Thursday 19 May 2011

Brand Building in the 21st Century

Marketing has a long and chequered history. From the 1950s heyday of the Madison Avenue whizzkids (as epitomised by 'Mad Men' - as essential as 'The Wire' in terms of TV crack), where advertising was unsophisticated lying, to the 1980s and sophisticated lying, to the 21st century, where advertising at its best means being sold something without realising you're being sold something. I'm not sure it's a question of style over substance any more, it's more a question of form over function. So powerful is the Kernel brewery's no-design aesthetic that even people who have never heard of them see the bottles, pick them up and say 'ohhh, yessss'. Plain brown paper with a minimalist design aesthetic (form) communicates a legal minimum of information (function) in a way that demonstrates brand values of self-assurance, integrity and modesty - in short, everything you would want from an artisan producer of anything. It helps that the beers are kick-ass too.
BrewDog's latest video, set up to plug the launch of the uncharacteristically dour website, is another example of marketing trying not to be marketing. Unusually for 21st century media communication, it very explicitly gives a message, rather than simply giving a few carefully researched cues from you draw a conclusion that appears to be your own. Whereas a meta-analysis of the Kernel's branding leads to believe in the brand via it's no-brand identity, BrewDog hit you in the face so hard that it almost backfires. Surely they can't think I need the message spelled out this obviously? While everyone currently puts the a peculiarly British boot into BrewDog for being a success story (sure, it's annoying that they can't make enough beer, but you didn't ever really believe that whole 'Beer For Punks' schtick, did you?), I'm saddened that they feel the need to big themselves up by doing others down. Their beers are great enough to speak for themselves, and to try and further their aims by picking on Fosters, Stella and Carlsberg seems a bit like the school brainiac trying to outwit the rugby team by calculating differential equations out loud. We get it, but it's just a bit annoying.
Which brings us to Wells and Youngs' campaign for Bombardier, which I will never forget hearing pronounced as 'Bombar-dee-yay' by a host at a drinks industry awards ceremony, no doubt to (as then was) Charles Wells' immense annoyance. While this may not be the most sophisticated bit of brand-building (indeed, it's only 21st century by virtue of it having been made in 2011), it pushes all the right buttons. Fading actor - check. Schoolboy innuendo - check. Common catchphrase appropriated for advertising purposes - bang on, err, I mean check. By an incredible coincidence, just as I'm writing this the ad has popped up on TV, and I have to say that it plays a lot better on telly than it does via the web. Sure, the tittersome reference to the 'Bush & Fiddle' is brain-numbingly tedious, evoking a genuine moment of 'no, did they really do that?' (and not in a good way) but the moment where the Bombardier heads the first cannonball is priceless. Sadly, they lose my attention again at the end where the Bombardier whips a bottle out of his trousers. That's (a) unappealing and (b) unlikely to be anything close to an appropriate serving temperature. .


  1. I've seen the effects of Kernel's 'no branding' approach in action.

    The bottles really stand out on the shelf amongst garishly-colourful labels that look like they've been designed on Powerpoint '97, and even those who know nothing about what wonders the bottles contain are drawn to them.

    I'd like to think that Kernel's appealing aesthetic came about more by accident than design and so the contrast with BrewDog's studied, calculated approach is amplified.

    Whatever you think about BrewDog's latest wheeze, everyone is talking about it, and while there's been a great deal of negativity, I'm not sure they'll be that concerned.

    The craft beer market, though growing, is probably not big enough to sustain their own rapid growth plans.

    They need to grow the market. I don't think many other brewers in this country have the means, or the will, to expand the category on the scale that BrewDog probably envisage.

    So what to they do? They participate in some fairly textbook PR exercises in order to garner some attention, get some press coverage and attract new drinkers to the world of craft beer.

    I don't think beer bloggers, brewing industry insiders and craft beer enthusiasts are who they're targeting with this sort of campaign. While it doesn't connect with me, I can kinda see why they are taking this approach, however cringe-worthy.

    The less said about the Bombardier ad the better...

  2. The three are aiming for different markets, and so adopt different approaches.

    The question with Kernel and BrewDog is exactly how far they want to grow their particular markets. But, given that BrewDog are unable to meet potential sales, they seem to be doing pretty well. How big do they really want to grow, though?

  3. The Kernel's labels are no "no-design" or "no-brand". They are very sophisticated, elegant design.

  4. Chris - nice analysis, but then the question is - who are BrewDog targetting with this latest campaign?

    Curmudgeon - I don't think there's any doubt that BrewDog genuinely see world domination as an end point, which why their beers are already available in 27 countries. It seems to me that they are just setting about it in a different way to the traditional model - it's a 20th century modernist way of doing things vs a 21st century post-modernist view. An analogy might be that 20 years ago, if you were in a band, you might seek to get a few gigs in your home town, then in neighbouring towns, then out of county, then a national tour, then who knows where. Today, the trick is build an internet following, get signed, and jump in as though you've got 10 years of experience under your belt. But returning to the point, one wonders if (a) there are enough hops in the world to brew Carling-like quantities of Punk IPA and (b) even if there are enough hops, are there enough drinkers?

