Is Diageo stretching the Guinness brand too far with Golden Ale?

Despite the strength of the Guinness master brand, the successes of its extensions have been variable at best. While brand owner Diageo is hoping to tap into the popularity of craft beers with the launch of “Guinness Golden Ale”, could the move be stretching the brand too far?

The launch of “Guinness Golden Ale” last week is likely to be one of many innovations the brand will introduce as it looks to “broadly explore” the beer category.

It is part of a move to create a “Guinness beer for every consumer in every outlet” and comes after the brand launched two craft-style beers in the UK and Ireland last September, Dublin Porter and Guinness West Indies Porter.

The beers were the brand’s first attempt to tap into the popularity of craft beer through its “Brewers Project”, a group of brewers given license to explore new recipes, reinterpret old ones found in historic brewers diaries and collaborate to introduce news beers.

UK beer sales were up for the first time in years in 2014, with share of the alcohol market reaching 36% to overtake wine.

This was largely due to the success of craft beer, with one in five Brits drinking craft in the six months to December 2015, according to Mintel data, and 34% saying they would be prepared to pay more for craft beer.

Talking at the launch of the beer last week, Nick Curtis-Davis, head of innovation for Guinness Western Europe, said Golden Ale is a “bold move from Guinness” and is an attempt to bring new customers into the category.

“Beer has become a topic of conversation,” he said. “People want beers with more taste and character, which are things Guinness has traditionally done well.”

Brand looking to new occasions and seasons with Golden variant

Louise Robinson, head of GB innovation for Diageo, told Marketing Week that one of the brand’s key challenges has been accessibility in terms of seasonality and occasions, something it is looking to tackle with the launch of Golden Ale.

“Guinness always suffers in the summer,” she said. “It has been limited to certain occasions and consumers, but the portfolio is starting to expand and grow.”

She adds that the brand hopes that Golden Ale will not only be a summer growth driver, but will also target consumers who think traditional Guinness is too heavy.

Consumers could be failing to recognise new variants

Brand tracking data from YouGov shows that in terms of brand equity Guinness is coming from a strong backing to launch new variants.

With an Index score of 26.1, Guinness has retained its top rank on YouGov’s list of top beers and ciders on every one of the company’s metrics, including quality, reputation and satisfaction.

However, Jonny Forsyth, global food and drink analyst at Mintel, told Marketing Week this doesn’t necessarily mean the launches have been successful in reaching new consumers.

“I don’t think it cut through to consumers at all, and only a few niche people would have bought the product,” he says. “I’m not surprised it hasn’t effected scores in a good or bad way. Although it was a big story in the media, it didn’t reach consumers at all.”

Forsyth believes this is due to the fact that the brand is attempting to stretch itself too far in a market where Guinness has deeply rooted history.

“It’s stretching the brand away from its core principles,” he says, referring to the bottle design, which is a far cry from the traditional Guinness can and has a largely artisanal feel.

“I would never think it was Guinness. It has very little of the brand’s attributes on it. I think it will confuse consumers.”

Guinness has certainly had limited success with new variants in the past. Guinness Red, a slightly smoother and sweeter alternative to the mainstream brand was launched in 2007 but pulled shortly after due to poor sales.

Beers including Guinness Brite lager and ale, Guinness Light, Guinness Shandy and Guinness Cream Stout were also launched and then withdrawn.

Forsyth believes that if Diageo is trying to reach new consumers, it should introduce a completely new beer brand rather than continue its attempts to extend Guinness.

“The point of extending is to keep consumers and reach new ones as well, but there needs to be something of Guinness in there otherwise I question whether they’re right to extend the brand at all,” he says.

However, Curtis-Davis says the company is “delighter” with the performance of both Guinness Dublin porter and Guinness West Indies Porter so far.

“The beers are two of top three most successful innovations in the Premium Bottled Ales category in the last 12 months,” he says, citing data from Nielsen to January 2015.

“We’re not changing the originals, just broadening the shoulders of the brand to appeal both to new and existing consumers across a wider range of occasions.”*

Brand attempting to replicate US sales success

Diageo is trying to replicate sales success it has seen off the back of the launch of Guinness Blonde American Lager in the US last year – while global Guinness sales were down 4% in the company’s latest financial results, net sales were up by 1% in the US, with the launch of Blonde credited for the lift.

“Blonde American Lager is essentially the same product as Golden Ale, and it’s doing really well in the US,” Forsyth says. “Bit it’s a different market here. The more rooted the brand is, the harder it is to stretch.”

*Response added 31 March

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