By Imogen Watson, Senior reporter

October 15, 2020 | 5 min read

After spending the past few years going back to its roots, Carlsberg has named Grey Europe as its global advertising partner for the Carlsberg and Tuborg brands. The Drum spoke to global director Julian Marsili and Grey Europe president Eduardo Maruri as they toast their new global partnership.

Pouring beers for 178 years, Carlsberg has probably done some of the best advertising in the world.

But its latter years have been spent reflecting on what role it wants to play on the global stage at a time when interest in lager is at an all-time low and punters crave colourful craft beer and ale alternatives.

Back in 2017, ‘The Danish Way‘ introduced drinkers to Carlsberg as a grown-up, sophisticated beer and focused on the brand‘s Danish heritage, a departure from its former, more irreverent spots. After that, Carlsberg rebranded using a clean, modern take on its famed wordmark, as part of its drive to make the brand more ‘premium‘ – which included a caviar beer.

Revealing its newfound bravery, Carlsberg and Fold7 turned heads when it admitted it was ‘probably not the best beer in the world‘ in the UK, after it promoted tweets ridiculing the taste of its own beer, with one branding it the ‘rancid piss of Satan.‘ Of course, it was part of a risky marketing stunt to promote a new recipe. It claims the gambit resulted in “dramatic sales turnaround in the on-trade market.“

“We completely reappraised the brand by going back to what our roots were. We looked at our personality and point of difference, and it basically gave a global reset to the brand. We were just looking for a creative agency partner that could help us do that along the way,“ explains Julian Marsili, global director for the Carlsberg brand.

So while the work helped put Carlsberg on the map, giving it tone and provenance, it needed a partner to bring that to life. And so this week, Carlsberg made the landmark move to reconfigure its agency roster, placing Grey Europe at the heart of its global strategy. The move means Fold7 will now only work on local UK campaigns, its beer serving system DraughtMaster and Carlsberg-owned Kronenbourg 1664 (outside the UK).

“We’ve been working with Fold7 globally, where the account was born out of the UK. And we were very happy with that,“ explains Marsili. “However, along the way, we met Grey.“

First linking up in 2018, Grey and Carlsberg first worked together on the global advertising account for Tuborg before landing the brief for its alcohol-free beer. Throughout this year it has worked closely with the Carlsberg brand.

“This has been over a year of dating before the marriage, and the dating was fantastic,“ says Eduardo Maruri, president and chief exec of Grey Europe, and vice-president global creative board.

He explains how Carlsberg was enticed by Grey‘s global presence, with offices in 96 countries, operating in 154 cities. “My job now is to open up the whole wide network to make sure we give Carlsberg the borderless approach and the flexibility it was looking for,“ he reveals.

The announcement arrives amid a tumultuous year for all Carlsberg‘s markets, as it had to jump over hurdles placed in its way by the pandemic. Closed bars and an unnaturally sport-free summer have really dented sales, and back in August, the Danish brewer issued a profit warning for 2020 – warning its operating profits had fallen 8.9% in the first half of 2020, and predicting an overall drop of between 10% and 15% for the whole year. At the time, chief exec Cees ’t Hart said it was taking measures to adapt.

Can Grey arrest the slump? “Our objective is to be effective. And our strategy is to use creativity to be effective,“ answers Marsili. “The brief we delivered to Grey is to give us great ideas that travel. Ideas that are media neutral while gaining more attention than the media we put behind them, to ultimately reach brand fame. So that's why we chose Grey to help us do exactly that.“

“With ’adopt a keg’ we showed we could think outside the box, even for specific situations like Covid-19,“ says Maruri. “We will take creativity up a notch up from an already good position, and the next level in ideas that can live and travel fast and can be implemented in any market.“

And is Grey overawed by the great Carlsberg work that came before? “We’re completely aware and respect the work that they’ve done in the past,“ says Maruri. “That makes it even more challenging, but we strongly believe there's room for improvement, there’s room for more.“

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