OPINION: BEALE ON ... STELLA ARTOIS

Apparently the monks of 14th century Belgium managed to convince themselves that beer was "liquid bread". Surely the best example of brand positioning ever alighted upon in the lager market, this nifty bit of packaging allowed the monks to happily brew gallons of the stuff for quaffing on fasting days. And your average monastic detox passed in a fug of cheeriness.

Perhaps the 14th century Belgian slapheads might find something familiar, then, in the latest Stella Artois print campaign. The ads have something of a detox theme themselves, so appropriate for this time of year when so many self-abusers turn smug, humourless body-is-a-temple-for-31-days abstainers.

Stella, as you'll know, has this rhythm going about being a bit pricey, a bit classy and bugger all those other trappings that you might otherwise covet - such as the Eames chair showing the scars of being used to open a bottle of Stella, from last year's award-winning press campaign.

So in this latest series of ads from Lowe you find a tin of Beluga fed to the cat, a whole Parma ham in a bin, the tail of a fish sticking out of the waste disposal. All have been junked to accommodate the new Stella Artois barrel: "Make room in your fridge."

The new draught barrel has been performing pretty well since launch, selling more than 250,000 units and generating take-home sales of more than £3 million last year. Stella overall had a great year, with sales up 22 per cent to more than £400 million and selling more than twice its nearest rival, Carling. All this despite the fact that in blind taste tests Stella often comes out poorly. That's the power of positioning.

Now, it's more than 20 years since Stella adopted the "reassuringly expensive" tag. As a positioning, being a bit pricey is a cheap trick. You've only got to think about it for a moment to find it crass, insulting, overtly manipulative and toe-curlingly old-fashioned.

That it's worked so phenomenally well for Stella is testament to the way "reassuringly expensive" has lived so brilliantly through the (reassuringly expensive) TV advertising: lush but clever and funny. In the past few years the press work has neatly carried the theme into the style arena with a smart twist.

But while this latest batch continues the tradition nicely, it doesn't quite pack the punch of previous work.

If ever Stella needed to beat you over the head with its "expensive" theme, it's to promote a barrel. When you've spent decades persuading punters you're a bit of class, then launching a Stella barrel is like putting Crystal in a two-litre cardboard box with a plastic tap.

Who can hear the words keg or barrel without reliving a cheap-booze party-pack hangover?

The new ads do a fine job of overcoming these preconceptions and underlining the Stella heritage. They're beautifully shot, crisp and clean and the media schedule guarantees some stand-out among the monotony of perfume ads and fashion houses in the style press.

But there are a few niggles. They require a bit of work to tease out the message: that shot of the keg in the fridge, well it's not immediately obvious that it's a keg in a fridge unless you know that Stella makes kegsthat they look like this and you're one of the few people who knows what a nice clean empty fridge looks like.

And when was the last time you ever bought a whole Parma ham or a tin of Beluga caviar? I reckon the images won't resonate with a lot of blokes.

The associations between the foods and the lager miss the mark and the ads don't have the impact they might if the discarded products were things premium lager drinkers aspire to own. Mind you, the idea of lager in place of food ... I know a few blokes who would buy into that one. As well as a few monks.

Dead cert for a Pencil? A definite contender in the photographic

category.

File under ... R for reassuringly reliable ads.

What would the chairman's wife say? "Sacrilege!"

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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).