As breweries slash adspends on their core lager brands to chase
drinkers of premium beer, John Carter questions whether there is a
meaningful market division
Why is lager advertising disappearing? Surely I’m exaggerating.
Disappearing? But only recently you saw the new Carling Black Label
commercial on television. And wasn’t there some bottled lager ad in the
last issue of Time Out?
Of course, lager is still a heavily advertised market. Everyone can
remember seeing lager ads - the problem is they are remembering them
The phenomenon was first pointed out to me by BJM Research, which tracks
lager ads with its random reaction monitor - a sensitive tracking study
where a commercial’s success is measured by ‘cut-through’ rather than
A typical lager campaign might achieve a 10 per cent cut-through.
BJM reported that, when it compared the year to September 1993 with the
year to September 1995, TV cut-through of any lager ad had fallen by 30
Why would the memorability of advertising for such a huge sector decline
by almost a third? Expenditure? Yes, partly. A quick look at Register
MEAL shows that the adspend for all lagers fell by about 11 per cent
during the same period.
Does that mean you get less bang for your advertising buck? Again, yes.
Television inflation against the young male audience is running at about
8 per cent.
So, has the smart money run for cover into the ‘new-bloke’ magazines?
Not as part of any mass exodus - I counted precisely one lager ad in the
April edition of Loaded and our account manager’s 1996 competitive lager
reel seems to go for an update at TV Register as frequently as it did
two years ago.
What about brand fragmentation, then? Are the campaigns for minor
bottled brands cluttering the part of the brain set aside for lager ads?
Again, no. Forty-five brands had more than pounds 150,000 put behind
them in the year to September 1993, compared with only 34 between
September 1994 and September 1995, with a similar average of about
pounds 1.75 million being put in to each of them.
BJM suggests that a crucial factor in the disappearance of lager
advertising has been support for premium brands. In 1993, 40 per cent of
the lager adspend was put behind premiums. By 1995, this had grown to 70
So what’s wrong with premium lager ads? Cast your mind quickly through
the recent ones for the stronger stuff. You’ll recall images of
richness, depth and complexity. You’ll recall ads that have won awards.
But do these commercials appeal to lager drinkers? Clearly not.
What seems to have happened is that people have become hung up on the
category descriptor, ‘premium’, and presumed that it implies a
completely different set of consumer values from those of the slightly
weaker beers launched in the 70s and 80s.
Premium lager drinkers aren’t all that different from drinkers of
standard-strength brands - they’re also into football, cars, birds,
music and curry.
These are precisely the triggers used in both the Carling Black Label
and Carling Premier ads. And other lager campaigns, many of which have
now been pulled and their budgets diverted to chase after what is
basically the same group of people with messages that mean a lot less to
Am I really suggesting that an ad for a beer brand that has football
connotations, features lots of cars, a good-looking barmaid and a rock
track can succeed in the premium lager market? Absolutely.
Carling Premier has the highest cut-through of any premium lager ad
ever, and was voted the nation’s favourite beer ad in a recent poll in
So now we know why the ads are disappearing, perhaps we should ask where
they’re disappearing to. I think I’ll leave you to answer that question