A perplexing new ad will hit UK television screens next week. It shows a Danish marriage guidance counsellor hitting a long-distance lorry driver called Lars because she it outraged at his job – taking Carlsberg Export lager out of Denmark. The small print of the ad states that Carlsberg is brewed “in the UK and Denmark”.
In fact, most Carlsberg Export is brewed in the UK, so it is not really an export at all. The ad demonstrates some of the difficulties of explaining to beer drinkers the relevance of the term “Export”.
“It is a meaningless title,” says one supermarket beer buyer. “It’s a nice little marketing tool, but it does not mean anything to consumers. But Carlsberg has saddled itself with the term.” The company says its own research shows consumers immediately identify the term “export” with premium lager.
Perhaps equally perplexing is how Carlsberg-Tetley has survived for so long without promoting the biggest premium lager in its portfolio. C-T is relaunching Carlsberg Export out of necessity. While Whitbread has Stella Artois and Heineken Export, and Scottish Courage has Beck’s and Kronenbourg 1664, C-T has muddled along with the standard Carlsberg lager – and without a high-volume premium brand, which can command higher margins.
C-T is putting one of its biggest ad budgets to date behind the relaunch. It will spend 10m this year on the advertising campaign through Saatchi & Saatchi, which breaks on July 20. It will pump a further 5m or so into sponsoring music events such as the Reading Festival and the MTV awards.
The revamped lager – launched in April – has a new, slightly less bitter taste than the old version, and the alcoholic strength has gone up from 4.7 per cent by volume to five per cent. It is a two-pronged relaunch: with redesigned bar fonts, C-T will seek to strengthen the brand’s status in pubs, where it is the third highest-selling premium lager after Stella and Kronenbourg. C-T is also launching the brand into supermarkets and off-licences for the first time (MW February 26) and has new cans and bottles.
It is the first major move by C-T’s new sole owner Carlsberg since it took control of the company last year. Previously C-T was a joint venture between Allied Domecq and Carlsberg, but Domecq had wanted out almost since the venture was formed in 1992. When the sale of C-T to Bass was blocked by the Department of Trade & Industry last year, Bass sold the brewery interests on to Carlsberg for 110m.
However, industry observers wonder whether C-T, controlled from Denmark, will be any more successful in running the operation than the joint venture with Allied.
On the positive side, the Carlsberg Export relaunch will not suffer from the confusion and un- certainty that dogged its original appearance under the auspices of the joint venture. A single owner, it could be argued, will find it easier to co-ordinate brand strategies. Also, the Danes have deep pockets – as can be seen from the investment they are putting behind the Export relaunch.
But some supermarket buyers question whether the new-look Carlsberg Export cans and bottles will stand out on supermarket shelves. One says: “Its on-shelf presence is appalling: it does not stand out. The design looks too boring and old-fashioned.”
The same source believes that Carlsberg’s parent company has set tight restrictions on how Export should be branded to fit in with Carlsberg’s international branding, which has left little room for manoeuvre. Certainly the Danish company is keen to keep control over its packaging and branding. But
C-T marketing controller for lagers, Niall O’Keeffe, says that these branding controls have been in place since C-T was formed, and the brand – with sales of 850m a year – “has not done too badly so far”.
While overall beer sales stagnate, premium lagers are the one sector that is growing – the value of sales rose eight per cent last year. But C-T has lagged far behind its rivals – it only got round to updating and relaunching its standard Carlsberg lager in 1996.
O’Keeffe says: “Before Carlsberg Pilsner was relaunched, it was seen as the John Major of lagers: trustworthy, but not a youth brand. Carlsberg Export was in a similar position before its relaunch.”
Unlike other brewers, which have replaced their standard lagers with premium versions, Export will be promoted alongside the standard Carlsberg lager. O’Keeffe says the company has learned from the experience of Whitbread, which launched Heineken Export to replace Heineken Lager Beer. “Heineken tried to move to premium and sacrificed its standard lager. We will keep a commitment to Carlsberg. The standard lager market is stable and premium is growing. There is a role for both. We have learnt from Heineken’s mistakes.” However, this strategy does run the risk of confusing consumers with two versions of the same product, closely linked in terms of branding.
C-T has historically had a problem selling into supermarkets and off-licences. It has been strong in the on-trade, through the tie with Domecq’s pubs. But critics say it has behaved more like a regional brewer than a national one, especially in its dealings with the take-home trade. It has now lost the tie with Domecq’s pubs, and had to renegotiate its beer supply contracts with Domecq last year. It will have to market brands harder to win pub listings.
But Export will have its work cut out trying to take on leading premium lager Stella. The brand has pulled away from the rest of the pack as the top premium lager in the on and off trades. According to Whitbread marketing manager Tracy Darwen, Stella has built its strength by “not going for football and birds in its advertising – it has ads in French and the brand has sponsored tennis. Being different helps”.
Time will tell whether the relaunch of Carlsberg Export will be different enough to help the Danes make the most of their sizeable UK investment. The success of the Export relaunch will also be a measure of how C-T functions under its new sole owner in Copenhagen.