OPINION: What’s happened to all the lager ads we used to see?

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

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

per cent.

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

per cent.

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