If real ale wasn't naturally flat, the fact the bitter market has
lost its fizz in recent years might almost be funny. Compared to the
growth in lagers and alcopops (up 8.7 per cent since 1999), the
traditional pint of room-temperature ale is becoming a drink of the
past. Consumption has steadily been falling - not helped by its
ruddy-faced, bearded anorak drinker image - and it's a trend James
Whelan, marketing services manager of London's oldest brewery, Fuller,
Smith & Turner (Fuller's) has watched since joining the marketing
department in the early 80s.
"More people drink our flagship brand, London Pride, in some Birmingham
pubs than they do in London ones, which is a reversal of five years
ago," he says. But Fuller's has fared better than most. In April it
launched its first £2 million above-the-line TV ad for London
Pride through agency Doner Cardwell Hawkins. With the strapline,
'Whatever you do take Pride', it has helped push demand by six per cent
and Fuller's finished this financial year by breaking the 0.25 million
barrel production mark for the first time.
With increased brand recognition, Whelan agrees the real ale wave must
be capitalised on at the direct level. But when it comes to traditional
direct mailings, he says he still needs convincing. "The Fuller's ethos
is keep it simple," explains Whelan, whose £200,000 direct budget
is primarily spent on point of sale and in-pub prize-draw marketing. "To
me these are all bona fide, successful DM techniques," he adds. These
include at-bar scratch cards tying in with the recently ended rugby Six
Nations and F1 season, and will also include 'guess the score' cards
which will appear around next summer's World Cup football matches.
Data capture isn't totally non-existent. In May, Whelan oversaw railway
station tasters to support the ads. It was also an data-gathering
This was preceded in January by revamping its website,
www.fullers.co.uk, and launching an e-commerce strategy aimed at
collecting more information.
Whelan's reservations about trying out classical direct mail probably
have much to do with previous data gathering attempts. "We ran a tankard
promotion with our ESB brand to win a luxury weekend, but we only had
100 replies," he says. However, the launch of the Fuller's Passport - a
challenge to fill up a mock passport with stamps from 180 of its
200-plus pubs - has been met with much greater success. Passports were
in-pub as well as sent to a limited number of customers on the Fuller's
Stamps could only be gained when customers bought either a soft or
alcoholic drink from each of the participating pub. Drinkers were given
a year to complete the challenge.
Whelan expected 10,000 entrants, but the 1,400 chalked up has added
valuable details to the Fuller's database. "To our amazement, 200 people
visited all 180 pubs," he says, "and many of these weren't members of
our 5,000-strong Fine Ale Club, who are sent regular Fuller's
Data gathered from the club and the Passport campaign is painting a
picture not too dissimilar from the image of the stereotypical ale
drinker. "We hold regular focus groups and data capture from previous
promotions shows the average age of drinkers is 35," says Whelan. "For
the first time, we can at least know how to tackle this. Put simply, we
need to 'chill' the product down - metaphorically that is, not
So will interrogating the slowly swelling customer database do it?
Response cards to its promotions have helped to make some changes. Honey
Dew ale, an organic, sweeter bitter usually brewed during the summer,
was found to be particularly popular among women and will now be bottled
all year round. "We hope the female market will be a new growth area for
us," says Whelan. "The Guinness model and the way it has totally
repositioned itself is one I look up to."
A full commitment to DM is shied away from, but it isn't totally ruled
out. "I do want to grab a larger share of the younger audience and we're
starting to get more information in," Whelan says. "As soon as I think
we have enough data for critical mass,direct mail is something I would
definitely like to try."
Turnover (Q3 2001) £128 million
Total marketing spend (2001) £200,000
Main DM agency None, all marketing is done in-house
ON THE SPOT
James Whelan, marketing services manager, Fuller's
Do you open all your direct mail?
I did, but with all the anthrax scares I usually ask my assistant to
open it for me.
What do you tell people you do at parties?
That I'm a professional drinker! When I say it's Fuller's London Pride
I'm drinking, they're all very envious of my job.
What advice would you give anyone starting a direct mail campaign?
It has to stand out from the crowd. This means it needs to get straight
to the point, be useful to the recipient and simply be a bit
Possibly it also has to be 3mm in depth - to fix the tilt on my
If you could send anyone some direct mail, who would it be and what
would you send?
As you might expect me to say - I'd send a sample of Fuller's London
Pride to all lager drinkers, so they could see what real beer tastes