‘Probably not the best beer in the world - so we've changed it’: Carlsberg challenges drinkers to reappraise its beer

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

‘Probably not the best beer in the world’: Carlsberg challenges drinkers to reappraise its beer

Related tags Beer Marketing

Carlsberg is relaunching in the UK with a rebrewed lager, accompanied by ‘its most honest consumer campaign ever’. Will its relaunch be able to shake up the mainstream – and can it encourage a new generation of drinkers to re-appraise its beer?

In its new marketing campaign, Carlsberg says it had fallen into the trap of being one of the biggest but not the best – and as a result has ‘rebrewed from head to hop’ to create a new, better, Carlsberg Danish Pilsner.

Carlsberg's campaign has been built on ‘getting honest about its beer’, seeking to increase buzz around its relaunch and focus on the quality of its revamped flagship beer brand.

The Danish brewing giant hopes the relaunch will tackle a loss of market share for brand Carlsberg in the UK: a difficult beer market where consumption is declining.

"The beer world has moved on – but the mainstream category hasn’t"

In a mature beer market now characterised by craft and premium, Carlsberg is well aware that its flagship brand is considered a ‘mainstream’ choice.

Meanwhile, interest in standard lager is at an all-time low: ‘the beer market has been forced to accept the prevailing winds of decreased consumption, with 1.6m fewer drinkers than five years ago, alongside the emergence of craft beer – with its new flavours and brand tribalism grabbing drinkers’ attention’,​ notes Carlsberg.

Essentially, as Carlsberg UK’s VP marketing Liam Newton says: “Drinkers' interest in mainstream lager has waned because, though the world has moved on, the mainstream category hasn’t.”

So it’s tackling this problem head-on as it relaunches in the UK: a project it has been working on for 14 months. It cites research that says 81% of consumers believe that a 'great tasting lager' is worth paying more for. 

carlsberg relaunch not the best beer in the world ad

“At Carlsberg UK, we lost our way. We focused on brewing quantity, not quality; we become one of the cheapest, not the best,”​ says Newton in the brand’s publicity materials for the relaunch.  

In order to live up to our promise of being ‘probably the best beer in the world’, we had to start again. We’ve completely rebrewed Carlsberg from head to hop."

Carlsberg has revamped its lager with different hops and barley; changed the recipe; and created a new label design. 

The new launch will also use Carlsberg’s ‘snap pack’ technology on multipacks, resulting in a 50% reduction in plastic from brewery to store.

Revitalising the UK market

Earlier this year, Carlsberg CEO Cees ‘t Hart identified the UK business as “probably where we are most disappointed [in our] performance”.​ Volumes across the business in the country declined 3% over the last year, attributed to a decline in the mainstream segment as consumers trade up (premium category volumes with brands such as Poretti continued to perform well, while mainstream brand Carlsberg lost market share).

"For us, it’s very important that the relaunch of Carlsberg is successful," ​said Cees 't Hart. 

Honesty is the best brand policy?

The £20m ($26m) campaign was conceived in collaboration with agency partners Fold7, Clifford French and Initiative: and Carlsberg says it will reach 97% of the UK. ‘By acknowledging the ‘truth’ about the quality of Carlsberg in the UK to date, the brewer hopes to challenge a new generation of drinkers to re-appraise and re-trial Carlsberg’,​ says the company.

"By inverting the brand’s “probably” slogan and getting straight to the truth as consumers see it, Carlsberg UK hopes to instigate conversation and ensure drinkers are left in no doubt that there has been a change for the better."

Analysts' verdict

'Consumers respond well to honesty. There's potential for a lot of engagement - as long as quality stands up to what is promised'​ - Simon Moriarty, Mintel

'What is the best way to put a corporate proposition to the younger demographic? Something tongue-in-cheek, semi-controversial. Is it convincing? That’s an entirely different question.'​ - Spiros Malandrakis, Euromonitor. 

According to Fold7, ‘today, the value of brand honesty to consumers is more powerful than ever’.

Mintel analyst Simon Moriarty, director of trends EMEA, says that 'honesty' is something that appeals to today's consumers, particularly in the UK marketplace. 

"Consumers respond well to honesty and integrity, which ties in with a sense of what it means to be British. 

"This refresh of the whole brand and drinking experience is a necessary one, as Carlsberg has seen declining volume and value sales in retail as it fails to differentiate within the lager segment.

"Focusing on heritage and reframing as a Danish Pilsner Beer will help, and also taps into consumer demands for something different without excessive spending."

Moriarty adds, however, that the ultimate test of honesty will be if the new launch meets consumers' expectations. 

"There is potential for a lot of engagement - as long as quality stands up to what is promised. People are drawn to new types of packaging, and as long as Carlsberg can maintain any plastic reduction promises, and is transparent about its environmental-friendliness, that will resonate.

"It is likely that consumers will be drawn to the rebrand out of curiosity, and will stay loyal if the key elements of cost and taste meet their expectations."

carlsberg relaunch ingredients ad

Corporate vs craft in marketing creations

Brands are increasingly turning to bolder and sometimes riskier campaigns as they clamour for consumers’ attention.

Carlsberg has been known for its  ‘probably the best’ adverts for decades – while it was highly lauded in 2015 for its timely tongue-in-cheek ‘are you beer body ready’​ response to Protein World’s controversial ‘are you beach body’ ready ad.

Euromonitor analyst Spiros Malandrakis notes more edgy campaigns have been finding success in the craft world with younger consumers – take for example ‘punk’ craft brewer BrewDog which has made waves with its sometimes irreverent and controversial marketing.

“I think Carlsberg is repositioning towards a younger demographic: a demographic that does not necessarily have any brand loyalty and whose premiumisation mantra is more skewed towards small scale micro-breweries than corporation propositions,” ​he said. “What is the best way to put that corporate proposition to the younger demographic? Something tongue-in-cheek, semi-controversial.

“Is it convincing? That’s an entirely different question. And will it last? Another interesting question – we don’t have a clear answer.

“For me, with a focus on alcoholic drinks, I think it’s part of a wider issue – how do you communicate big beer offerings and find emotional connections that have atrophied over the years?”

The Twitter jury...

Carlsberg relaunched in the UK yesterday (Monday 15 April). Here's some of the reaction on Twitter so far. 

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