Carling’s top UK marketer on why purpose is a ‘dangerous word’

While Carling has shifted the focus of its advertising to highlight its communities, rather than talk about men drinking beer down the pub, it hasn’t changed its brand purpose according to its UK marketing director.

When Carling launched its ‘Made Local’ marketing campaign at the beginning of this year, many people assumed the beer brand had a new brand purpose.

The campaign, its first on TV in more than two years, champions local pride. It celebrates the brand’s hometown Burton-on-Trent and the people who live and work there, as well as community projects across the UK including an LGBT+-run football team in Wolverhampton.

However, Carling-owner Molson Coors’s UK and Ireland marketing director Jim Shearer says while it may seem the brand has a new purpose that is not the case. Its purpose of telling the stories of its drinkers remains the same, it is instead its insight that has changed.

“Purpose is quite a dangerous word,” he said, speaking at Creativebrief’s Bite Live event earlier this month. “Through all the work we’ve done over the last year on Carling, which has definitely got more of a social, doing good intent, our purpose has never changed. But our insight about the consumer changed and the stories we therefore want to encourage them to have and us to be part of has changed.”

Shearer admits that even a couple of years ago, the consumer insight suggested Carling should be giving away tickets to Premier League matches in order to best reach its customers. Now, however, consumers expect more of the brand.

“Five years ago, [the insight] would have been man in pub says ‘isn’t Carling great, it gave me a ticket to the Premier League’,” says Shearer. “Now it says Carling has given me a nudge to talk to my friends about mental health or invested in something I really care about in my community. The only thing that has really changed is the insight.”

Moving away from ‘homogenous’ beer advertising

Shearer admits that beer advertising had become “homogenous” and says that as he went through the process of shifting Carling’s advertising he felt “personally quite embarrassed about some of the work I had made”.

“It was uncomfortable watching back through and, understanding today’s consumer in more detail, some of the things we had done only two or three years ago,” he explains.

Carling also wanted to address what Shearer calls the “disrespect” beer advertising has shown its consumers. “It had stereotyped them. Beer advertising would appear to be a world where women were on another planet, men just went to the pub to lick their wounds and take the piss out of each other. There is more to our drinkers and our community than that,” he adds.

The process to shift focus wasn’t without challenges, however. By focusing on local communities, Carling knew it would have to back up its communications with actions otherwise it would feel “really thin”. Its ‘Made Local’ initiative, which funds community projects, has been important in ensuring its brand positioning has authenticity.

“There are no shortcuts or shoehorning of an emotional territory for a brand just because there is a socially purposed topic that people might care about. That feels really thin and if you haven’t got the goods to back it up you are in trouble, you are dancing on the pinhead as a brand,” he says.

Having found from insight work that its customers were craving a different tone from the brand, Shearer admits he still felt uncomfortable about the “innate dichotomy in being a beer brand when it comes to purporting to doing good”. While at its best, it can help men feel more comfortable talking about their mental health, alcohol also does damage.

If you haven’t got the goods to back up emotional advertising you are in trouble, you are dancing on the pinhead as a brand.

Jim Shearer, Molson Coors

“At its worst, we can all appreciate the damage alcohol can do to an individual, families, communities and society,” he admits. “But at its best beer has a really important role to play in people’s social wellbeing.

“Maybe the only time [men] feel comfortable talking about [their mental health] is over a beer. How we wrestle with that dichotomy as a business – beer at its best and worst – has actually been an inhibitor to us, or the time being right to launch a campaign that is more purposeful, more socially and community orientated.”

Despite this challenge, Shearer feels Carling “couldn’t put our head in the sand anymore” because consumers now expect brands to be more socially aware. “There is a point now where we can’t foresee a sustainable future for our brand unless we step into that space that will be really relevant for consumers in the future.”

Taking a long-term view is critical for Molson Coors. While Shearer has to focus on short-term sales, he sees building the brand as more important long-term. “There is a ROI that we understand that what we deliver today is built on having enduringly successful brands in our portfolio and that is really where this campaign comes in.”

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  1. Richard Fullerton 3 Oct 2019

    “Maybe the only time [men] feel comfortable talking about [their mental health] is over a beer.” Oh, purrrrrlease. Now Carling has gone totally PC.

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