Strategy Myth 14On TV, drip-drip works better than wham-bam

Scottish & Newcastle Breweries were annoyed. Their number one lager (McEwan’s) wasn’t Scotland’s number one lager. In fact it struggled to make much of a dent in Tennents, the brand that most young Scottish drinkers seemed to prefer.

Despite excellent penetration through a big tied estate, McEwan’s Lager was actually declining – and this in the early eighties, when lager was supposed to be in the ascendant.

The issue was association. McEwan’s was known first and foremost as an ale brand, so no matter how great the lager, the ads or the distribution, McEwan’s was what your dad drank.

A perception revolution was required.

S&N redesigned the packs and the bar font, which took years off the look of the brand, and then appointed Brian Sharp as brand manager, tasking him with dragging McEwan’s Lager out of the last chance saloon.

Brian’s brand strategy team distilled their communications task to one sentence: McEwan’s is actually 200 years younger than Tennents, so if anyone has a right to stand for youth, innovation and the cutting edge of Scottish beer drinking, it’s us!

Brian invited the London ad agency to Glasgow for a weekend. They toured the city’s bars and heard the latest bands, soaking up the vibe in what was Tennents home territory.

Then he gave them the brief: “It’s about the music. Don’t come back with TV commercials that have music, come back with music films that are also commercials.”

Their response changed beer advertising.

Two, two-minute, music-driven commercials featuring hot Glasgow bands and images that had never been associated with beer before. In one, slave-like creatures push giant stone balls up a tower that only Esher could have imagined, then smash out of their nightmare confinement to take a pint of McEwan’s Lager. In another, flashing neon illuminates a dreamlike journey by steam train for a couple who, via dance and danger, eventually come home to the golden liquid.

So that’s a million spent already.

Now, where and when do you run two-minute commercials? Well, you do it in the ad breaks during football matches, when your precise target audience is glued to the TV and rooting for their team.

It helps that the World Cup is on, of course, but even so, blowing another £2 million to fill entire ad breaks wasn’t an easy sell in the face of conventional wisdom that values OTS more than OMG.

The front pages of Scotland’s tabloids told the story next morning. The ads made headline news. No-one had ever seen anything like them. What did they mean? And where can you buy that music?

These free column inches almost doubled the value of the media spend and, as supporting activities like McEwan’s sponsorship of Glasgow Rangers also changed the way the brand was seen, Tennents’ share began to slip.

The swing was 2% at first. Then 5%. Then finally, a full 10% of Tennents’ share went over to McEwan’s.

A bold brief. Two radical commercials. Fearless media buying. Timely sports sponsorship. And a stubborn, Scottish disdain for strategic myths.

We’ll drink to that.