from a raft of restrictions covering the sale and promotion of alcohol, the Bill proposes sweeping changes to the content that is permitted within advertising, limiting it to things like the name of the product, its strength and where it was made.

In other words, no bearded hipster barmen or punters quaffing merrily on a bar-stool, no beautiful young things high-fiving themselves on a rooftop bar at sunset and no tugging at the heart-strings with pictures of snow-clad breweries and revellers at Christmas time.

While it will certainly test the creative capabilities of the industry, don’t expect alcohol brands to pull out of advertising altogether, because they won’t. But they will need to be cleverer and find new ways of reaching their customers that don’t involve gate-crashing somebody’s home-brew party.

Sunday Indo Business

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