Carlsberg: Probably a risky rebrand

Will a unified global campaign dilute the lager brand's connection with UK drinkers? Asks Nicola Clark

Carlsberg's new slogan projected on the Dover cliffs
Carlsberg's new slogan projected on the Dover cliffs

Carlsberg has grand ambitions: it aims to double the profit of its flagship lager brand by 2015 and become the fastest-growing global brewer.

While chief executive Jorgen Buhl Rasmussen refuses to assign concrete figures to this ambition, it is clear that in unveiling its most comprehensive global campaign to date, Carlsberg is putting serious money behind the statement.

However, in the UK market, where the 'Probably the best beer in the world' positioning has delivered significant cut-through, there are questions about whether the latest strategy, which introduces the strapline 'That calls for a Carlsberg', risks falling flat. In attempting to appeal to all its consumers globally with a single positioning, it may risk connecting with none.

Some critics, perhaps unfairly, yet predictably, have already panned the decision as 'probably not the best rebranding in the world'.

Khalil Younes, Carlsberg senior vice-president of group sales, marketing and innovation, who has led the activity, pledges that the 'Probably' tagline, created in 1973 by Saatchi & Saatchi, will not be scrapped entirely in the UK. 'It is part of the DNA of the brand and, in the UK particularly, it is part of the vernacular, so we will retain this message,' he says.

However, the axe will fall on the 'If Carlsberg did' aspect of the campaign, which portrays idealised versions of everyday life, including the 'flatmates' execution, featuring perfect housemates and a room overlooking a football stadium.

From Coca-Cola to Carlsberg

Younes is a former Coca-Cola marketer, who spent 15 years at the soft-drinks company, most recently as vice-president of its global juice marketing. It is, then, no coincidence that there is more than a hint of the Coke school of marketing in Carlsberg's 'glocal' positioning. Not only has the beer brand introduced a central marketing and agency team, but an embossed bottle will be launched in every market.

Certainly Carlsberg has made no secret of its desire to establish the brand as a global 'icon', with unity of image and marketing message seen as key to achieving this much-sought-after status.

Of course, there are also significant cost savings in a 'glocal' approach, but Younes insists that it is boosting investment in marketing strategy. 'There is nothing more important than ensuring you have the right strategy,' he says.

For Carlsberg, this ad strategy aims to encourage consumers to view the lager brand as a reward when they 'step up and do the right thing', following through with the pay-off 'That calls for a Carlsberg'.

However, pushing the 'Probably' positioning to the sidelines is a risky manoeuvre, considering that the UK market currently delivers 40% of the Carlsberg brand's profits. Ryan Newey, partner of Fold7, the agency behind the global campaign, defends the shift. He says the fresh focus is about a long-term campaign with a global goal. 'It reflects the growth of emerging markets for Carlsberg and the growing importance of "premiumisation" across the globe.'

Powered by a centralised marketing team in Denmark, it is clear that the next 12 months will bring a significant shift in how Carlsberg markets itself in the UK. It remains to be seen whether consumers will agree that the architects of this rebrand can reward themselves with their own 'That calls for a Carlsberg' moment.

BEHIND THE CAMPAIGN 'THAT CALLS FOR A CARLSBERG'

The latest Carlsberg campaign and positioning will roll out simultaneously in 140 markets and run across TV, outdoor, point of sale and social networks.

A total of 350 different creative materials, including 90-second cinema spots and PoS panels, will be available to Carlsberg marketers worldwide. The introduction of updated pack graphics and an embossed bottle has led to 55 production lines across the globe being specially adapted.

The brewer has also created its own soundtrack that will be used in different styles and tempos across all media channels. Brands can pay upwards of £250,000 to use single songs in just one market, so the initiative will deliver significant cost savings.

While Carlsberg's 'glocal' approach is based on a single-brand strategy, the campaign has the flexibility to be tailored to different markets. For example, in 'dark markets' such as Norway, the brand will have to adapt its campaign to the regulatory environment, where alcohol advertising is not allowed. In the UK, where the brand is firmly established, local agencies are activating the strategy on the ground, including 3D projections created by Billington Cartmell (below).

David Robertson, vicepresident of market activation at the Carlsberg Group, says that the latest campaign aims to 'harmonise the brand'.