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Beer: Image or reality?

The BBC asks a pretty fair question: Is today’s beer all image over reality?

They don’t even touch upon what’s happening in the United States, where the Here’s to Beer campaign continues to broaden – with print advertisements in beer publications, a recent full page ad in USA Today and commercials directed by Spike Lee. All are intended to lift the image of beer, and it will be interesting to see if image versus reality must be an either/or choice.

At the heart of the BBC story is the fact that Scottish and Newcastle is buying the Foster’s brand across Europe. And the fact that S&N now brews four out of every five pints of Foster’s sold.

To the premise.

Backed by a thoroughly successful advertising campaign, Foster’s seems more Australian than having a barbecue on Bondi Beach while a mob of happy kangaroos leap past.

Well, that’s the image – the reality is a fair bit less Antipodean.

And now to the point.

In terms of its nationality, it now appears more rain, pies and crisps, than sun, Vegemite and barbecued prawns alfresco.

Does that matter? For the BBC this is a business story. It notes that other brands – such as Carling – are brewed in Britain for British drinkers, that SABMiller farms out some of the production of Pilsner Urquell to Poland, and that Guinness is brewed in 50 different countries around the world.

(As an aside, they could have added that Anheuser-Busch prides itself in producing Budweiser that tastes the same from any of its dozen breweries in the United States. A-B doesn’t want drinkers comparing the differences between Newark Bud and Houston Bud, though I find the idea intriguing. Imagine two guys at a bar, where one says, “I get a little more sweet corn in the Houston Bud,” and other replies, “You like green apple? Try the Newark Bud.”)

But back to the BBC story.

Jim Boulton, managing director of London-based brand experts Large Design, warns global beer firms that for a brand to be successful in the long term, it has to be authentic.

“If Foster’s brand essence is its Australian heritage, then Scottish and Newcastle might have a problem,” he says.

“If it’s the taste, then buying the brand makes total sense.”

Does that bode well for the S&N version of Foster’s?

Don’t spend too much time thinking about it, but do consider the importance of authenticity. The subject came up many times during the Craft Brewers Conference in Seattle, and not just from American brewers. Tomorrow, more from those conversations.

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