Steinlager’s social lubricant: the story behind Lion’s responsible drinking ad

Steinlager recently launched a fairly brave and entertaining responsible drinking campaign called ‘Be the artist, not the canvas’ that showed some creative/violating uses for marker pens, aimed to poke fun at those who over-indulge and marked a slight change in strategy for the brand. And, as brand manager Michael Taylor says, it’s gone down a treat with the punters. 

It’s no secret that beer is in decline, and particularly so when it comes to younger drinkers. So anything Lion can do to re-engage consumers with beer is a good thing, he says, whether that’s through campaigns like Made to Match or a responsible drinking ad that people actually want to watch. 

He says it was important for the message to come from a trusted name like Steinlager rather than from Lion, as consumers relate to brands much more than they do to parent companies. 

“We needed to make a statement and Steinlager is the brand with the biggest social following,” he says. “We’ve been pretty active on Facebook recently. And our following has more than doubled to 67,000. We invested a bit of money behind it to make sure people saw the ad … Facebook works well if you’re willing to create bespoke content for it. It’s not just about taking a TV ad and putting it up there. And it’s pretty efficient. It doesn’t cost you that much to reach one million people.”

The project, which was created by DDB and shot by The Sweet Shop, has been a long time in the making, starting off around two years ago as an idea to promote its Steinlager Edge brand (that product has now been discontinued because, as Taylor says, Kiwis didn’t get very excited about mid-strength beer and the industry didn’t really invest much in growing that segment of the market, unlike it has in Australia). But he says the response has been a bit more positive than it probably expected and in his view, it’s a win-win. 

“Obviously we wanted it to have a positive impact on the brand, but we did a fair bit of research before the campaign launched to ensure that consumers would get the right message. And nine out of ten people said they would prefer to be the artist, not the canvas.”

No research has been done since the campaign launched, but, judging by the amount of positive feedback it has received on Facebook and Twitter, he assumes that trend has continued. This ad has been one of the brand’s most shared pieces of content over the past 18 months with 1,710 shares. This is second only to its ‘Sail like its 1995′ ad for the America’s Cup with 2,766 shares (while Steinlager’s name wasn’t on the boat this time as it didn’t contribute enough cash, it was a supplier and research showed it was the beer brand that consumers associated most with Team New Zealand).

As the campaign was targeting 25-34 year-olds, it didn’t put the ad on TV and focused on online channels (there was also a print component as well as some explanations of the artworks). And YouTube analytics showed that 75 percent of those who watched the ad were in that target group. It was a pretty similar story with Facebook, so he says it’s a very efficient way to reach a specific group without any media wastage.

“It’s not a full mindset change for us to say ‘we want to target new drinkers’. But this idea resonated really well with a younger target audience and the media choice went with that.”

Of course, there is a high degree of cynicism when it comes to alcohol companies promoting responsible drinking messages. The assumption is that they want to sell as much booze as possible to boost their bottom lines. Lion’s external relations manager Liz Read has said that it would actually be better for the company if more people consumed the recommended intake more frequently than if fewer consumed more. Unsurprisingly, Taylor agrees and says what the media often fails to point out is that total alcohol consumption is declining.

But, as he says, that’s not as interesting for the media as stories about dangerous, unhealthy binge drinking.

He believes ‘Be the artist, not the canvas’ is a really exciting angle to take on responsible drinking. But it did have some interesting discussions with LAPS, the self-regulated body that approves alcohol ads, and had to make a few changes. It also had to abide by the ASA’s code for alcohol advertising, which says you can’t show the effects of drinking. That’s why it made sure that anyone shown being drawn on was up and about running around at the end.

He says there’s obviously a different threshold for something like the Health Promotion Agency, as it’s a government entity trying to spread a health message and isn’t selling anything. But he thinks it’s great to see some more progressive social marketing that actually shows the behaviour that’s trying to be changed, like Ghost Chips and Blazed. This campaign tries to do this as well and, as an example of its success, he says ‘Be the artist, not the canvas’ has a similar level of likeability to ‘No more beersies’.

He says the popular premium category, which Steinlager fits into, is in slight decline at the moment. But Steinlager as a trademark, which includes Pure, Classic and Premium Light, has remained flat on the same time last year (the total trademark is about the same in terms of value as Speights, and its main competitor, Heineken).

It’s human nature to focus on new things and write off old things, despite evidence to the contrary. In the world of media, digital is seemingly all-powerful, and traditional platforms like newspapers, despite still raking in a big chunk of change and drawing plenty of readers, are supposedly dead. If you believe the media coverage, mainstream beer is under fire from the rise of craft, and while there’s no doubt it’s growing (as evidenced by Lion’s purchase of Emerson’s last year) that segment of the market still only makes up a small chunk of total sales. 

“There’s still a huge number of New Zealanders who love drinking lagers and they’re not going to go away anytime soon,” he says. “We may see a move back to Steinlager Classic if they’re looking for a fuller flavour. And the White Can campaign did a great job of reintroducing people to the brand [and possibly dealing to the myth that Steinlager led to crushing hangovers]”.

He says next year is a big one for the brand, as it’s been almost two years since its campaign fronted by Taika Waititi so it’s due for another.   

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