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  Beer Brands and Homelands -- Edwin Colyer   Beer Brands and Homelands -- Edwin Colyer  Edwin Colyer  
         
 
Beer Brands and Homelands -- Edwin Colyer It's a hot, sunny afternoon. The barbecue is ready to be lit; but before you find the matches, sit down and enjoy a few sips of your favorite beer.

Now you are relaxed, let your mind wander as the taste triggers memories and emotions. Where do you go? What places do you picture when you drink?

Your afternoon reverie may take you far away from home but chances are that you'll associate a country with your beer too. Whether you are into obscure imports or something mainstream, most beer brands like to tout their country of origin. We all know that Guinness comes from Ireland, Corona is Mexican and Budweiser is a truly American brand.

"When it comes to identifying with a country, after flags, national anthems and national airlines comes beer," says Martin Lindstrom, a brand strategist from Denmark, the home of Carlsberg. "The advantages are very clear. It is what you would call free branding—leveraging a country's brand rather than building your own."

 
Simon Anholt, brand consultant and author of Brand New Justice, agrees that the country of origin is an essential part of beer branding." Beer is the classic product parity market," he says. "Manufacturers are driven to intangible brand product features. Using the country of origin as part of the brand equity is essentially free, so you avoid having to build something up laboriously over decades. So long as you can credibly establish a connection between you and the place, then it is a good idea."

Both Anholt and Lindstrom draw parallels in the automotive sector. They argue that if you were shown two identical cars and told that one was made in Turkey, the other in Switzerland, for example, you would immediately think that the Swiss car was better." But it is different with beer," Anholt notes. "The little, poor places can produce good beer. A Jamaican car is probably no good, but Jamaican beer, well that sounds good."

 
Mainstream and niche products all free ride on their country of origin brand. For a long time Foster’s used a kangaroo in its advertisements, while Lapin Kulta, from Lapland in Finland, relies heavily on its unusual provenance in its marketing. Images of Finland’s stark landscapes adorn communications material and bottle labels.

South African Breweries Limited realizes that its national origins are important at a corporate level too." We have embarked on a corporate branding campaign to highlight the identity of SAB Limited," says Michael Farr, the company's communications manager." The purpose is to strengthen the emotional attachment with our core market. Research conducted since the company's global expansion showed that the consumer was having confusion between SABMiller and SAB Limited. We felt it was important to encourage South African consumers to recognize SAB Limited is still the company they have always known."

The corporate brand campaign from SAB Limited was fiercely patriotic. A two-minute TV commercial paid tribute to the South African nation and praised the country's achievements over the last 10 years. The ad ends with some of the world's greatest landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty and the Sydney Opera House, sailing into Cape Town's Table Bay to symbolize international recognition for the country. SAB is unashamedly tapping into strong emotions and a proud heritage.

"Beer is sold on the story of its brewing heritage and you can't tell that story without tying it to the country of origin," says Anholt.

Farr agrees, "We deliberately emphasize the heritage and history of the beers we sell, otherwise you end up with generic beer and no appeal."

As the SAB TV commercial aptly demonstrates, however, brands that incorporate a country of origin are built on stereotypes. Surely consumers are a little more sophisticated?" Marketing is all about stereotypes," says Anholt. "The only relationship you can have with the consumer is pretty superficial—you can only communicate through clichés and stereotypes. You can't expect to be profound."

"Just because they are a cliché doesn't mean they are not true," argues Lindstrom. "To be patriotic is clichéd. You just have to be careful with one's choice of clichés so you don't risk audience weariness."

That's probably one reason why the Foster’s kangaroo has disappeared. The brand is still indisputably Australian, but consumers (including probably most Australians) were tired of the idiotic antics of the extrovert marsupial.

Given the success of country of origin branding in the beer sector, Lindstrom suggests that other industries should also consider the benefits." Consumers are too exposed to commercial messages. The only thing that marketers can leverage is emotions. In a world where people are well traveled, you are also buying into emotion. If they've been to a country and had a good experience then when they see a brand from that country they are often buying into an emotion, not the product. Country of origin branding is a cheaper bypass to build brand equity in a strong and reliable way."

Swiss watchmakers certainly know the value of their "Swiss made" brand. The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry actively polices all uses of the term and has strict guidelines on how it may be used on clocks and watches.

There are always dangers, especially when countries or famous citizens start behaving badly. The American brand, for instance, has suffered considerably abroad during the Iraq conflict, as did French products when President Chirac was vociferously anti-war. But the downside is usually short-lived.

Anholt says that country of origin branding might also help some of the impersonal multinational corporations to connect with consumers once again." A few years back, following mergers and acquisitions, companies were desperately anxious to be seen as global. It became apparent that it may make shareholders happy, but consumers don't like it. They need to know where companies come from. Successful global brands need to be sold everywhere but come from somewhere."

Nevertheless, it will still be the brewers and food manufacturers that probably rely most on this technique." Food has been the main vehicle between people in the past," says Lindstrom. "You taste food, bring it back and remember a certain country or area. It is hard to tell products apart, so tying in strong emotions to differentiate products is important."

"The country of origin is nine tenths of the magic," argues Anholt. And you thought it had something to do with the brewing process.    

[14-Feb-2005]

 
  
  

Edwin Colyer is a science and technology writer based in Manchester, UK.

     
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