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San Miguel's millennial mindset is boosting sales but the brewer admits it can be tricky for alcohol giants to drive brand purpose

Purpose-driven marketing is in vogue and San Miguel's focus on its culture and values is boosting sales, but the brand believes the messaging to get drinkers to buy into that ethos has to be carefully considered.

The words ‘Rich List’ may for some conjure up images of Sunday Times fat cats, but San Miguel has sought to make the term its own by celebrating individuals who have dedicated their lives to seeking out experiences.

In 2016, ‘The San Miguel Rich List’ featured a host of trailblazers – from artists to athletes – who had shunned the pursuit of wealth and status to find value in exploration. This year, the world beer brand is inviting nominations from the public to launch the second iteration of the list as it looks to build on the success of a push which helped it record its most successful year for growth in the UK market. Last year, Brits spent £470m on San Miguel, drinking 180 million pints in the process according to Nielsen’s Total Trade Report.

Based on the insight that millennial consumers value experiences more than possessions, this year’s recruitment drive for the project is being fronted by adventurer Levison Woods. Dharmesh Rana’s senior brand manager at San Miguel UK believes the attitude informing its strategy isn’t going to be “a fad today and gone tomorrow".

“It’s going to continually be a focus for consumers and an entire generation as they go older,” he mused. “They’re going to take that with them, and technology enables all it as well. It’s the right track for us to go down.”

Creative challenge

The concept, developed by agency Pablo, looks to underline the brand’s heritage in a contemporary way and impart the life-rich ethos of the San Miguel founders who were explorers to modern consumers.

This focus on history and desire to provoke conversation echoes similar strategies employed by rival group Diageo, which itself has confessed that "purpose doesn't have to be political".

While the Airbnbs and Amnesty Internationals of the world have been able to tap into their culture and drive brand purpose the shift is more of a challenge for alcohol brands. Players in the booze sector don’t necessarily have established communities at the ready to embrace that kind of messaging, and are to an extent gated by strict regulatory rules around how they can advertise.

When pressed on whether it’s trickier for alcohol brands to drive purpose because of this, Rana answered: “It can be I guess. It very much depends on which message you’re trying to communicate. I see that as the creative challenge, I don’t see it as something that is a roadblock. Ultimately, we’re trying to convey a proposition and we’re trying to do that within the guidelines and the boundaries that we’ve got to work with.”

“It’s actually good creative stimulation, I’m not saying that lightly as I wouldn’t welcome more regulation – I don’t think anyone would want that unless it’s absolutely required.”

He continued: “It doesn’t mean it’s always an easy job,” adding there are times when he has a lightbulb moment but knows ideas won’t comply with the rules. “At the same time I think it forces ourselves, and the agencies we work with to come up with great creative work.”

Filling the gap

Away from its focus on purpose Rana says it is keen to leverage its status as a world beer to entice customers to trade up from standard lagers. Britain has experienced a craft beer boom over the past five years, but San Miguel is confident it can fill the gap between the Bud Lights and the BrewDogs.

"If you've been a habitual mainstream brand drinker for a while then craft is possibly a bit too challenging for you so you need something inbetween to take you up that premium ladder," explains Rana.

Coming back to the theme of exploration and experiences, he added: "People are travelling more, they're experiencing different brands and food and culture, and when they come they want to replicate that experience to a degree." This, he argued, means there is an "absolutely clear space" that the world beer category and brands like San Miguel can occupy as a result.