SABMiller: ‘No one wants to buy a pink beer, including women’

Tapping the female market has long been the Holy Grail for beer marketers in an industry desperately in need of extending its consumer base. Despite many high profile failures, the world’s second largest brewer SABMiller is convinced it has the right marketing brew to woo women.

Peroni brewer SAB Miller is to make female-friendly beers a key part of move to attract more consumers on more occasions.

The Peroni maker says shifting the image of beer among females could take up to 20 years but believes there is an untapped thirst that has been ignored to date. SABMiller sees female drinkers as a key beneficiary of its wider bid to attract more consumers on more occasions through a mix of innovation, packaging and advertising.

Future attempts will revolve around more flavoursome beers, which make use of the 86 per cent hops SABMiller claims are not used by the industry, alongside marketing that pushes six distinctive experiences; family occasions such as BBQs, mixed gender casual parties, mixed gender casual meals, mixed gender evening meals, colleagues socialisng and men together in bars.

At an event for analysts in London this week, Nick Fell, marketing director at SABMiller, says unlocking those consumers and occasions will flow from distribution, packaging and tie-ups with local retailers and is not be “hidden in the gift of some genius that can write a 30-second TV adverts”. For example, coffee was previously a “one dimensional drink” that went on to become everything from an inexpensive cup of instant to a premium-priced specialty drink in a coffee shop through promoting “enhanced experiences” and premium price points, he adds.

The expansion drive will start within six months with smaller efforts before bigger beer launches and campaigns come to the fore from 2016 onwards. There will be failures in this window, admits SABMiller, and the more successful efforts will be adapted from their local test markets to run in other regions.

Fell says: “We’re confident of a shift in lager over the next five years to lager being more appropriate in mixed gender occasions. If we’re not seeing some movement in the next three to five years, at least in some markets, then we’re doing something wrong.

“No one wants a pink beer including ladies. I’m sure that we’ll make many mistakes over the next five years but hopefully that will not be one of them. There are large parts of the world where beer advertising is offensive to women and I don’t think it makes a very good case for the male gender. We need to be focusing on getting people to think about the occasion they can drink. If the strategy is executed properly then you’ll notice differences in the way beer is advertised over the next five to 10 years, particularly in mature markets.”

Investments are to be funded in part by cost-cutting measures designed to free up $500m by March 2018. Incremental increases to the company’s marketing budget as a percentage of sales will fund additional elements of the strategy.

SABMiller, which is made up of local brands rather than truly global players, hopes upcoming launches bolster its premium mix in order to convince consumers to pay more for newer alternatives. While increased volumes will flow eventually, the business is banking on efforts to have a faster impact on value sales as it looks to snare share from wine and spirits.

“The industry have been brilliant at delivering affordable, high quality mainstream beers to beer guys and we’ve got a job to do think our way to another model”, says Fell.

Spiros Malandrakis, senior analyst for alcoholic drinks at Euromonitor, says the need for female beer drinkers is fuelled by the fact that brewers “do not have any more room for growth” among their core working class male demographic. Beer Value sales in the UK and Western Europe are expected to rise slightly from £9.6bn and £35.5bn respectively to £9.7bn and £36bn by 2018, according to Euromonitor.

“The big brewers know they’re operating in a saturated market and the only options left has been for them to extend major brands based on flavour sophistication or by adding different mixers”, says Malandrakis.

“Women represent another outlet but previous efforts have come undone by simplistic thinking that has been patronising and specifically aimed at them. It’s not just about looking at the beer category through the prism of a female approach. A man still needs to easily be able to go to the bar and order one.”


Seb Joseph

SABMiller talks a good game in its bid to show how its own female-friendly marketing will avoid the clumsy efforts from its peers. In highlighting the importance of both gender-neutral communications and the occasion, the brewer could prove to be a trail blazer.

However, the industry has seen many failed attempts. From Molson Coors’ ill-judged, pink-imbued Animee to Carlsberg’s Copenhagen, the market is littered with patronising examples of how not to tempt female drinkers. While these efforts may have had tasty liquids, they were let down by poor marketing that failed to change the image of beer.

The company’s marketing chief Nick Fell says “It’s time to change the image of beer as just a drink for guys watching sport”. However, a tighter marketing mix won’t realise SABMiller’s ambitions alone and the company will need to make good on its pledge to recruit more women, particularly marketers, if it is to tap into some of the demographics nuances.

Fell admits there is still a “major job” to do around trumpeting the benefits of beer to health conscious drinkers but denied that women regard it as a problem for their waistline. “Women say they won’t drink it because it’s bloating, or filling”, he adds, “Essentially, the problem [for women] with beer is too high carbonation and too high bitterness and we have to address that.”