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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Thursday, 3 February 2011

Some cheap shots and infantile musings on the launch of Stella Cidre

Several people emailed and tweeted me yesterday with the news that Stella Artois is to launch a cider brand.  I don't know why you think I would be interested, but it seems some people are keen to hear my thoughts on the matter.


No, wait - this is going to blow your freakin' mind.


The thing is, Stella owners AB-Inbev and I are not on speaking terms at the moment.  I no longer get press releases from them, and I certainly don't get invited to events such as the launch of Stella Cidre, which happened yesterday.

Was it something I said?

Anyway, in the absence of any facts, I'm left with no alternative but to fabricate an utterly spurious and quite unfair conversation about this latest marketing triumph.

Hello, Stella Artois!
Hello, Pete.  You're not going to be mean to me are you?


Of course not.  I'm just going to ask you some questions.  So what's this latest launch of yours then?
Right, you're not going to believe what we've done.  As you'll know from what we've done to Stella Artois over the last ten years, we don't actually like the taste of beer.  Hops make us gag.  We've managed to get rid of as much of the flavour as possible, but even when we use these ingredients in homeopathic quantities, you still get a bit of a taste.  So we were thinking, like, what if we could invent a drink that's kind of like beer, but is made of something else and doesn't have to have horrid hops in it at all?  And then we had a flash of genius! You might not know this, but apples have fermentable sugars in them.  So we've invented this new alcoholic drink that's a bit like beer except it's loosely based on apples, and we've called it - cider!  Except we wanted to make it sound a bit French, so we spelt it wrong.  Cidre!!


But cider's existed since at least Roman times.
Has it?  Bollocks.  


Yes.  And it's really popular just now.  There are loads of ciders on the UK market, they're doing really well.
Well, it sounds like we got here just in time then!  But never mind that.  We decided to do something that no one else has EVER done before.  You'll never guess.  This is going to fuck with your brain.  What we're doing, right, is launching this 'cidre' in a pint bottle and get this - we're suggesting people drink it in a pint glass full of ice!  Now is that innovation or what?!


Well, no it's not.  Magner's introduced that concept to the mainstream UK cider market five years ago.  And every big brand has copied them.  You're kind of late to the party here.     
No, you must be mistaken.  Look here, our CEO says this is "another demonstration of our commitment to innovation and investment in Stella Artois".   Innovation means new, right?


OK, moving on.  It's been pointed out that the launch of this product means the Stella Artois brand now provides both ingredients for the infamously intoxicating cocktail, snakebite.  Any thoughts on that?
Absolutely.  Stella Artois is dogged by an undeserved reputation as loopy juice, and some people even call it 'Wifebeater'.  Giving our drinkers permission to create Stella snakebite seems like the perfect way to rid the brand of this entirely undeserved reputation.  And as an added value proposition, our consumers can also now interface with Stella Artois 'Snakebite and Black'? Heh heh!


Yes, but in this context, the word 'black' is short for 'blackcurrant'.
No it's not.  Not if we say it isn't.


Fair enough.  So what's in it then? What percentage apple juice is it?
Look, even if I knew or understood how cider was made, you know I wouldn't tell you.

Finally, most marketing theory advises against launching endless line extensions when the parent brand is in decline.  Positioning, The Battle For Your Mind, by Ries and Trout, is a marketing classic that refers to this as one of the most common positioning traps in marketing, giving countless examples of how, 90% of the time, it results in failure that can also further weaken the parent brand...
Ooh, get Mr Swotty here with his fancy marketing speak.  I don't know what any of that means, but let me tell you mister, we don't use the word failure around here.  Artois Bock?  Peeterman Artois? Eiken Artois? Stella Black?  Successes.  Every last one of 'em.

So no qualms about wilfully confusing what Stella Artois stands for and diluting brand equity rather than exploring Belgium's genuine cider making tradition and creating an intriguing new brand that just might have an air of authenticity about it then?
None whatsoever.

OK, until your next - what did you call it? - 'innovation' then, cheers!


Thanks to Chris Ainger for the snakebite observation, and to Chris G for the Snakebite and Black gag.  


There really is a Belgian cider making tradition.  Stella Artois Cidre will be brewed in Belgium.  Whether or not there is any connection between these two facts, we'll have to wait and see.  I will try Stella Cidre when I come across it, and if it tastes nice, I'll say so.



