Stella Artois is the biggest alcohol brand in the UK and, through its defining 60s aesthetic, proves that big can be beautiful.
Its advertising projects the personality of a cool sophisticate with a wry sense of humour, and it is one that has proved irresistible to its audience. And the brand has sustained this personality across several products.
The Anheuser-Busch Inbev-owned beer brand launched into the fast-growing cider market this year. Stella Artois Cidre was so successful that the company actually ran out of apples.
The cider brand’s success – off-trade sales reached around £17 million just ten weeks after launch – was buoyed by its refreshing approach to advertising. The work is testament to the creative chemistry between Stella and its agency, Mother.
Stella’s "she is a thing of beauty" campaign, first launched in 2010, came into its own in 2011. The gorgeous TV and cinema spots led to advances in the Stella aesthetic. The campaign was so ambitious that it was able to attract Hollywood’s Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, who co-directed the "apartomatic" spot.
Alongside the big-screen productions, there was an immersive theatre event, an online casting call, a mobile game and an international Stella pouring competition, where the brand connected with the people who make it all happen: the bar staff.
All of this helped Stella stay at the very top of the beer market. According to data from The Grocer, it recorded sales of £527.6 million in the year to 14 May – still some way ahead of the next biggest brand, Foster’s, which recorded £397.4 million of sales. In addition, the brand also grew by 6.8 per cent globally in the third quarter of 2011, according to ABInbev’s results.
The ad campaign for Stella Artois Cidre was mischievously counter-intuitive: it told people that the drink was not a cider, but a "cidre" – a refined newcomer to the market. The new brand was embodied by a suave Frenchman in a TV studio, billed as "Le President" of Stella. All major TV shows were road-blocked and the TV spots were supported by an outdoor campaign.
The campaign led to one of the most successful ever consumer product launches in the UK. Stella Artois Cidre took a 16 per cent share of the UK cider market within the first 12 weeks of launch and AB InBev struggled to source sufficient Jonagold apples to meet demand. The brand’s popularity even withstood a recall notice, which was issued when a bottle exploded due to yeast contamination.
The beer brand, brewed in Belgium since 1926, is adept at incorporating its heritage into its communications. As part of the Stella Artois World Draught Masters, the global competition to determine who has perfected Stella’s "nine-step pouring ritual", the brand produced training materials for UK bartenders. Created in the brand’s typically chic, offhand style, an online film showed a character called "Audrey" providing bartenders with tutelage. There was also a game within an iPhone app for consumers keen to learn how to pour the perfect pint. The best Stella bartenders from around the world were then invited to Buenos Aires to demonstrate their skills at the finals of the competition.
Stella also captured the allure of film and the French Riviera through its sponsorship of the Cannes International Film Festival. This year, it built on the story of the fictional playboy Jacques d’Azur, first introduced especially for the festival last year.
The brand launched an online casting call to find the perfect man for the d’Azur biopic. People were urged to take part in an interactive online audition opposite the leading lady. The man who was eventually cast had his journey from the shoot to Cannes documented, with the film premièring at the festival.
Stella Artois Black, the premium beer that launched last year, saw the next iteration in its immersive theatre campaign. The beer is only available in selected high-end bars, so Stella opted for special events to promote it. The work adopts a similar tone and style to the "she is a thing of beauty" campaign. The Black Diamond, an immersive theatre experience set in the real world as well as online, followed last year’s The Night Chauffeur.
Activity for the Stella Artois 4% variant also impressed. This year, work for the brand was refined and imbued with the signature Stella style. A standout spot, "train", featured a man transforming his image as he walked through a train in search of a beautiful woman and was supported by striking outdoor work.
Stella honed its sophisticated style this year and its distinctive tone of voice was evident in every aspect of its advertising. It cut through to a huge audience in innovative ways across media channels with extraordinary success. The copycats in the beer market and elsewhere lined up, but none were able to project the allure that Stella has made its own.
It’s fair to say that O2, which pushed Stella close in the contest, does not do things by halves. The mobile phone brand doesn’t just create a couple of nice ads per year, or throw all its weight and time solely behind one 90-second campaign. No: for VCCP, the incumbent on the brand’s above-the-line and digital advertising, working on O2 is a 365-days-a-year job.
In 2011, the brand, which spends an estimated £50 million on advertising, adopted increasingly diverse, innovative and creative marketing executions.
At the heart of O2’s marketing activity is its Priority Moments platform, which was developed on a grand scale this year by giving O2 customers more access to exclusive offers and content. Providing fans with early bird tickets to Foo Fighters, JLS and Coldplay gigs gave O2 some of its most successful Priority campaigns yet, while a new mobile app was launched that allows consumers to access new location-based deals. The app instantly became the number-one lifestyle app and the second most popular free app on iTunes.
An extension of the Priority campaign was used to leverage O2’s sponsorship of the England team at the Rugby World Cup. A novel promotion offered fans the chance to register for a "breakfast pack" – complete with pies and beers – that they could devour during England’s early morning matches. The promotion was supported by a beautifully crafted ad and a Get Up For England app, which helped fans wake up in time for the big games. Some 99,385 breakfast packs were snapped up (more than three times the number that were originally produced), while the ad was watched more than 750,000 times on YouTube.
And that’s before we even get to the "thinking of you" work. In January, O2 launched its biggest-ever integrated campaign, which depicted the "world of O2" and highlighted the range of rewards and incentives available to its customers. TV and press ads took place inside O2’s weird mind and introduced the "O2 Guru" – a free online and in-store service that offers personalised technical help and advice.
The notion of putting customers first ran throughout O2’s advertising in 2011. And when this is rolled out with such innovation and on such an epic scale, then it’s easy to see why the brand is becoming not just a mobile network but an integral part of people’s lives.
Recent winners: John Lewis Partnership (2010); COI (2009); Transport for London (2008); Heinz (2007); Marks & Spencer (2006)
Stella Artois’ 2011
January "Quest" TV spot launches.
February Stella Artois 4% TV spot "train" breaks.
March Online casting call begins for the Jacques d’Azur biopic.
April Stella Artois Cidre launches.
May The "apartomatic" TV ad first airs in the UK. The Jacques d’Azur biopic premières at the Cannes International Film Festival.
July Stella Artois Cidre TV and outdoor campaign launches.
September The Stella Artois World Draft Master competition takes place. The nine-step pouring ritual app is released.