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,’
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.
’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
’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
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