UK: Probably not the best beer in the world

In a desperate attempt to regain market share, Carlsberg has relaunched its flagship brand in the United Kingdom. The Danish brewer announced on Monday that it has changed not only recipe of its Carlsberg brand but also “all aspects of the drinking experience, from glassware to packaging and beyond”.

The UK arm of the world’s third largest brewing group is now launching a GBP20million (USD26m) campaign in the UK inverting the company’s famous 40-years old slogan by saying that Carlsberg is ‘probably not the best beer in the world’. Indeed, the new, “perfectly-balanced” Carlsberg Danish Pilsner beer will have more of a hop flavor but will still remain at 3.8 per cent strength. According to the company’s statement, initial research indicates that 59 percent of UK lager drinkers prefer the taste of the new crisper, Carlsberg Danish Pilsner over the current UK No.1 mainstream lager, which is Carling owned and brewed by its U.S. owners Molson Coors.

"At Carlsberg UK, we lost our way. We focused on brewing quantity, not quality; we became one of the cheapest, not the best. In order to live up to our promise of being ‘probably the best beer in the world’, we had to start again. We’ve completely rebrewed Carlsberg from head to hop," says Carlsberg UK's VP marketing, Liam Newton.

With the product relaunch and the new campaign “Carlsberg UK hopes to instigate conversation and ensure drinkers are left in no doubt that there has been a change for the better.”

The move comes at a time when interest in standard lager is at an all-time low. The beer market has been forced to accept the prevailing winds of decreased consumption, with 1.6m fewer drinkers than five years ago, alongside the emergence of craft beer – with its new flavors and brand tribalism grabbing drinker’s attention.

Mainstream lagers in the UK, like Carling, Foster’s and Carlsberg, have been in decline for some years. Carlsberg seems to be extraordinarily hard hit. Carlsberg’s CEO Cees t’Hart named the UK earlier this year as the market where the company is probably most disappointed in its performance. Total volumes of all Carlsberg beers declined in 2018 by 3% in a slightly growing beer market. The company reported growing volumes in the premium category, “driven by growth of brands such as Poretti and licence brands, whereas the mainstream Carlsberg brand lost market share”.

 “The authenticity, heritage and quality of a product have become huge drivers for consumers, rather than just ‘phenomenal advertising’. That’s why we are focusing our efforts on substantiating why Carlsberg is Probably one of the best beers in the world – through doing, not just telling,” explained Jessica Spence, Chief Commercial Officer at Carlsberg Group, the changing approach to advertising at November's WebSummit.

However, it seems questionable if the new campaign is able to turn non-Carlsberg drinkers into new customers. While many people love at the first sight the honest approach, marketing experts point out that changing nearly all characteristics of a brand is a deadly sin. By telling your still loyal customers that the beer they used to drink was in fact no good, you are more likely to lose more sales than you will win. First reactions on Twitter point into the same direction:

  • “I love it!! (The campaign not the beer)” - Jenn Cordell aka Cordelia @Jenn_Cordell
  • “Well I didn't think there was anything wrong with it!” - Kay Gregory @kaygreg78
  • “Hoping it’s just as good if not better... “ - Reece KerridgeMcColl @RKM96

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