Last month I had the pleasure of chairing and presenting the third Beer and Cider Marketing Awards. You may think this is an industry over-endowed with awards, but this is the only scheme that focuses specifically on marketing of beers and ciders from producers of any size or scale.
A few people in the industry would argue that marketing is itself not worth celebrating – a point I’ll come back to. But beyond mere backslapping, the awards have an educational aspect to them. And no one is learning more than the organisers and judges.
What surprises me every year is the extent to which marketing practice is changing. Back in the olden days (the 20th century) beer marketing was defined by big budget TV ads, supported by a liberal spray of posters and print. But over the three years of the awards, we’ve had trouble getting more than a handful of entries to our Best Broadcast Ad and Best Print Ad categories. Old media are increasingly falling out of fashion.
Instead, the Best Packaging and Design category is so popular it accounts for a significant percentage of all the entries across the entire awards. This category is relevant to any brewer or cider maker, and everyone competes on the same terms. Everyone has to have a bottle label or can design, font or pump clip. Stella Artois has the same space to play with as, say, Sheppy’s Cider.
This spread reveals some insight into current trends in the market. We don’t often see designs from the big mainstream brands, unless they’ve gone in for a major redesign. These brands are icons, instantly recognisable, built up over years, and so are very risk averse.
Newer, smaller brands position themselves against the big boys by tearing up the rulebook and blowing up the design conventions of the category. It doesn’t always work (some things are in the rulebook for good reason) but when it does, it revolutionises the presentation of beer and cider as a whole, making them feel modern, fresh and relevant. Craft brewers and drinkers may insist it’s all about what’s in the glass, but design is clearly a huge part of craft’s success.
Impressive B2B marketing
More surprising to the judges has been the continuing impressiveness of entries in Best Business to Business Marketing. Back in my advertising days, trade advertising was always the last priority, given to the least experienced creatives. But we’re consistently seeing impressive and thoughtful ideas as brands realise they have to talk to publicans in a meaningful and genuinely helpful way if they want to stand out from the pack.
It’s telling then that our overall Grand Prix winner this year won the design category and did very well in trade-focused marketing. Camden Town was highly commended in Best Merchandise/Point of Sale, and won Best Event with a campaign they initially entered in Best Business to Business, but was felt by the judges to be more far-reaching than that.
After being acquired by AB InBev last year, Camden is successfully combining the vibrancy and creativity of the very best craft brewers with the rigour and effectiveness you’d expect from the big corporates.
So the best of marketing in beer and cider is in rude health, improving the image of the industry as a whole as well as brands within it. But when you look at how well the best are doing, where does this leave the rest? The most concerning aspect of running these awards is the feedback from brands who say they don’t have anything worth entering this year. Now if this is just people being polite when what they really think is, “We don’t have time” or “We don’t do awards” or even, “We do do awards, we just don’t like yours”, then fair enough. Thanks for being polite.
But if any marketer is looking at their work over a year and genuinely thinks they haven’t done any work worth celebrating, they surely need to consider their position. Last year 520 new breweries opened. Both beer and cider volumes are in long-term decline, with more and more producers chasing shrinking volume through a shrinking number of pubs.
If the marketing is no good, how do you expect to gain people’s attention amid an unprecedented choice of products? Whether you choose to enter these awards or not, great beer and cider marketing has never been more important.