CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/BECK'S - The Beck's pitch may have been decided, but dust is still settling

The green sailing ship at anchor outside the Beck's brewery in the German seaport of Bremen embodies the almost obsessional pride of those who work there.

The green sailing ship at anchor outside the Beck's brewery in the German seaport of Bremen embodies the almost obsessional pride of those who work there.

Others, though, may see it as symbolic of the tensions that turned the pitch for the pounds 5 million-plus Beck's business in the UK into one of the longest of recent times.

One industry source sums up the problem by recalling what happened at a meeting with researchers representing Braurei, the Beck's parent, and Scottish Courage, which markets, distributes and brews the beer under licence in the UK.

'The Braurei researcher went to great lengths to explain why ads using the green ship would work in the UK,' he remembers. 'The one from Scottish Courage complained that using the ship would un-sell the product faster than anybody could put bottles on shelves.'

The ship has come to epitomise the cultural chasm between Braurei and Scottish Courage which turned the pitch process - concluded last week with the appointment of M&C Saatchi - into such a frustrating marathon.

One senior agency manager is still angry at being caught in the crossfire between Edinburgh and Bremen. 'It's clear that if you let the Germans too close to the UK advertising they'll undermine all the good work done on the brand,' he declares.

The Germans stand accused of trying to foist their reverential approach to beer ads - exemplified by the emphasis on sociability and natural ingredients - on a UK market where such work is invariably blokey and humourous.

'Of all the brand owners Scottish Courage has to deal with, Braurei is the trickiest,' an industry source said. 'The problem is that the Germans are so hands-on.'

Scottish Courage emphatically denies any suggestions of a bust-up with Braurei, but concedes the pitch process was longer and more frustrating than either party would have wished.

Certainly nobody expected the decision-making to be so protracted when Scottish Courage called a review of the account out of Mountain View 13 months ago.

The catalyst is thought to have been the indifferent performance of Beck's in a static premium bottled beer market facing stiffer competition from newly arrived spirit mixers such as Bacardi Breezer and Red Bull.

The pitch proved to be an exasperating contest that tested endurance and patience as much as creativity. Competing agencies complained of briefs that were unclear about what was required

D'Arcy appeared to have overcome all the obstacles to win the account last June, ahead of Fallon and St Luke's. But the agency's euphoria was cut short when Maurice Breen, the brands director for premium lagers at Scottish Courage, could not get German agreement to the creative route and the pitch was back to square one.

D'Arcy, keen not to slam the door on a major advertiser, agreed to rejoin the race, but was an early faller, leaving Fallon, J. Walter Thompson and Leagas Delaney to fight it out with M&C Saatchi, a Scottish Courage roster agency.

Whether M&C Saatchi can belie the view that it is a 'safe' roster choice by ridding Beck's of its reputation for po-faced advertising and giving it an enduring personality remains to be seen.

With a strong brand equity but no real image, Beck's may be a product whose ship is yet to come in. Just as long as it isn't a green one.



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