Beer Brands Closer to Breaking Digital Barrier to Pub & Club Sales

AB InBev, Heineken, Molson Coors and Fuller’s are broadening their use of digital in the on-trade to try and create an upfront value proposition capable of wooing drinkers rather than just relying on quirky bar-side marketing “gimmicks”.

Beer brands are at the forefront of digital innovation with marketing initiatives such as Facebook apps and interactive adverts driving engagement with drinkers. But the technology blitz has yet to have a notable affect on footfall through pubs and clubs across the UK as waning sales continue to hamper the beer category’s overall recovery.

Pub sales plummeted 5.8 per cent nationwide in the second quarter, according to the British Beer and Pub Association. The ongoing decline has pushed brewers to build on early attempts at digitising the on-trade experience through augmented reality initiatives and focus on how to utilise the full digital spectrum.

Technology on tap

AB InBev is leading the charge through a social media push for its Stella Artois brand focused around digital gifting and sharing. It hopes to convert online buzz from fans around upcoming campaigns in the social space into on-trade sales through word-of-mouth marketing. The brewer hailed the first initiative from the strategy, a Facebook app for fans to gift their friend at pint at participating on-trade locations, after its launch earlier this year claiming it uses technology to “enhance the in-person consumer experience”.

Phil Pick, marketing manager at Stella Artois, says: “Technological innovation enables us to drive value for our growing online community of Stella Artois fans, namely in our increased ability to engage these fans from the online world, into the bars and pubs of the real world to enjoy our beer.”

Heineken is taking a more analogue approach to its technology journey with the launch of what it claims is the world’s “first interactive bottle”. The brewer, keen to highlight its design credentials further in its marketing now, will introduce a bottle, outfitted with bright LEDs and motion sensors, that lights up in time to music or when someone takes a sip.

It will roll out to nightclubs around the world from next year alongside promotions to drum up awareness. The brewer believes the bottle will make it more desirable to affluent drinkers and further develop its long-term goal to make beer a more appealing choice in nightclubs.

Meanwhile, Fuller’s is serving Facebook and Twitter fans with geo-targted promotional offers in response to posts about its brands and outlets. Molson Coors is pursuing a similar goal through its “Molson Coors Connect” platform, which allows it to send digital vouchers to opted-in members living near an outlet. The initiative aims to drive trials across its portfolio with a long-term view to building trust from repeat promotions.

Alpesh Mistry, customer marketing director for Molson Coors UK, says: ”The off- trade generally delivers a better uptake on offers, probably because consumers can benefit from offers without changing their routine. With the on-trade it requires more of a commitment from the consumer as they have to make a decision to visit the outlet to benefit.”

Moving beyond the gimmick

Industry analysts say brewers, spurred by the explosion of smart devices and the chance to run targeted campaigns, are banking on technology to give them the competitive edge in the on-trade. Despite this, technology in the on-trade  has a long history of coming off as a gimmick to consumers.

Phil Tate, chief executive at alcohol consultants CGA Strategy, says brand owners need to be wary of not thinking their strategies through when it comes to using technology and treating it as a “one off”.

He adds: “About a year ago we started to see alcohol brands experimenting with Blippar and in the augmented reality space to engage with drinkers. That was them dipping their toe in the water and now we’re starting to see a more sophisticated use of things like Tumblr, Pinterest and NFC in the pub environment.”

It is not just beer brands looking to introduce a more thoughtful technology execution. Spirits makers are also trying to harness digital channels to position their brands at the cutting edge of experiential marketing.

For example, Pernod Ricard launched a web platform to support interactive areas of its Malibu Malibutique pop-up bars this summer. The initiative, backed by Asos, Nails Inc, Toni & Guy and Slug & Lettuce, sent exclusive content, offers and competitions to fans once they have signed-in to the hub via their smartphone.

The alcohol sector’s digital drive follows in the footsteps of FMCG giants Unilever and Mondelez International, who are looking to technology to spur engagement around their packaging and point-of-sale material. Since the focus for brewers is increasingly on pursuing the social and cool drinker, brand building through technology could help carve out a unique offering capable of driving incremental sales in the on-trade.

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