AGENDA: Still best after 25 years? - Carlsberg has a quarter-century pedigree and probably the most widely recognised tagline in the world. But can that stand up to a world of premium lagers?

It’s 25 years since Carlsberg came up with its ’Probably the best lager in the world’ line, which it has used continuously for a quarter of a century. It appears in a new burst of ads breaking this week.

It’s 25 years since Carlsberg came up with its ’Probably the best

lager in the world’ line, which it has used continuously for a quarter

of a century. It appears in a new burst of ads breaking this week.

By way of coincidence, 1973 also marked the debut of Heineken’s

long-lived refreshment of the parts other beers couldn’t reach, but

Carlsberg’s slogan is the only one to have survived unchanged.

The new ad is set in Copenhagen in 1883, with Carlsberg employee Emil

Hansen trying to sell his invention of Saccharomyces Carlsbergensis, the

yeast that all modern lagers are based on.

Original and best

Passers-by ignore him as he peddles his wares in the street; then the ad

cuts to the present day, with people across the world drinking


It is the latest element of a consistent 25-year strategy to position

Carlsberg as the ’original and best’ lager.

When the so-called ’blonde beers’, like Carlsberg, were first marketed

in the UK, they were aimed at women. The thinking was that these lighter

beers would appeal to the female palate.

The plan failed, however. So Saatchi & Saatchi, with a little help from

Carlsberg’s chief executive, came up with the tag, ’Probably the best

lager in the world’, and the rest is history.

Today, the ad agency is still Saatchis and the slogan remains the


Advertising spend has increased, however, and Carlsberg Lager is

certainly not aimed at women. ’Our key target is 18- to 35-year-old

males,’ says Murray Pannell, account supervisor at Saatchis. ’They are

fun-loving; out for a good time, a session.’

But as to the truth of that original slogan, Pete Brown, a planner at

Lowe Howard-Spink on rival accounts Stella and Heineken, and author of

You should have seen me last night, a history of British beer drinking -

claims it is now something of an empty boast.

’At the time Carlsberg was first advertised, keg beers were so atrocious

that people started drinking lager because of its better and more

consistent quality,’ he says. ’Even if the slogan wasn’t rational, they

still believed it was a quality lager.’

However, according to Brown, the slogan is now in danger of


With a new and burgeoning sector of premium lagers now available,

’People know it’s not a premium, so the slogan can’t possibly be true,’

he says.

But for the time being at least, Carlsberg will not be following

Heineken’s example, which cast off its beloved slogan ’Refreshes the

parts other beers cannot reach’ earlier this year. Instead, it will

stick with the style it knows best.

Still standing

’Our point of difference has always been the combining of outstanding

global quality and the understated confidence of the ’Probably’ line

It’s been consistent for the past 25 years and still stands up,’ says

Doug Clydesdale, marketing director across the Carlsberg portfolio.

Provided the ad’s feel is contemporary, he says, the line and its

heritage remain relevant.

Yet, in other areas, Carlsberg has been unafraid of change. Six years

ago when premium draught lagers drove the market for stronger-tasting

beers, Carlsberg boosted its strength from 3.4% to 4.2%. Carling and

Foster’s soon followed.

Two years ago, Carlsberg relaunched with new packaging and a new

marketing strategy. The company poured proportionately more of its spend

into global promotion and sponsorship, including MTV and Liverpool FC,

and diverted money away from TV ads.

Euro ’96 was a major departure and, better still, the campaign was fired

up by a long, hot summer which saw Carlsberg become the UK’s

best-selling lager.

’Over the past year, I’ve taken the view that Carlsberg is such a

powerful household name that all big advertising should simply have

Carlsberg on it, and not be side-tracked by the brands. All our

advertising carries the ’Probably’ line, so we shouldn’t dissipate the

strong name and credentials,’ says Clydesdale.

One of the most serious barriers to Carlsberg’s growth is its poor

distribution compared with bigger rivals such as Bass, which brews

Carling Black Label, and Scottish Courage, which brews Foster’s. Both

are very large brewers which also have tied pubs.

Brown says that this stranglehold on the distribution of lager has

driven some out of the market, pointing out that Guinness is withdrawing

its Enigma brand because it failed to appear on pub bars. ’Trade

presence is the key to longevity,’ he says. ’The difference between

Carlsberg, Harp, Heineken and Skol is that you still see Heineken on the

bar because it’s in the estate of the big brewers.’

Clydesdale claims to be undaunted, however, believing the freeing up of

the pub market will help Carlsberg at the expense of the two big


Brown agrees, pointing out that Carlsberg’s presence within a family of

beers, including Export, Pilsner, Special Brew and sister brand

Castlemaine XXXX, is what will keep the portfolio afloat.

That on-bar foothold helped give Carlsberg-Tetley an overall 1997 market

share of 15.6%, according to Datamonitor, compared with Scottish

Courage’s 27.2%, Bass’s 25.3% and Whitbread’s 12.7%.

But one Schroder alcoholic drinks analyst believes the failed C-T/Allied

Domecq merger last year has put Carlsberg under pressure in the past 18

months. ’It has lost lots of market share,’ he says. ’It’s the premium

end of the lager market that’s growing, such as Kronenbourg and Stella,

rather than standard lagers. Those are declining at 1% a year.’

Even before that, he claims, C-T was floundering - ever since the launch

of Carlsberg Ice in 1994. ’Ice is all about New World brands, a funky

feel, whereas Carlsberg is about the traditional. It’s a poor brand

fit,’ he says.

Clydesdale refutes this, saying premium beers are having little impact

on what is still a huge market, while alcopops are declining by 30% a

year. Carlsberg is the fourth biggest brewery in the world and is still

able both to squeeze out the smaller names and to give itself a

distinctly European image to distinguish it from, and compete with, the

big two.

With its Carlsberg and Tetley’s brands in the top ten, Clydesdale says

the company is in a strong position. But competition in the lager market

is as tough as at any time in the past quarter century. And there is no

probably about that.

UK market share (vol)

                         1996 (%)   1997 (%)

Carlsberg Export              1.9        2.1

Carlsberg Pilsner             4.3        4.5

Carlsberg Special Brew        1.5        1.4

Source: Datamonitor


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