Premium beers target younger demo

The buzz at the epicentre of Canada's beer marketing activity this spring is palatable, as national brands try to outdo each other for share of mind and recruit new drinkers entering that all-important stage in life - legal drinking age. ...

The buzz at the epicentre of Canada’s beer marketing activity this spring is palatable, as national brands try to outdo each other for share of mind and recruit new drinkers entering that all-important stage in life – legal drinking age.

Molson brands Canadian and Export, and Labatt’s Blue and Blue Light have all launched new spots in recent weeks as that annual pissing contest, also known as the ‘Beer Wars,’ picks up steam this month.

But as Canadians breathlessly wait for the next Rant – that one beer spot that will be heard above all others – the real action has been quietly taking place on the market fringes.

For the past several years Canada’s premium brands have been siphoning share from the national brands, and have more recently hit a critical mass resulting in ever greater amounts of marketing activity.

While domestic sales have remained flat throughout the ’90s, premium sales have been growing at around 10% annually.

This spring several premium labels are looking to capitalize on this growth through new campaigns that shift focus away from their core constituents, 30-something consumers, and will begin targeting drinkers in their twenties.

‘There is really an opportunity with the growth of imports and of premium beers and their adoption by younger audiences,’ says Andy Macaulay, founding partner of Zig, which just launched its first round of ads as Sleeman’s AOR.

Sleeman’s new campaign, which launched April 2, is a departure for the brewery that for the past five years has targeted the 35-plus crowd using company president John Sleeman expounding on the virtues of its amber suds.

‘That’s been pretty successful for us,’ says Paul Brennan, director of marketing at Sleeman. ‘But what we’ve found in doing research this year was that it was about time for us to put more personality on the brand and try to create a more emotive connection with the consumer.’

The new campaign, which will be restricted to radio until the summer when the brewer plans to roll out a TV spot, takes a humorous tack to the notion of honesty. It’s targeted directly at 25 to 35-year-old beer drinkers, says Brennan.

Under the tagline, ‘Nothing to hide,’ the spots portray young people speaking honestly to each other to comic effect. In one, a young man on a blind date says to his companion over dinner, ‘After meeting you in person, I’m really not that glad Jerry set us up…in fact, I’m having a really boring, awkward time.’ The spots are running on stations with a listenership in the targeted range.

Heineken has also shifted its focus to a younger demographic through an ad campaign the brewer will import from the U.S. in May.

John Kennedy, director of marketing at Heineken Canada says the spots were produced to support the relaunch of Heineken’s popular 330-ml keg cans this spring.

Kennedy says Heineken hopes to leverage its phenomenal growth over the past five years in North America, which has seen the brand emerge as the second most popular import, after Corona.

‘We’ve taken off on a journey from being an exclusive brand, kind of stuffy and stodgy, to where we want to make Heineken more relevant to beer drinkers 21 to 35,’ he says.

Another premium brand that has enjoyed immense success is Steam Whistle. Having opened in March 2000, the Toronto-based brewery has exceeded all growth targets in its first year of operation, says company founder and president Cameron Heaps.

Steam Whistle, which brews its beer in the historic railroad roundhouse near the city’s colossal Skydome has shunned mass media advertising, Heaps says, preferring instead to allow beer drinkers to discover the beer on their own.

That said, the brewery is leveraging its historic locale through brewery tours and making space available to artists to hang work, and for charity and corporate functions. For the key spring and summer seasons, Steam Whistle also has a very aggressive sales force on the ground and is offering tastings in bars across Toronto.

The brewer is also playing off its retro appeal, packaging its brew in old-style green bottles (no twist off caps) and by deploying vintage delivery trucks that act as rolling billboards, in addition to delivering beer.

To attract the 20 to 35 demographic, the brewer is involving itself in the local pop music scene by sponsoring shows and hosting concerts at the brewery. Steam Whistle has also signed on with organizers of the Toronto U2 concert in May to host the official pre-party at the brewery.

‘The biggest challenge for a small brewer is awareness,’ Heaps says. ‘You’re going up against guys with millions and millions and millions of dollars in marketing budgets. Most little micros have next to nothing to spend on advertising, so that’s why they have to turn to more grass-roots-type approaches.’

Oland Specialty Beer, a division of Labatt that specializes in the national marketing and distribution of premium brands such as Stella Artois, Boddingtons and Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale, has also begun looking at a twentysomething market for its labels.

Like Steam Whistle, Oland takes an understated approach to its marketing, says director of marketing Doug Corbett.

‘Generally our strategy is to allow our brands to be, more than anything, discovered by the consumer rather than using any mass media vehicles to create awareness,’ he says.

That said, Oland initiated a successful campaign created by Ammirati Puris for Stella last year that included out of home, print and cinema spots. As a result, sales for Stella grew 400% — although from margins significantly smaller than its main competition. (For details, see the ‘Best Media Plan Competition,’ page BMP21.)

‘We have very significant, dedicated resources against that part of the business and they’re paying off big dividends for us,’ says Bob Chant, spokesman for Labatt, who points out that the brewer actually created Oland as its specialty beer arm in 1997 to capitalize on this growing segment.

‘The appeal is it’s a higher margin business and it helps to enhance the quality of the entire category. There are multiple wins to be realized by growing this part of the business…it makes all kinds of sense.’