• Transform magazine
  • November 19, 2017

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Opinion: How to relaunch an icon

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In a tougher beer market, how can one global, heritage brand fight the trend against all that is new and local? By repositioning itself to emphasise its freshness, originality and character. Martin Flavin discusses the Carlsberg brand relaunch

Carlsberg is an iconic global green giant of a beer brand, we’ve grown up on its ‘Probably’ advertising campaigns and I personally grew up on its beer. Coming from Ireland, it was either Guinness or Carlsberg or Guinness and blackcurrant.

But times, and those cheeky little consumers, have changed. Carlsberg’s own research found that 1.1m consumers stopped drinking lager while Mintel shows that overall beer sales are flat, with lager falling from 3.18bn litres in 2014 to 3.15bn litres in 2015. All of this contrasts with the rise of craft beers. What is a global brand to do? Any big move is risky and yet it’s obvious that another ‘Probably’ campaign isn’t going to change the game.

The answer is to relaunch as a craft beer. Actually, more specifically, as the original craft beer.

It’s a big ask. Craft beers tend to be stronger with bigger flavours and Carlsberg isn’t going to significantly change its recipe, it has a lot of fans. But this is about more than marketing.

One of the most satisfying things you can do in this game is to help a brand rediscover itself. Help it find its roots and realise that its strength lies within. We did it with Roberts Radio and its R-Line range. It stops feeling like a promotional campaign and becomes more of an affirmation of your identity.

And that’s what I think Carlsberg has achieved here.

The basic premise of Carlsberg’s repositioning is that it was a craft beer before Goose Island was a glimmer in a hipster’s eye. And it stacks up, within reason. Carlsberg has been going since 1847, so it has heritage. Its history page is scattered with weirdly contemporary language about hipsters and brainstorming.

This rediscovery of heritage has led to a whole philosophy on life called ‘The Danish Way.’ It helps that the world is currently having a full-on love affair with Scandinavia and Carlsberg is milking this for all it’s worth. The recent big budget advertising campaign with Mads Mikkelsen went all in on Scandi charm; it’s like an Ikea beer advert. Plus, Carlsberg pulled a neat Ted Talk stunt with its founder. It’s not even about beer, it’s a philosophical lecture on the dangers of excessive optimism and pessimism. And to top it all off, Carlsberg has included some of the brand greatest hits, keeping ‘Probably the best beer in the world’ as a cornerstone; it’s not brand new, there is some consistency there.

Carlsberg has also been pretty crafty in how it has executed this relaunch. This isn’t a big shock and awe campaign. The brand dipped its toes towards the end of 2016 with some low key repackaging for Carlsberg Export, making it a bit more premium and contemporary. Then the Mads Mikkelsen campaign hit in April 2017 and the Ted Talk only came this month. Plus the brewery’s re-brew project is working on reproducing its original 1847 recipe.

To me, this is a masterclass in how to relaunch a well known brand.

First, and most importantly, it’s true. Owning the original craft beer mantle is something Carlsberg can legitimately go after. It has a compelling story that hasn’t been pulled out of thin air. The balancing act between this new focus on provenance and keeping its ‘Probably’ branding is reassuring, yet also new. Finally, the nature of the relaunch, drip-feeding it out over the course of a year and the way Carlsberg has used different channels to tell different parts of the story has been masterful.

Overall, I think Carlsberg has conceived and executed this brilliantly. Whether it’ll actually deliver results in the long term remains to be seen. If the trend continues to moves toward stronger tasting beers, the brand may have to look at its product. Plus, it’s not like other global beer brands are sitting on their laurels. Guinness has been about heritage for as long as I can remember and its Hop House line is a response to craft beer, while Budweiser’s Super Bowl advert this year was all about heritage. Plus, all the big beer brands are snapping up craft breweries like they’re going out of fashion, meaning Carlsberg doesn’t get to own that territory without a hell of a fight. But its response to a changing market is bold, inspired and, in my opinion, brilliantly executed.

Martin Flavin is the creative director at Five by Five