Last week I attended a roundtable discussion on the second phase of the beer industry’s ‘Let there be beer’ campaign, hosted and sponsored by The Publican Morning Advertiser. It is an industry initiative to join forces and invest in a marketing campaign for the overall category, as brewers seek to arrest years of UK decline.

This is a noble collaboration and has a successful precedent in the Spanish market. However, the first act of this campaign (in June 2013) was widely derided as favouring the big brewers over the smaller brands. But more than that, it was hard to see how a Carling-like, clichéd celebration of male stereotypes would really move the beer category forward.

Thankfully there has been a rethink and the recruitment of the savvy and diplomatic ex-Guinness marketer David Cunningham as leader. This has led to phase two of the campaign, which saw a new advert launched this October.

The new TV advert tweaks the original campaign tagline to ‘There’s is a beer for that’ and while I am not 100% convinced about the execution (too many cooks will always spoil the broth, or the beer), the message underpinning it is spot on: beer has the diversity and quality to be an excellent food matching beverage.

Not only does this make sales sense (i.e. capitalising on a high frequency occasion) but it seeks to give beer the more premium image it now deserves, something which craft beer is already encouraging from the ‘ground up’. Consumers are interested too. Mintel data from the upcoming Beer – UK, 2014 report shows that 54% of 18+ UK beer drinkers think that “Beer is just as good as wine to accompany food”, and only 18% disagree.

The roundtable discussion included many disparate members of the beer industry, and was never less than lively. It is clear that smaller producers really like the new campaign direction – and they certainly should be with its celebration of beer’s diversity (see if you can spot how many different coloured beers appear in the latest 30 sec ad) – but are still suspicious of the big brewers’ motives. Considering that the 5 major global brewers are funding the initiative, that is no surprise but likewise there is now clear recognition that the initiative will not work without the support of the entire industry.

Another theme of the discussion was how to spend the remaining £10 million marketing budget – of which there is still plenty remaining in the pot. Investing in bar staff was for many the answer – including me. With the explosion of micro-brewed beers of numerous styles, the category needs well-connected advocates to push the message that there is a beer for everyone, whether it be the foodie, the hipster or the young woman currently more drawn to cider or wine. And who better to push it than an ‘expert’ at point of sale?

The highlight for me was the beer tasting at the end, from trained sommelier Richard Yarnell (and Category Manager – Beer & Cider at Mitchells & Butlers). I’ve become a big craft beer advocate in recent years and it was amazing to taste the incredible differences between wheat beers, amber ales, lagers and IPAs – and the type of food tastes they would augment.

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