ADVERTISER OF THE WEEK/GB - How Whitbread plans to whet consumer appetites. Whitbread’s Sophie Spence is certain we’ll go mad for GB lager, Emma Hall writes

’Two pints of GB and a packet of crisps, please.’ The phrase may not roll off the tongue just yet but if Sophie Spence - the development brands director at Whitbread - has her way, the order will be issued at bars across the land before the clocks go back this autumn.

’Two pints of GB and a packet of crisps, please.’ The phrase may

not roll off the tongue just yet but if Sophie Spence - the development

brands director at Whitbread - has her way, the order will be issued at

bars across the land before the clocks go back this autumn.

GB is the new mass-market lager from the stable of Stella Artois,

Heineken and Boddingtons. It may seem like lunacy to launch a new lager

brand when the market is flat but Spence is convinced that the time is


’There is a lack of innovation. Consumers are always happy with what

they’ve got until someone like Go or First Direct comes in to shake up

the market,’ she says.

So far, Whitbread has had 100 per cent take-up from the outlets it has

approached, signalling that the trade acknowledges and embraces the

notion of change.

Despite decades of lager marketing and brand-building, most punters

still ask for a generic ’lager’ when they want to drink a

standard-strength brew - even if they have a natural disposition towards

one in particular.

’They all taste the same,’ Spence contends. ’Only Stella is distinctive,

but most session drinkers will not stick to Stella all night because it

is so strong.’

And here’s the opportunity for product innovation. At 4.4 per cent

proof, GB is slightly stronger than Carling (3.8) or Heineken (3.4), so

the lager is still suitable for session drinking but retains a

distinctive ’bite’.

Whitbread aims to reinvent the standard lager. Historically, decent

lager is either American or continental European, so a gap in the market

was identified. GB was born to celebrate the British drinking


From an early stage the tap dispenser and the GB car sticker logo were a

part of the brand’s identity. Spence says: ’The car sticker is

associated with leisure and fun. When you saw other cars with a GB

sticker abroad an instant camaraderie would spring up.’

But once the brand logistics are in place, an advertising budget has to

be approved and the cost of entry into this market is huge. Luckily,

Whitbread is well known for its faith in advertising and GB is being

launched with a campaign from Mother.

’The idea is that it is accessible and not leading edge,’ Spence says.

GB isn’t meant to appeal to the sort of people who adopt a brand early

on and then drop it once they see someone unsophisticated knocking back

a pint of it. GB is meant to become a part of the great British drinking


Whitbread is testing GB in the Granada region before committing to a

national roll-out. ’The North-west is a tough test market with a strong

legacy of bitter drinking. It’s the acid test.’

Mother’s television campaign features the Gibson family who are so

obsessed with lager that their whole house has been turned into a pub.

The central ’Lager like us’ line is being used in all communications and

GB’s ’street marketing’ agency Exposure has created another innovative

campaign around the test launch.

One of Exposure’s first projects was to identify regular drinkers in the

trial pubs and photograph them. Flyposters were then created sporting

their mugshots alongside the GB logo and put up across Liverpool and


The idea is to create local heroes at each outlet who are famous for a

fortnight. This, in turn, will generate goodwill for the GB brand among

those pictured and their friends and acquaintances.

To encourage sampling, Whitbread is using a spectacularly simple


GB representatives are paid to go into pubs, approach groups of drinkers

and offer to buy them a round. There’s no catch.

Spence has avoided overt links with sport for GB. The only sponsorship

deal so far is with Ben Sherman, a brand with the requisite

’Britishness’ to match GB. Punters can collect tokens to redeem them for

a free Ben Sherman shirt and the label is developing a GB line of


GB is meant to be ’aggressively iconoclastic’ and the ads had to have

’contemporary humour’, which was defined by Spence and Mother as

containing comic clues and references that become more fulfilling with

repeat viewing.

’The Gibson family represent all lager drinkers. They are obsessed with

drinking,’ Spence says.

It is a turbulent time for the beer market. For the past two or three

years there has been speculation about the future of brewing interests

of companies such as Whitbread, Bass and United Distillers and


’This won’t change the fact that there’s an opportunity for the GB

brand,’ Spence says.

Traditionally, brewing was the dominant force in these companies but

sell-offs are looking imminent as other arms have greater success and

brewing becomes, for most of them, 20 per cent of their business as

opposed to 70 per cent only a decade or so ago.

The two dominant trends in the market are the continuing move away from

bitter towards lager and the increase in female drinking, without which

the market would be in decline because men are drinking less outside the

home. However, the good news for GB is that the penetration of draught

lager is increasing as people discard the early 90s vogue for drinking

bottled lager.

According to Spence, the bottom line is that ’consumers have moved on

but brands haven’t’. And she expects to put that right very soon.


1992 Polycell, marketing manager

1995 Whitbread, marketing manager for Hoegaarden and Merrydown

1997 Head of new product development

1998 Development brands director

1998 Launch of Vodka Source

1999 Launch of Stella embossed cans

2000 Launch of GB lager.

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