PROFILE: Fuller's - Making ale cool again. Fuller's marketing manager James Whelan explains how his view of direct marketing pulls in punters

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

exercise.



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

database.



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

communications."



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

temperature-wise!"



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."



VITAL STATISTICS

Name Fuller's

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

different.



Possibly it also has to be 3mm in depth - to fix the tilt on my

desk!



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

like.



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