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"Nolo" beer brands backed by "simple" advertising can disrupt crowded beer market

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The international beer market is a crowded one, dominated by a handful of multinational brewers. Today, new launches across the beer market are largely focused on low-alcohol or non-alcohol brands, in keeping with the health conscious times we live in. So what is the best marketing strategy to launch a beer brand in 2022? We spoke to experts to find out!

Alcoholic beer brands have been responsible for some of the most awe-inspiring, cherished and acclaimed advertising of all time. Celebrated beer ads have not only scooped multiple awards but, in some cases, have become the benchmark that other ads are measured against. But many of these celebrated beer ads, which often accompanied the launch of a new beer brand or offshoot, were created 20 or 30 years ago when alcoholic beer consumption was celebrated across Europe. For example, in the UK, in the 1990s, beer drinking was synonymous with the culture of cool, with rock stars, actors and even sports stars photographed swigging beer. All this was manna from heaven for beer brands.

Beer consumption drying up
But times change and in today's health-conscious, Instagram-look dictated age, the UK's love of beer has, well, dried up. To combat this shift away from alcoholic beer consumption, heavyweight beer brands ((AB InBev, Heineken and Carlsberg boast more than half of over volume sales) have expanded into non-alcoholic beers in search of growth while so-called "nolo" (no or low alcoholic) beers have now eclipsed craft beer as the fastest growing sector in the beer market. Despite the headwinds, alcoholic beer startups have still sprouted up in recent years, spearheaded by craft beer success stories like UK startups Brewdog and Beavertown or Netherlands-based Texelse, now owned by Heineken. These startups are often craft beers, subscription-based with eye-catching designs.

Beer market "tough nut" to crack
Broadly speaking, experts believe the alcoholic beer market is a tough nut to crack. Jonathan Trimble, co-founder and CEO of advertising agency And Rising, says simply "I wouldn't" when asked if he would launch a beer brand in 2022. "The beer makes is saturated and inward facing," Trimble says, pointing to data showing UK pub visits decreasing and a quarter of young people being teetotal. Other experts agree, but say if they were to launch a beer brand today then a key foundation of the brand would be to share the values of its audience. Inauthenticity will be smelt a mile off, they say.

Great beer ads from the past
Everybody in advertising, it seems, has a favourite beer ad and a beer ad often makes the list of top ten ads of all time. One ad often championed is AMV BBDO's Guinness Surfer ad (eye-catching shot in bold monochrome, which uses the metaphor of Hawaiian surfers waiting for the perfect wave to symbolise the wait for the three parts of the perfect Guinness). Another favourite is WCRS's "I bet he drinks Carling Black Label" campaign and its Dambusters incarnation (which successfully played on the banter and competition between the Germans and English). Or how about Publicis Italy's creative behind Heineken's Virtual Heineken Silver (a daring step into the metaverse, playing on the irony of a non-existent beer you can't taste)? Or Brewdog eschewing traditional advertising, swapping billboards and newspaper pages for controversies and PR stunts to generate interest.

Not a time to launch a beer brand
The statistics are undeniable: alcoholic beer consumption is on the wane across Europe, particularly in key markets like Germany and the UK. Industry data for the UK shows that today 55 per cent of UK drinkers consume fewer than 10 units of alcohol per week, compared to 2019 when 60 per cent of adults drank up to 14 units per week. Other data show that nearly 40 per cent of restaurant visits are alcohol-free in the UK. Luke Boase, the founder of the non-alcoholic lager brand Lucky Saint, believes the UK is seeing a "cultural shift" in its attitudes towards drinking in the UK. He told the Evening Standard: "The likes of Spain, France and Germany all have at least five times the market share for low and no (alcohol) options compared to the UK. "Consumers want taste and quality, but historically there's not been a product that fits the bill. "We need to rethink what we understand as a 'non-drinker' in the UK. Those who move fast to tap into this market in the UK will see huge rewards in the coming years."

Advice to launch a beer brand
Trimble is adamant now is not the time to launch an alcoholic beer brand in the UK. He says: "In the economy of social media likes, beer bellies and photos holding pints don't pay. "Beer, like its couch-nestled cousin fruit cider, isn't cool anymore and volume is driven by stay-at-home drinking amongst those older, heavier drinkers. "It's a nolo world. If people are drinking, they are drinking less, better. Brands like Served and their ambassadors (Served is invested in by Ellie Goulding) are the go-to drinks: stylish, fashion-led, premium, less calories, lower abv [alcohol by volume]. Trimble says that "if forced" to launch a beer brand then it should be very high end and think of itself more a spirit. "A beer that ignores the faux nonsense of craft brewing and has its own product and design rules," he adds. "Or pitch a mid-level abv and attach to an occasion not an ethos, such as lunch meal drinking or the evening social drink that's increasingly not worth the hangover.

Come from a "place of truth"
Anthony Ford, creative director, Superunion, the brand and design consultancy, says amid a crowded market it is paramount that a new beer brand emanates from a "place of truth". He says consumers want brands with "stories" and "connections" which share the same values as their intended audience, be it a passion for heritage and craft or a brand that is eclectic and doesn't give a damn about tradition. He adds: "Whatever story you position your brand in, embrace it totally and utterly – consumers will see through inauthenticity. "If your brand is creatively inclined showcase local artists; if you're all about the best ingredients, then use every channel you have to tell us your story."

Design is a top priority
On design, Ford says amid rising consumer appreciation of design, design is now a top priority for launching a beer brand. He says: "But design is so much more than what we see on the label – what we're talking about here is your living, breathing brand in all its multisensory glory. He adds: "Spend time considering how your brand sounds: its tactility, its form and even your brand voice is part of the design". On advertising, Ford's advice is to "keep it simple" and again "truthful". "Stay away from outside noise and focus on what makes your brand unique. Keep it simple, truthful and focused," he adds. On potential pitfalls, he said to avoid being tunnel-visioned market report data. He adds: "Focus first on making a great beer with passion and authenticity, and the rest will follow."

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