This month’s communal beer blog is about ‘Hype’ in beer. Well it got me thinking about one of my favourite texts on branding – a little, easy to read book by David Taylor entitled, ‘Where’s the Sausage?’ With a name like that, it would be easy to classify it along with classics like ‘Who Stole My Cheese?’, ‘Kiss That Frog’ and other such daftly named tomes with zero afterlife, but no. ‘Where’s the Sausage?’ has a serious, memorable and most of all common sense message: in all your marketing efforts, if you build your brand on dodgy claims and weasel words, if you believe the hype so to speak, then you are building your house on sand and at some point it will all come crashing down. Or, as a wise old sage of a boss once put it to me, ‘If you put red diesel in the tank son, don’t suck on the exhaust’. In the case of ‘Where’s the Sausage?’ the exhaust sucking is committed by a Marketing Director (ex advertising agency, as they always seem to be), who forgets the proud porky legacy of this particular butchery concern, and ambitiously moves them into sausage (read: “Meat Feast!”) pizzas. And Italian sausage at that. In so doing, the distinctiveness, the quality and most importantly, the truth is lost. Without spoiling this future Hollywood hit for you, the day is saved by a couple of old boys who snuffle in the truffles to find out what the company did best, and make it appropriate for the market today.
And sausage is an appropriate metaphor for beer on two counts. Firstly, some beers actually taste of sausage. No, really. Empirical evidence, of one, has demonstrated that Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier (a Bavarian smoked beer) does taste of spicy salami amongst other things (car tyres?)
Secondly, there’s the act of slicing the sausage. Classic brand building thinking has you hunting for unique selling propositions for your brand. For finding a new slice on the category. To demonstrate this, and in deference to my friend and ex colleague Chris, let us at this point refer to the case of the humble tomato. It was not that long back that you went to the supermarket and you bought a bag of tomatoes. Snooker ball size. Round. A shade of red, generally. Typically loose, but sometimes pre packed in 6’s in to a tray with plastic wrap round it. Then the hype begins: ‘Tomatoes sales are growing, how do we increase them further?’ A creative session is organised. Suppliers are invited in. Growers get together. Bigger multipacks. Smaller mulitpacks. Smaller tomatoes. Bigger tomatoes.
‘We need to make them more glamourous, give them more appeal!’ ‘Beef tomatoes’ ‘Cherry tomatoes’, ‘Plum Tomatoes’ (fresh not tinned), ‘Mini Plum Tomatoes’.
‘Sales are slowing, we have to make the tomato sexy.’ ‘Santos Plum Tomatoes’, ‘Sicilian Mini Plum Tomatoes’, ‘Vine ripened tomatoes’ ‘Green tomatoes’
And on, and on.
For a while sales increase. And like blood around a floating corpse, sharks begin to circle. More supermarkets get involved. Growers swap from unfashionable crops (like hops, or apple trees) and build greenhouses for their tomatoes. Yet at the same time, imports increase as the Dutch and the Spanish eye our supermarket aisles longingly. Then the Americans pitch in the off season, and before too long the Chinese too.
And the result?
Sales begin to flatten. Shoppers don’t know where the hell to find tomatoes. You know, the ones that are snooker ball size, round and red… lost in a sea of senseless packaging and niche offers that you only buy at Christmas. So competition increases, prices come down (‘Great news for the consumer’ chime in the Government, productively), growers lose their margin and ultimately sales drop away as interest in tomatoes falls away.
So be careful what you wish for beer world. Look at lager brands in the UK:
Sausage: you start with Skol and Long Life. Slice 1: sales begin to grow, incomes Carling Black Label , Carlsberg and Heineken. Slice 2: we need to add more appeal: Fosters, Holsten Pils, Becks. Slice 3: we need to sex it up: Grolsch swingtops, Stella Artois, Carlsberg Export. Slice 4: we need to get adults drinking on more occasions: stubbies, embossed long neck bottles, Slice 5: we need bigger packs for Christmas: 8s, 12s, 24s, 18s, 16s, Slice 6: what if people could give our brand as a present? glass packs, collector schemes. Slice 7: I don’t want sex, I want lust! Peroni, Peruvian beers, Thai beers. And the result? Death by 1000 cuts, or at best, one of those part segmented saveloys you buy at the chippy… a supermarket range you don’t know where to start with and boxes of beer priced cheaper than bottled water.
My advice: heed the warning of history. Cask, craft and bottled ale may be a reactionary response to the slicing of the sausage. We can enjoy it now, bathe in the revolution. But at what point does the magnetism of the knife begin to take hold? More slices? More claims? More weasel words? Less truth?
Triple Black Pacific IPA anyone?*
*Served in ‘une chalice’, of course
© David Preston, Beer Tinted Spectacles, December 2012