Carlsberg Advertising Beer

Did Carlsberg UK's bold 'Piss to Pilsner' gambit pay off?


By John McCarthy, Opinion Editor

October 8, 2019 | 5 min read

Carlsberg made the risky admission that its UK lager was 'probably not the best beer in the world' in its most recent multimillion-pound marketing campaign. Did it pay off?

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Did Carlsberg UK's bold 'Piss to Pilsner' gambit pay off?

Six months after the 'Piss to Pilsner' bait and switch, Liam Newton, vice president of marketing at Carlsberg Group, claimed it had seen a dramatic sales turnaround in the on-trade market.

"We're moving in the right direction," he said on the first wave of the two-year campaign from agency partners Fold7, Clifford French and Initiative.

Few brands would triumph after admitting they had put out a sub-par product for decades, fewer yet still after claiming to be "probably" the best beer in the world. But it appears Carlsberg has.


Since the Pilsner's relaunch announcement in April, Newton and team have been involved in a massive undertaking he likened to "painting the Forth Road Bridge" as the brewer shipped millions of new glasses, replaced founts and updated signage in bars.

On-trade rate of sale was up by 14% for the brand. Newton said: "There is a 10% difference over the last 12 weeks between Carlsberg and the standard lager performance in the on trades." The standard lager category, which includes Carlsberg, Carling and Fosters, saw its volume of sales down by 7%, Carlsberg grew by 3%.

"It’s a great start to the a two-year initiative."

These figures lay bare why Carlsberg moved out of the high-volume, mainstream lager category, which is in decline across the board.

Just last year, Carlsberg's on-trade volume sales were down by 13.1%, with consumer demand looking to be rapidly drying up.

Catch up with the campaign

11 April 2019: Carlsberg took a leaf out of KFC’s playbook by promoting tweets mocking its lager.

15 April 2019: The new brew was revealed, 'Rebrewed from head to hop'.

17 April 2019: Staff read out mean tweets about the brew - drawing attention to the new one.

23 April 2019: Newton reflects on the 'nerve-wracking' campaign.

25 April 2019: Carlsberg shared reviews from beerheads.

01 May 2019: Mads Mikkelsen heads a UK campaign, showing off the new brew and revealing he drowned the old brewmaster in a lake...

Off-trade sales were harder to gather. Newton admitted that it will take longer than six months to see a significant change in retail sales.

However, consumers are reacting favourably to its sustainable SnapPack packaging, with 70% agreeing that the brand "feels more premium" and 89% of grocery shoppers saying they would repurchase the brand, according to its own research. It is also experimenting with new can formats to attract new drinking demographics.

"Brands like Carlsberg take so long to change ingrained consumer perceptions but we are moving in the right direction."

Changing Tastes

In April taste tests, 59% of respondents said they prefer the new Carlsberg Danish Pilsner over “the current UK best-selling mainstream lager,” said Newton. He didn't share what the previous figure was but said it was an an improvement. Atop that, consumer perception changed.

The original Mean Tweets social media campaign racked up almost 15m video views and reached 6 million people in the UK. Carlsberg personally responded to 6,000 consumer messages, positive and negative, to drive sampling of the new formulation.

"We wanted to create some debate and discussion and disruption around the new brew message," said Newton.

Carlsberg was in the limelight for around a month, due to a staggered, multiplatform marketing campaign. It debuted by retweeting criticism, followed by a print and poster campaign, then a viral mean tweets video, concluding with a TV ad.

"We created three spikes in interest. The interest went on longer than if we had used a traditional approach."

So far, Carlsberg is seeing uplift across the board from the work. "We're seeing brand consideration, brand preference, quality attributes, the recommendation score, and word of mouth increase."

The Next Step


Newton's focus is now getting the product sampled. After a Waterloo sampling session earlier this year where 5,000 commuters tested the brew, the brand will tour six UK cities.

"There are still people in the UK who aren't aware of the brew change," Newton added. "Making sure people taste the new brew is a key priority for us."

Next summer is the 50th anniversary of Glastonbury music festival and Carlsberg is looking to make some noise at the iconic event attracting around 200,000 people.

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