Carlsberg … ‘probably’ a brand in trouble?

Carlsberg and Carlsberg Export were the worst performing of the top ten lager brands in 2014. Sales of Carlsberg fell 8.8% to £223.8m, while Export was down 10.9% to £87.5m. Carlsberg has a problem. Recent advertising has returned to the iconic and recognisable ‘If Carlsberg did’ theme which plays on the brand’s strengths of authenticity and heritage – but the brand must find a way to make this relevant to today’s mainstream lager drinker – especially when ‘heritage’ and ‘authenticity’ are now offered by a whole range of beers and lagers that have an equal claim on these attributes.

Back in 2012 when Carlsberg decided to drop its famous tagline ‘Probably the best lager in the world’ in favour of the slogan … ‘that calls for a Carlsberg’, the objective was for the Carlsberg brand to double profits by 2015. Profits have actually declined – partly as a result of some external factors out of their control BUT in the battle for shrinking mainstream lager volume – the Carlsberg brand is looking more vulnerable than the competition.

calsbergSo what does the launch of a Carlsberg personal care range say about the brand? Is it a symptom of a beer brand that has lost its way, a good PR wheeze or a brand extension with real potential?

Apparently in response to consumer research they identified a “gap in the men’s beauty market” … 67% of Carlsberg drinkers in the UK said they were prepared to buy grooming products containing beer. Described as “probably the best men’s grooming in the world” … Carlsberg’s response has been the launch of a bath time range – including shampoo, conditioner and body lotion – that actually contains its beer.
Carlsberg said that the new beauty line “gives us a chance to talk about the health benefits of beer in terms of it being a drink that’s good for the body, when consumed in moderation”. This is somewhat reminiscent of the popular myth that Guinness was a “meal in a glass” – a claim that didn’t stand up to much scrutiny. While it contained most of the vital vitamins and minerals a body needed to survive – you had to drink 50 pints a day to reach the recommended daily allowance which clearly isn’t consistent with a healthbeer body lifestyle
Other research we have conducted suggests that people don’t necessarily want to be told that ‘beer is good for them’ or would believe it if they were. Beer (particularly mainstream lager) is not consumed for its health benefits and turning it into a healthy product rather defeats the point for many people. And as for washing your hair with it … Carlsberg shampoo feels like a comedy Christmas present that hangs around the bathroom cabinet untried!

So that leaves us with interesting PR initiative. It does tick a number of boxes – it is humorous … assuming Carlsberg aren’t taking it too seriously, and consistent with the brand personality of a few years ago. It has achieved plenty of column inches and comment in serious and not so serious media. And Carlsberg have form when it comes to these kind of PR events. It is a brand with a sense of humour. Its recent ‘are you beer body ready?’ poster campaign poked fun at the much reviled “are you beach body ready” ads. But the ‘Big But’ is … is this really enough to secure the long term position of the brand? How does it better position itself against mainstream competition like Fosters but also against the diversity of international beers and lagers that are increasingly available in pubs and bars – that also have a credible call on ‘heritage’ and ‘authenticity’ – what else can Carlsberg offer?