    Anon - good design should always look effortless, which is why the Kernels labels are so great. If one takes as a basic premise the maxim that "form follows function", then it's easy to conclude that someone might have overworked their branding, while someone else has arrived at a more utilitarian conclusion. Of course, there is as much design that went into the Kernel's branding as there is in BrewDog's - as a homebrewer, I'm aware of how shoddy things look if you just slap a sticky label on a bottle and write on it with a Sharpie. But there's a definite 'no-design' ethic that drives the thinking behind The Kernel's look, and it's exactly the same process that gives us both a timeless classic like the Zippo lighter, and a hideous mistake like the Nissan Juke. It's all design (unless it's homebrew, then it really is just cheap via expediency).

  5. Beerleaks - can't say I'm blown away. I'd be more impressed with the 'skunking' post if I'd ever encountered this problem - and I drink quite a lot of beer from clear glass bottles (usually via a glass, but you know what I mean). Still, at least they're attacking the big brewers for a change - wonder how long that will last?

  6. Totally agree with your point about how unfortunate it is that BrewDog feel the need to do others down. By all means do what you like to boost your own sales - which they've certainly done really well - but don't go about slating everyone else.

    I'd say it's because they're insulting other people, rather than a British anti-success sentiment, that puts some people off them. Otherwise I'd say good luck to them, as they make some good beers, some really interesting ones, and some decent if overrated ones. (Interestingly, they've tried to cultivate a love-em-or-hate-em response, but I feel neither.)

    The stuff on the label already seems a bit stale though, a bit cringeworthy even ("we don't care if you like this beer... go away and drink some bland mass-produced lager instead" etc), like they're trying too hard. You show a good contrast with the minimalism of the Kernel, letting the product speak for itself.

    Perhaps BrewDog will need to embark on a new marketing phase now to evolve their image because, as you say, people will see through the punk thing. Selling your beer in Sainsburys isn't very punk.

  7. I also meant to say I think Chris hits the nail on the head in his earlier comment:
    "I don't think beer bloggers, brewing industry insiders and craft beer enthusiasts are who they're targeting with this sort of campaign. While it doesn't connect with me, I can kinda see why they are taking this approach, however cringe-worthy".

  8. well titter ye not about "Bombardeeyay", theres a Canadian train engineering company named Bombardier, who insist thats exactly how you pronounce their name and who get very upset if you try to call them "Bombadeer", which alot of Brits do, anyway I digress :) I do like the Kernel branding, it is effortless and looks vintage.

    which is very smart because it makes the brand look alot older than it is, and yep totally stands out against the multicoloured rainbow branding styles most go for.

    Brew dog, well their branding is all about being in your face all the time anyway, so whats new.

    as for Wells Bdr, well indeed, its interesting because lets face it, Rik Mayal, Lord Flashheart, er that was 25 years ago. no-one under the age of 30 (and its more like late 30s really) is going to get where alot of that ads creativeness (or lack of) is coming from.

    and ok we can sit here and say oh its ok these ads arent aimed at us weve already bought in, but ok then who are they aimed at. who is impresed by this stuff enough to make a concious snap decision in a pub to try something different.

    Marstons say their new EPA ads are aimed at attracting a younger drinking market, so making a beer look like a tattoo or an overgrown garden appeals does it, really ?

    and Adnams have just rebranded their Bitter, Southwold Bitter, and ok you look at the old branding, its not great, but does the new brand sell, do people really ultimately buy a beer from the average pub based on brand and a new name.

    bearing in mind the average pub has at most 3 cask ales on if your lucky and is surrounded by competing brands who have ten times the marketing budget and marketing brand pull.

  9. Best comment I ever read was that once a beer leaves the brewery its success is 90% down to its branding.

    I haven't yet been able to try Kernel's beers yet - every one of the bottles I bought down in that there London was over-conditioned when I opened it and disturbed all the yeast making it undrinkable.

    I can't help thinking that Wells could spend £4m promoting the brand in better ways. Marston's EPA is aimed at 'bars' rather than pubs - exclusively in FastCask and focusing more on the pumpclip than the contents.

  10. Phil, Simon - as I say, I think it's a shame that any sort of publicity should rest on telling people how everything else is crap - clearly BrewDog brew great beer, so why not play to your strengths rather than exploit others' weaknesses.

    Ed - I'm surprised to hear that - my experience is that they are very consistently well-made, and damn tasty to boot.

  11. I'll certainly try them again Zak, I've heard good things about them.

  12. Why does everything Brewdog do remind me of....

  13. I hate being seduced by advertising but I just can't say no to Rik Mayall :(

  14. Great Post ! I agree that Brand building is any activity which influences the customer of your product in a positive manner. . For more information about brand building and marketing services.


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