Paul Stanger, trade marketing and planning director at Scottish Courage Brands, home to Foster’s and Kronenbourg, says: “Easter is a key trading period. There’s always a fight to get promotional spots.”
As well as giving retailers their first chance to entice consumers through the door with slashed priced beer, Easter marks the welcome return of the genre of TV commercials which seem to exist as much for entertainment as the products themselves. Or as Charles Wells’ marketing manager, Guy Shreeves, who recently oversaw Red Stripe’s £2.7m relaunch, puts it: “Beer advertising has a humour to it that makes it groovy and credible.”
But the return of Heineken, with a £24m launch spend, has bought a new dimension to the race as it tries to reach out to consumers who, according to brand consultant Paul Cowper at Brandsmiths, are more influenced by brands which challenge advertising convention than brand loyalty. “Beer’s hugely marketing-led because when there’s less to differentiate between brands it comes down to the things associated with the name like packaging and communication.”
In line with this, Heineken’s marketing director, Leslie Meredith, says brewers are planning an aggressive media assault. “It’s going to be a big year for premium beer advertising. We already know that one of our competitors is significantly upping its spend this spring.” Despite the competitive environment, she believes the cost of Heineken’s relaunch campaign ­ featuring outdoor posters plus TV and radio ads ­ will be outweighed by the recognition it will gain.
Only the mighty Stella Artois surpasses Heineken in terms of marketing spend. The top selling beer will get its biggest budget to date, a whopping £35m, £25m of which will go on media support. The first tranche is funding the ninth advert in the epic 23-year-old Reassuringly Expensive campaign airing in cinemas and on TV during the crucial weeks from now until Easter.
Elsewhere, Coors Brewers is splashing out £12m on Grolsch this year. Ahead of its fellow Dutch rival Heineken, Grolsch has commandeered billboards in six cities ­ four of whose residents will consecutively be targeted by Heineken’s posters ­ to maintain consumers’ awareness of its unique swing top. Taking a pop at Heineken, Coors’ off-trade sales managing director Chris Edger says: “It has to convince the consumer that the launch spend will be sustained, because spend on marketing doesn’t necessarily translate into sales.”
Heineken knows this too well. Under Interbrew, it forked out £3m on the Blackmail campaign featuring celebrities including Paul Daniels, but failed to raise sales to save Heineken Cold Filtered.
With Castlemaine XXXX’s £9m marketing strategy kicking in from late spring, and certain to challenge Foster’s Aussie associations, it’s clear even the most established brands will have to continue upping the ante.
“If brands don’t advertise they’re dead because they can’t afford to lose consumer profile,” says a chief lager buyer at one of the multiples. “People only remember the funny ones.”