Camden Town Brewery on battling criticism and keeping its independence after AB InBev takeover

Camden Town Brewery is launching its first above the line campaign since AB InBev acquired the business in December last year. While the takeover news was met with widespread criticism within the craft community, the brand’s managing director Mark Turner insists the brand has remained independent.

Camden Town Brewery started out as a small craft lager brand in 2010. In December last year, however, the brand was bought by alcohol behemoth AB InBev, which also owns brands such as Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois. At the time, the news was met with a backlash from the craft community. James Watt, founder of craft beer group Brewdog, criticised the brand for selling out and said Brewdog would no longer stock any Camden Town beers in its bars because it does not sell drinks made by AB InBev.

Camden Town Brewery, however, insists that is has managed to keep its creative independence and has launched its first above the line (ATL) campaign yesterday (9 June) in a bid to bring the beer to the masses. The London-based campaign will see the brand focus on out of home and sampling. Marketing Week caught up with Camden Town Brewery’s managing director Mark Turner to talk about refreshing the brand, battling criticism and keeping its independence.

What can we expect from your first ATL campaign?

When I joined the brand four months ago, I did a consumer survey. While 89% of consumers would recommend the brand to a friend, awareness stands at 18%. It was very clear that people loved our product but that they needed to try it.

The first step was a brand refresh. While we loved our original packaging, we needed a clearer reason to purchase by stating who the beer is for and what it tastes like, while having that consistent standout and irreverent tone of voice.

With the campaign creative, we wanted to act small but be big by staying playful while delivering our key message. That message is what we’re all about [as a brand] – that great beer is for everyone. This is what craft is all about. In every category people want engaging, quality brands. Not everyone has to drink a mainstream brand beer.

Who are you trying to reach?

It’s a wide demographic. Interestingly, [our split] is 50/50 male and female, which might seem counterintuitive for beer. But even with our brewery tours, the demographic is 68% female. We want to reach those who drink beer, but aren’t that engaged. Through the campaign we can hopefully get them to engage with our branding and messaging, and become interested in beer in general.

What are you hoping to achieve?

It’s about pushing it to a larger audience. We’ve grown 40% to 50% every year since we started and are continuing to do that. Craft in general is growing by 15% while overall beer is declining 3%. [Craft] is what consumers want. The main goal is to drive awareness and trial, which is in line with having more distribution. We’re also starting a Camden run club for 1,000 people. It seems relatively counter intuitive for beer, but we like a challenge. The aim is to show that you can be a runner and drink beer. They go for a run and come [to the brewery] for a pint afterwards.

There was some criticism from the craft community when you were acquired by AB InBev. How have you dealt with this?

There was some negative press, but largely because people love the brand. The only thing we can do, is carry on doing what we’ve been doing but bigger and better. With some of the activations, yes we’re doing ATL, but hopefully in a cool different way.

That initial negative reaction has died down. People thought we’d be absorbed by AB InBev, but clearly consumers have seen we’re still the same. While some people you can’t convince, a lot of people, particularly from a customer point of view, like the fact you have a clear future.

“It’s simple – we couldn’t have grown without the investment in a new brewery and it had to come from somewhere. Most people are pretty pragmatic and believe that as long as we keep our values you can’t penalise us for being successful.”

Mark Turner, managing director, Camden Town Brewery

Is this campaign an acknowledgement by AB InBev that it is keen to scale the brand?

No it’s not. AB InBev has left us as a standalone business. They wanted to buy a great craft brand. They helped us build a new brewery, which is happening next year. But in terms of our marketing and commercial strategy, that’s totally driven by us. The only thing we’re aligned on is that we both want to grow.

We can learn a lot from them, they can learn a lot from us. We can learn from them in terms of activations, how they roll things out and how to make sure our quality is great. But in terms of the brand, that is still very much coming from us. That creative, was done in–house, we didn’t go to an agency. My background is from Innocent. When Coke bought us, we became part of a bigger business, but there’s no point buying a craft brand like Camden and then trying to change the brand. We can learn a lot, but our brand direction will come from those internally who live and breathe it.

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  • Dom Graham 10 Jun 2016 at 1:24 pm

    I like Camden Town, that’s why I invested when they crowdfunded. And whilst I’m relieved the brand hasn’t been absorbed (YET), I still have “sell out” feelings towards the brand, especially after all us crowdfunders were forced to sell up less than a year after CTB delivered a fierce manifesto on their future. I think they’d have taken less crap if it had been anyone but the McDonald’s of the beer world who bought them out. I still can’t help but think the brand will eventually be absorbed if it doesn’t deliver on whatever targets InBev have set for them.

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