I was searching for beer related news this week when up popped the headline “Balanced San Miguel Beer opens with win over Rain or Shine”, a slightly surreal combination of words. On further investigation it appears in the Phillipine Basketball League there are two teams, one called “San Miguel Beermen”, the other “Rain or Shine Elasto Painters”. It shows that outside of countries and sports where there is a healthy flow of TV rights money, that you can pretty much name the team if you give them enough money, to the point that in the same league there is also a team just called “Kia Sorrento”, with every team having a company name in their title at some point.
Here in the UK, there have only been a couple of cases of sports clubs being named after the sponsor, eg : Total Network Solutions in the Welsh League. The sponsorship of our big sports teams used to have some of the biggest beer brands in the UK on show, Liverpool had Carlsberg for many many years, Carling and Tennants did their stint on the Rangers and Celtic shirts. Now only one team in the Premier League is sponsored by a beer brand, Everton with Chang. Most of the money from beer companies which goes into football is done by being the “official beer supplier of” or “in association with” a team or competition.
For major international competitions it is the way to become the exclusive supplier of alcoholic beverages to event venues, look at Budweiser for the World Cup. The beer world has changed over the last 50 years and you can see that in the advertising. So many brands are owned by the international brewers such as AB-InBev, MillerCoors and Heineken that when they spend money trying to get your attention they want to make the advert usable in as many countries (with titles translated and voice overs re-recorded) as possible.
If you go into places like the Sportsman in Huddersfield you can see the old 1960’s and 1970’s Bass promotional artist drawn posters in the back room, still showing the “traditional side” of English life hooked into a pun or tagline promoting the beer. Take a visit to the Cross Keys in Siddal and you can see a collection of beer mats on the back wall with some dating back to the same period. Half of those would not be allowed now, examples being ones extolling you to smoke an Embassy Filter with your pint of Double Diamond, Hobsons Black Beer “Nutritious and Refreshing” and Ansells Mild and Bitter “Stronger, more satisfaction”.
Back in that era there were still many local breweries serving the immediate town or county, some of these growing to be regional brands. They didn’t need big campaigns to get peoples attention, the local pub was a “Websters” pub, a “Tetleys” pub, a “Boddingtons” pub. When I lived in Leicester, you had 2 choices in that era, you typically either drank in an “Everards” pub or a “Banks’s” pub, your ale came from one brewery with lagers and ciders brought in from a number of the big brand names, with the ubiquitous Guinness and national offerings such as Carling, Skol and Harp all being typical lager choices.
As the 1970’s progressed into the 1980s brands and breweries were brought up and amalgamated into the “Big Six”, these were Whitbread, Scottish and Newcastle, Bass Charrington, Allied Breweries, Courage Imperial and Watneys, the last being particularly reviled by beer drinkers for the famously awful “Red Barrel”. These big six companies also controlled the pubs and therefore choice of supply, this monopoly eventually leading to the 1989 Beer Orders separating estate and brewing operations, which was then circumnavigated by clever company restructures to ensure that the supply between brewery and pubs continued as per the status quo.
This investment meant that the chosen brands out of the amalgamated companies had to compete on a national level (as well as closing down the local breweries and merging the brewing operations to regional hubs, essentially replacing the local brand with the chosen ones after a few years when the local brand was shelved). In the 1980’s, setting the pattern you would see going into the 1990’s, national brands were advertised heavily in press and on TV whilst local brands were left to slowly disappear off the radar excepting Point of Sales and Signage advertising.
Brands developed their own distinctive long running campaigns, Boddingtons “Mancunian” Campaign, Hofmeisters “Follow the Bear”, Carlsberg “If Carlsberg made…best in the world”, the Skol “Viking” campaign and Carling “British v Germans” all caught the publics imagination. This continues until this day with almost every big beer subject to ongoing multi year campaigns.
Even now small to medium breweries don’t advertise on print or visual media on any scale any more, but with the internet, word of mouth does as good a job.