Carlsberg on how it will tackle the ‘big job’ of changing brand perceptions

Carlsberg Export has undergone an extensive redesign.

Everyone knows the "probably the best beer in the world" line but few people know the brand behind it, a point vice president of marketing Liam Newton stresses is at the heart of a multi-million attempt to trumpet Carlsberg's Danish roots.

The beer marketer is the first to admit it isn’t the most original of strategies and yet in a market flooded with mainstream brews leaning on their heritage to convince drinkers they are premium, he believes there’s scope to do things differently for Carlsberg Export in the UK. That’s not to say the brand will do away with its iconic strapline (which was revived last year) or fully pull away from football to standout, rather it’s banking on it being the only big, Danish beer to do the heavy lifting.

From subtle tweaks to branded glassware in pubs, to packaging refreshes, and a campaign geared around its Danish provenance, Carlsberg Export is ploughing £15m in the hope people see it in a more premium light.

Time will tell whether it’s enough to spark the shift in perception, which could then pave the wave way for other brands in the portfolio to follow suit. Newton was reluctant to comment on whether the strategic shift is the start of something bigger, though did tie the investment to the brewer’s wider efforts to shift from a volume-led to a value-led one.

“When you look at all the changes happening in the marketplace then I think that mainstream [beer] brands haven’t really changed much in that time,” said Netwon, citing how people are going out less, and drinking less alcohol when they do, as the company’s “biggest challenges”.

It’s a problem stifling all the major brewers, with the 4% net revenue dip in Carlsberg’s latest quarterly results emblematic of the struggles it, and its competitors, face when trying to sell more beer.

“When you look at the newer or more premium brands that have different types of glassware and are doing interesting experiential activity then mainstream brands haven’t really evolved or moved on with the rest of the world. Carlsberg Export is a great vehicle for us to take a really bold step by trying to show that not all mainstream beers are the same,” he added.

Part of that plan rests with how the brand extends the premium message in its ads through to shops and pubs. Long a source of contention for many brewers, is the fact that their brands are shown as being quality beers in ads with high production values only to have that image ripped-up by aggressive discounting, and poor in-store creative in supermarkets.

Much more time and effort has gone into getting that balance right this time around. Whether it’s being more selective over what outlets the new Carlsberg Export fonts and glassware appear in or better promotional activity, Newton likens the shift to his marketers “living and breathing the brand rather than just being a marketing campaign”.

On the latter point, the brand is keen to retain the irreverent tone of recent ads as well as make gains in its digital efforts over the coming year. It’s too early to properly outline what the digital plans entail, though Netwon said mobile marketing in-store would be a main area of focus.

“We’re trying to attract a new generation of drinkers with what we’re doing with Carlsberg Export and digital is going to be key to that, particularly mobile. We have some really interesting ideas around what we do digitally with some of our in-store activity," he added.

Whether Netwon can get Carlsberg Export’s Danish ties to chime with its ties to English football remains to be seen. Rather than state outright that the brewer would pull away from football altogether, he pointed to the commercial agreements it has with clubs such as Liverpool and the England team as reasons why it isn’t done with the sport just yet.

“We have lots of relationships with different football clubs and there’s no intention to change that,” he assured. “However, with Carlsberg Export what we’re trying to do is tap into those consumer trends that we’ve observed so that we can premium-ise the brand. When we talk to people about where they think Carlsberg is from people [they] either think its from the UK or they look at the hop leaf and think were from Ireland. They don’t know our roots are in Denmark."

Carlsberg’s ties to UK football are very much trade-orientated, and while this comes with camera-facing assets there is little activation. If it were to pull out from football then it would likely be replaced by Carling, the official beer partner of the Premier League, which is currently limited due to Carlsberg’s deals with clubs.

If it is does extend to their trade deals, this will likely be filled by Carling, the official EPL beer partner, which is currently limited to an EPL licence due to the current Carlsberg trade restrictions.

Anthony Marcou, chief executive of sports marketing agency Sports Revolution, isn’t so sure Carslberg will turn its back on football.

“I’d be very surprised if they pull out all together,” he said. "I suspect this is related to their sponsorships of international tournaments, such as the Euros. These are very expensive and irregular, unlike Heineken and the [UEFA] Champions League, which is active throughout much of the year."

He added: "The irony is that football is still a passion of the millennials. What has changed is the way they engage and how they consume. Like everything else in the entertainment space, the way millennials now engage is through connected devices and over social media. The beer category, and Carlsberg in particular, has traditionally focused on traditional and predictable trade and retail promotions. The association with football is not the problem, but how they activate.”

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