How SABMiller can learn a lot from Foster’s UK ad approach

Joe is Marketing Week’s agency specialist.

Brewing giant SABMiller has agreed to buy Foster’s in a deal that values Australia’s largest brewer at 9.9bn Australian dollars (£6.5bn), though the deal will not affect the UK where Heineken distributes the brand.

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But it is in fact the UK where the brand has the most prevalence and London-based SABMiller would do well to look at Heineken’s shift in advertising to gently imitate the “Australian roots” of the brand, whilst not taking itself too seriously.

Foster’s was picked up by Heineken in 2008, following a joint takeover deal of some Scottish & Newcastle brands in January 2008 with Carlsberg.

Two years after the deal, Heineken shifted its ad account to Adam & Eve following a 14-year relationship with M&C Saatchi and a new comedy theme emerged with a big focus on reviving much-loved 90’s shows like Alan Partridge and The Fast Show.

Where previous ad campaigns focused on the brand’s Australian heritage and included straplines such as “drink Australian, think Australian” and “get some Australian in you” – the new ads went a new direction to show Aussie agony aunts and coining the infamous catchphrase “Good Call”.

According to Adam & Eve, “The Australian ’no worries’ attitude is the cornerstone of the Foster’s brand and one that chimes with British lager drinkers.

“The Good Call campaign captures the ’no worries’ spirit through Brand and Dan, two Aussie guys who give UK callers ‘no worries’ advice from their sunny beach hut.”

Further to the TV ads, the brand has experimented across media. Earlier this month, it unveiled a digital poster campaign that allows people to create and submit content for Facebook directly from a poster for the first time, as part of its support for Foster’s Gold, which was fronted by Neighbours star Holly Valance, now on Strictly Come Dancing.

Holly Valance

Meanwhile, media agency Naked Communications (now hypernaked) has taken the brand into online comedy and launched the http://www.fostersfunny.co.uk/ channel with clips fronted by stars including the irrepressible Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) and mad-cap comedy duo Vic & Bob, whose online series ‘Afternoon Delights’ launched recently, and were convinced to return to the live stage for the first time in 15 years with Foster’s Funny. Live stand-up comedy nights have become a regular occurrence for the brand and it continues to sponsor original comedy programming on Channel 4 and the British Comedy Awards.

The highly-acclaimed online comedy series Alan Partridge’s Mid Morning Matters even attracted over one million views in less than three weeks since its internet debut. It is now looking to replicate this effect with the return of 1990s comedy series The Fast Show exclusively online.

Yet, where Foster’s performs strongly in the UK and appears to be  “Australian for lager” to British consumers, it’s not a popular beer overseas – accounting for just 1% of the market in Australia for example. Its brewer, Foster’s, has a lot more success with brands like Victoria Bitter and Carlton.

SABMiller has called the brand “attractive”, but if it really wants to make the brand as big as it is in the UK, it would do well to reflect on how Heineken has revamped the brand and look to build a new following in a not too dissimilar way.

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