The perfect pour

Related tags Marketing Brewers

The traditional branded beer tap, a vital marketing tool for brewers, is under threat from a shift in pub design. Ben McFarland investigatesA...

The traditional branded beer tap, a vital marketing tool for brewers, is under threat from a shift in pub design. Ben McFarland investigates

A simplistic view of beer taps and fonts is that they are merely functional items that serve only one purpose - getting the liquid from the barrel to the glass.

However, by delving deeper into the murky world of marketing and branding, it becomes apparent that the beer tap does more than just pour.

Lest we forget, and those pesky marketing folk banging on about it all the time ensures we won't, a staggering 70 per cent of customers don't know what they are going to order until they get to the bar.

So, if a brand fails to stand out on the counter then there's a good chance that it's going to struggle.

Consequently, brewers are going to unprecedented lengths to steal the limelight, and, in recent years, all sorts of snazzy beer taps endorsed by claims that they mesmerise consumers with state-of-the art design, space-age technology and funky lights have emerged.

When Interbrew launched GB, the Lord Lucan of the lager market, its unique bath-tap shaped beer font won many plaudits.

While last year, Bass Brewers' New Product Development team, raised the eyebrows of bar-font aficionados everywhere when it unveiled a revolutionary Arc font which sprays cold water onto a rotating glass prior to pouring and involves an ultrasonic trigger to create frozen lager crystals.

Rival brewer Scottish Courage introduced what it claimed to be a "world first" as part of the relaunch programme for Miller, its American draught lager brand. As well as a chilling system, that keeps the beer at the correct temperature while in the tap, and an ostentatious chrome Yankee-doodle dandy design, Scottish Courage unveiled a patented head injection tap (HIT) system that adds a "perfect" head at the touch of a button.

Kerr Arthur, marketing manager for Miller brands, said: "The font is instrumental in communicating the brand's values to the consumer - it's the physical presence of your brand."

Michael Hickman, director of Universal Dispense Systems, purveyors and designers of a wide range of beer taps and fonts, adopted a more sceptical view. "In five year's time we could see the end of the branded beer font as supplied by the brewer, only in the UK is this the custom.

"The publican who has invested large sums of money in his own bar may not want the clash of nine or 10 brewery branded fonts of different sizes, shapes, height and styles that are not pleasing to the eye.

"Fonts that have glasses spinning around and heavily illuminated, with the brand name flashing on and off, only have a short life before people tire of them and detract from the dignity of the brand."

In the past, the "bigger the better" approach has been favoured by brewers. The theory being that the more space they take up on the bar, the less chance rivals have of getting a slice of the action, or as those marketers like to call it "share of the throat".

However, what might have been a benefit for the brewer in some cases wasn't necessarily a benefit for the licensee and with bar space at a premium, publicans are increasingly turning to a more subtle approach.

All the rage, currently, is the trend for continental fonts with chrome and brass fittings and raising the taps from below the counter, where the customer can't see what's going on, to eye level. This helps the brands by allowing the customer to see the beer being poured which, according to the marketers, also adds to the "theatre of dispense."

Although this may disrupt that all-important eye-contact between barstaff and the consumer and prove a hindrance for those intent on working their charms with all but the smallest or tallest barstaff, for Simon Miller, managing director of Metallocraft - suppliers of top of the range bar fonts to Europe - it's the way forward.

"The Brits have a very peculiar approach to bar fonts and still regard it as an area where they can cut corners and go for the cheap option," he said. "And then people wonder why bottled lager is doing so well - it's because we don't do nearly enough to promote the perception of beer as a high quality product."

With branded bars swiftly moving out of vogue, outlets are eager to appear more individualistic and at the premium end of the market, operators are turning away from the omnipresent heavily branded fonts towards more unique designs. Understandably, this is not a trend welcomed by those brewers hell bent on developing global brands and the conflict between font design and bar design is becoming increasingly widespread.

However, concerned marketing managers need not lose sleep as in the long-run the beer market as a whole will benefit, says Simon.

"The battle is not at the bar and I don't think brand for brand it makes a great deal of difference" he claimed.

"Consumers are far more sophisticated than the marketing people give them credit for. Regular draught beer drinkers know what they like and exterior marketing and advertising, not fonts or beer taps with flashy lights, influence their choice.

"Differentiation is where the margin is and if a lapsed beer drinker walks into a pub and sees sleek fonts and high quality dispense equipment then they are far more likely to return to draught and buy into it as a high quality product."

However, with UK brewers so inextricably linked with the British retail sector, any move to sacrifice heavy branding in the name of design is unlikely to happen in the near future.

TV or not TV?

Lucky Jims in Hampshire, part of the Greene King Pub Company, now has four mini TVs on the beer fonts - so customers don't have to miss any TV when they go to the bar to order a round of drinks. The screens will be used to show sport and music videos as well as to highlight special offers on food and drink.

Licensee John-Paul Mealing said that the new TVs were "fantastic" and had gone down extremely well with his customers. "People have said how great they are and have been asking me where they can buy them," he said. "Soon we will be able to flag up any special offers that we are running."

Greene King is thinking about installing the TVs in more of its bars. However, Michael Hickman from Universal Dispense Systems dismissed the idea as a gimmick. "They are impractical as they will clutter up the bar area, lead to vandalism from disgruntled punters, say, when Germany score the winner in extra time, and they can only be visual as it is difficult to hear in a crowded environment."

Related topics Spirits & Cocktails

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