Big alcohol looks in the mirror and decides it’s time for a makeover. But is it merely a matter of appearances or a question of substance? In the same month that Carlsberg stunned the industry with the launch of its own, eponymous – beer based- series of beauty products, Diageo released a range of moustache waxes apparently designed to "complement the flavour of its Johnnie and Ginger" serve.
The launches themselves did not happen in a vacuum. The radical departure from beer’s historical focus on machismo references or Johnnie Walker’s belated embrace of the ultimate symbol of universal hipsterdom are a last ditch attempt to stem the tide of declines hitting mainstream brands across western markets. But will it be enough?
The short answer is no – even if such initiatives are indeed moving into the right direction, namely the implicit acknowledgement of the huge importance of the illusive Gen X and millennial demographics. But behind the excited headlines spawned across the mainstream and specialist press, the sense of trepidation is palpable.
According to Euromonitor International’s latest set of figures, the two iconic brands share something else beyond a sudden shift towards radical promotional techniques and guerrilla- light marketing campaigns. And that is stagnating or declining sales in their core western markets. Case in point; Carlsberg’s western European volumes slumped by 3% in 2013, remaining locked in negative territory for years. The brand’s performance in the UK was even more bleak with volumes collapsing by nearly 7% against the backdrop of a microbrewery revolution now in full swing.
Johnnie Walker does not fare much better either. Overoptimistically succumbing to the now defunct emerging market mantra, the brand was being quietly left behind its Irish and American siblings as well as the myriad micro offerings in its core western markets. Volumes in North America and Western Europe both slumped by 3% in 2014 and the latest push for mixology inspired servings highlights the urgent need for a fresh positioning.
And this is where the real opportunity for reversing the tide truly lies. Expanding occasions, flavour sophistication, mixology ideas and extended product lines will make or break key mainstream brands going forward. Attempting to re-establish relevance to alienated younger demographic is and will remain important but appearances can only go that far. Its time for radical changes in substance.
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