Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A-B Fighting an Uphill Import Battle

I ran across an interesting (mildly) piece in BrandWeek about A-B plans to tout their import brands in the near future. While it focused a bit on their ad campaigns, I found it interesting that the import market had such a seemingly big lag in late 2007 - growing only 1.8% versus the 2.4% growth of 2006. The article never factors craft beer's success in the slowed growth for this segment, and perhaps there's really more to the story (when you start talking in those volumes I feel less confident I have any idea which way is up). Personally, I can't help but think that there are so many craft pilsners, hefeweizens and tradition styles on the market now that is has to cut in a bit on the import market selling beers with the same words on the labels.

Perhaps this is why it seems A-B will market "authenticity" this year with it's import brands. It seems at least two brands will tug the beer heart strings a bit, Bass Ale and Amstel Light. According to BrandWeek Bass will tout themselves as the necessary ingredient for an "authentic Black and Tan". I suppose this will be a campaign designed to pressure bar-owners to keep Bass on in fear they'll be blacklisted for serving the fake black and tan made with a fake pale ale. Additionally, you wouldn't want to be the douche that throws a party and makes a fake B&T now, would you? Yeah, didn't think so.

On the other hand, Amstel seems to be playing off a different theme: "Spirit of Amsterdam". I don't quite have a handle on this one, the only connotations I think of have little to do with beer. Perhaps that's what they're hoping for? I mean, it is served in a green bottle. The "Spirit of Amsterdam" slogan sounds a bit like "The Great American Lager", in which case I'd assume some think-tank/study group identified authenticity as a key selling point for products.

In any case, it seems the big big guys (A-B, InBev, SABMiller, etc.) will be ramping up their ads this year, perhaps making more direct affronts to beer enthusiasts who long to 'keep it real'. I wonder now, actually, if the whole HofbrÀuhaus story Stan had the other day is in line with this, as they claimed to be the only real "double bock" on the market today.

I suspect if the slowed growth really is linked the white-hot success of the craft beer industry all the ads these guys put out won't do much to address their concerns. Of course, if they start making consumers feel like they've sold out by enjoying a fake representation of an old-world style who knows that that'd do. I did read recently that A-B would start playing nice with the craft brewers in their advertising, but we'll see how long that lasts.