Lager, that bastion of laddism, is starting to assume a new androgyny.
In October, Scottish Courage launches a 10m advertising and promotional campaign for Kronenbourg 1664, which will, for the first time, explicitly target women aged between 18 and 24. The company quotes research showing that one in six women are lager drinkers and the number is growing.
The campaign will, of course, also try to appeal to men, who make up the bulk of lager drinkers. But as the beer market faces a gradual decline, encouraging women to drink more lager – especially the more expensive premium variety – is an attractive way to combat flat sales.
After Stella Artois, Kronenbourg claims to be the UK’s second biggest selling premium lager with more than 16.5 per cent of the premium market and year-on-year growth of over 22 per cent.
The Kronenbourg campaign includes three TV ads developed by agency Young & Rubicam. The first, called C’est la Vie, features a smooth French clubber who attempts to seduce a woman by buying her a Kronenbourg, only to see her walk off with both their glasses and embrace her girlfriend. The second ad – Déja Vu – depicts a young woman getting a succession of men to buy her a Kronenbourg 1664 by posing as a tourist. The third – Savoir Faire – is more male-oriented, and features a young man jumping the queue in a crowded bar by using his mobile to place a telephone call to himself.
While the advertising plugs Kronenbourg’s urban French heritage and sophistication, its unisex appeal is also overt. This is acknowledged by Scottish Courage. “While men are still the core target market, we don’t want to alienate women. [Kronenbourg 1664] is not an exclusively male product anymore,” says senior brand manager James Stocker.
This view is prevalent among other companies which produce major premium lagers. Budweiser, for instance, is planning a new advertising campaign next year that will soften the current blue collar, American, masculinity of the brand. It is understood these ads are to be checked to ensure they do not alienate women.
Stella Artois is well-known for recent advertising – like Red Shoes – that plays on cinematic, rural, French associations. These ads, although featuring men, are already popular among women. Whitbread, which holds the UK licence for the brand, says it ensures that Stella maintains a unisex appeal.
Branding of premium lagers appears to be developing in sensitivity and this is driven by simple market facts.
According to ACNielsen figures, the total beer market through pubs and clubs has declined 2.7 per cent to 25.1 million barrels for the year to April, while premium draught lagers have risen 6.7 per cent to 2.6 million barrels. In the off-trade the total market is up 1.17 per cent to 7.3 million barrels, but premium lagers have rocketed by 15.4 per cent to 2.1 million barrels.
Statistics show that while men still consume the vast majority of premium lagers, the growth in their popularity among women is keeping pace with that among men. For instance, about 2.6 per cent of women and 5.9 per cent of men are likely to have drunk a premium lager in the past seven days, according to a survey supplied by Scottish Courage. This compares with the 1.4 per cent of women and the 3.4 per cent of men who might have done so in 1988.
Figures from Whitbread suggest the impact of women is being felt most in the take-home part of the premium lager market. Here women have increased their share of sales by two percent in recent years.
Martin Templeman, senior alcoholic drinks buyer for the Iceland chain, says: “I think there has been a sea-change in the acceptability of premium lager to women.”
He argues that a catalyst for both the current boom in premium lagers and the growing number of women drinking them was the opening of the Channel Tunnel. Closer continental links and the price of European lagers abroad encouraged both men and women to try them and bring them back home. As a result, the most successful premium lagers in the UK all have a clear foreign heritage.
Furthermore, Templeman says, the proliferation of packaging among premium lagers and the rise of smaller bottles (25cl) has made them particularly attractive to women. The lagers are now available in the kind of quantities which women want to drink.
Wider social factors are also cited by the industry and City analysts as contributing to the situation. Some believe premium lagers have risen on the back of branded pub chains like Rat & Parrot. These are regarded as more appealing to women than the dingy old local. Their profile of punters is also thought to fit the profile of many premium lager drinkers.
But by far the most popular rationale is the progressive polarisation of the beer market around major brands. Massive marketing has created a widespread brand awareness among premium lagers. The theory is that people want to drink a label in the same way they want to wear a label. Caught up in a post-recessionary high, more consumers have been trading up to the most expensive products on the market.
With this in mind, it makes sense for companies to broaden the appeal of their products through unisex advertising. If predictions of economic gloom prove to be true, the continuous growth of premium lagers may be reversed. A slow-down could logically lead to many people drinking less or returning to cheaper standard alternatives. Clearly, diversity in the market could compensate.