John McGee: 'Carlsberg doesn't do marketing drama, but if it did...'
Three guys walk into a bar. The first happens to be the CEO of Budweiser (well, it's a classy joint) and he calls for a pint of Budweiser. The second guy, the CEO of Carlsberg, orders a pint of Carlsberg. The third guy, the CEO of Heineken, pauses for a second and then orders a Diet Coke much to the bewilderment of his colleagues. "Well if you guys aren't having a beer, then neither am I," he says with a big grin on his face.
It may be an old bar-stool joke, but it acquired new significance last week when Danish brewing giant Carlsberg fessed up by admitting that its iconic brand was probably not the best beer in the world - as it had claimed for nearly 40 years.
"Probably the best beer in the world. Once true, but today? Probably not. Somewhere along the line, we lost our way. We focused on brewing quantity and quality. We became one of the cheapest, not the best," Carlsberg admitted in one of several pieces of marketing communications issued over the past week that raised more than a few eyebrows in marketing circles.
To add fuel to the fire that it had already lit under the brand, Carlsberg's official social media team took the unusual step of retweeting several not-so-favourable comments that had been made about the brand on platforms in recent times.
One Tweeter said it tasted like 'naan bread'.
Another said it tasted like the 'rancid p*** of Satan' while another - who clearly needs the help of social services - likened it to 'drinking the bath water that your Nan died in.'
Somewhere around the world, there may be a guy sitting on barstool crying into his pint of Carlsberg and feeling horrendously duped by all this marketing palaver.
"What do you mean it's probably not the best beer in the world?" he asks the in-the-know barman who is trying to keep a straight face. Others may well be sipping on their Wicklow Wolf IPA as they smugly pat themselves on the back and say, "I told you so."
But fear not, Carlsberg hasn't gone away you know. In fact, all of this hand-wringing and carefully-crafted contrition is part of a valiant attempt to resuscitate the brand by highlighting the fact that it has relaunched itself as a new premium unfiltered lager which it is now going under the guise of an uber-trendy pilsner. In doing so, it is also hoping to segue the brand back into pub conversations amongst beer-drinkers. And let's face it, there's legions of pub bores out there who love nothing better than to talk about the provenance of their tipple of choice or why companies like BrewDog are the future of Big Brewing.
Back in Carlsberg's marketing department, meanwhile, there will be quite a few people crossing their fingers in the hope that they have not voluntarily committed the marketing equivalent of hara-kiri.
After all, how many brands have dissed their own advertising and marketing campaigns, never mind their once proud core product offering?
So, not only is the campaign to promote its new brew a very brave - and possibly dangerous - one, but it may well be the last throw of the dice for a brand that has become jaded in a marketplace chock-a-block with newer, more exciting and palatable premium alternatives.
Even Carlsberg's own marketing team has agreed that it needs to shake off the perception that it's largely associated with 'old men's pubs'.
Back when I was pulling pints in bars around Dublin as a student, Carlsberg and Harp were the top lager brands on draught.
Because they were all distributed by Guinness at the time, they were in practically every pub in the country. Then Heineken and Budweiser entered the fray and swept all before them.
While Carlsberg has since been relegated to third place in terms of market share - behind Heineken and Budweiser - numerous attempts to breathe life into Harp through the years have largely failed and its brand presence has since shrivelled to pockets within Northern Ireland.
Undeterred by the challenging marketplace, Diageo, meanwhile, continues to fight for market share with its own Rockshore and Hophouse 13 brands.
In the meantime, consumer behaviour and tastes have also moved on.
With more people drinking at home, monthly pub closures an ongoing feature of the drinks industry, traditional brand loyalty on the wane and sales of craft beers slowly chipping away at the old brand hegemony, it's a challenging battleground for the traditional big brewers.
Add in the growing trends towards the consumption of low or zero alcohol beers and it's clear that scene is set for some interesting times.
While it's way too early to say whether or not Carlsberg's brand fight-back will be successful by winning over new and younger drinkers, it's fair to say that its latest self-deprecating marketing campaign is, probably, its riskiest to date.
Core Nabs Mike Garner
As Core, Ireland's largest marketing communications group, continues to roll out its creative offering to clients, it has retained the services of Mike Garner as a creative consultant.
Together with Ray Sheerin, he founded the creative agency Chemistry and more recently he was executive creative director with Ogilvy & Mather in Dublin. For its part, Core has been gradually offering creative services to its clients and is the agency is behind the latest recruitment campaign for An Garda Síochána.
With the National Broadband Plan experiencing further lengthy delays, the mobile phone operator Three has launched a new cross-platform advertising campaign highlighting how it has worked with the community of Arranmore to roll out super-fast connectivity and technology solutions to the island, which is located 5km off the coast of Donegal. The campaign was created by the Dublin-agency Boys and Girls.
Sunday Indo Business