Strategy Myth 17bCool newcomers always damage established brands

Everyone knew Newcastle Brown Ale. Trouble was, not everyone was drinking it. Volume was 19% down and falling.

Imported premium lagers were stealing sales from most ales at the time, but Newcastle Brown isn’t ‘most ales’, it’s unique, with a permanent place in the hearts of Geordies, students and many other discerning drinkers. It couldn’t be allowed to decline – or so thought newly-appointed brand manager and strategist Brian Sharp, who didn’t go along with strategy myths and made radical plans to fight back.

First rule: no change to the famous liquid. Second rule: convert premium lager drinkers by acting just as cool. Third rule: stand out where people are looking – on the back bar. Fourth rule: do all this without ever losing sight of the true character of Newcastle Brown Ale.

Work kicked off with a mantra – The One and Only – coined by Brian as a differentiating strapline, a reminder of the product’s specialness and a flag to follow for the brand change team. The line was seen first on labels and packs and now, as you’ll note next time you pick up a bottle of Newcastle Brown for yourself, permanently moulded into the neck.

Bottle labels were the next to change – bigger, brighter, more visible on the cold shelf, with an extra label – the old ‘cottage loaf’ that had been dropped some years before – on the neck of the bottle.

On-trade outlets were given branded fridges (ale? In a fridge?) and promotions offered pool cues in return for 10 bottle labels. Yes, this was the first-ever peelable beer label. Yes, it worked: 144,000 pool cues were redeemed.

Streetwise aficionados in the North East refer to Newcastle Brown as ‘a bottle of dog’, so this became the advertising theme.

And the result? The brand leaped back to life and minus 19% became plus 19% inside 12 months.

Even strategy myths must beware of the dog.

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Newcastle Brown Ale
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Newcastle Brown Ale
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Newcastle Brown Ale