18 comments:

Alcofrolic Chap said...

Something about the shape of the Cidre bottle reminds me of a baby's feeding bottle.

Jordan St.John said...

You know what my favorite thing is about this, Pete? You've given it to us straight, like a pear cider made from 100% pear(s).

Mark said...

Great post, Pete! Hijacking what someone said on twitter yesterday... sometime around 2016 they'll use Cascades in a brew (assuming they somehow discover the taste for hops).

I thought over-ice ciders were on the way out and this launch probably suggests that I'm right...

Knut Albert said...

Lovely. Just lovely.

Oblivious said...

Very good post

"Something about the shape of the Cidre bottle reminds me of a baby's feeding bottle."

Probably design for ease as use as a club

neil_edward said...

I work in marketing right now and every single AB InBev launch makes me wince.

What I don't get, is they can afford the best marketeers in the world, so why don't they listen to them? Accountants and CEO's cannot run marketing departments, and they certainly can't brew beer. Let people who know what they're talking about do what theyre good at!

Andrew Bowden said...

Lets face it, someone in Stella has totally lost the plot now.

Maybe in 2020 (after having had their dalience with hops!) they'll take a hard look at their brand and decide to go back to core values. They'll realise that their many brand extensions have done nothing but devalue the brand, and they'd let their brand go to rot.

So they'll dig out the old recipe, kill off everything else and relaunch in a blaze of glory.

But by then, it will probably be too late for them.

Andrew Bowden said...

Oh and when is Stella Cidre Poire coming?

ZakAvery said...

I rarely swear on t'internet, but fuck me, that is one absolute car crash of a concept.

It's so hilariously confused and misguided that I can barely get my head around it. Stella Artois is a Belgian beer pretending to be French. Cidre is French for cider. "Belgian Cider" as a tagline - what is all that meant to imply? Why not "Wallonian Pommes Pressée", for all the sense it makes?

Why not actually use some marketing savvy and launch a Belgian cider brand based on a thinly-appropriated version of Magritte's apple? I mean, he is actually famously Belgian, he painted a famous apple.

Christ.

Anonymous said...

Stuart Macfarlane is the Mubarak of beer. Everything he touches accelerates InBev's decline. Long may he continue!

The Bocking Kellys said...

"Was it something I said?"

It was probably was, but hey ho!

Pete Brown said...

Melissa Cole just pointed out this REAL interview with Stuart Macfarlane from AB-Inbev. It's waaay funnier than my pisstake! http://tinyurl.com/6huxkm9

Leigh said...

Too. Funny. Love it.

Guy said...

Well, in Belgium, they speak French and Dutch, so it isn't incongruent to name it "Cidre" See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walloon_Region

Also, if it is a sweet & sparkling cider (which I bet it is), it really is in the French style, and completely appropriate to call it Cidre.

Phil said...

He's not teetotal, is he? That interview reads like the work of a complete stranger to beer (never mind cider), who has woken up one morning and found himself having to make money out of this strange substance and the peculiar beings who are willing to pay money for it. Hence that weird bit in the first answer, where he attempts to describe the taste of this cider while speaking the language of the MBA tribe.

I also liked the part where he says how offensive he finds the nicknames given to Stella (I think he means one nickname in particular). Yes, of course it's an offensive nickname - it's a bad name because Stella has got a... what's the word... oh yes, a bad name. I was half-expecting him to explain that they're totally not allowed to call us those things, right, because that's actually racist, and it's like a breach of our human rights and everything? isn't it though?

Stono said...

mirth aside for a moment, none of the points raised so far against it, will necessarily stop it selling, or being a success, and as long as AB-Inbev make more money from selling it than they do making it, do they have to care about brand dilution or following the more intruiging route stuff instead.

fair enough there are cautionary tales, Strongbow Sirrus was far from a success, but that could easily be down to attitudes towards certain brands, and Magners wall-to-wall advertising, which AB-InBev have the budget to compete with

so theres no obvious reason to suggest there isnt room for another over ice cider drink, with a brand that still feels vaguely foreign pushed heavily by a mass market campaign in the runup to summer

actually the question isnt so much why now, as more a simply well why not.

John Clarke said...

Very nicely put Pete. It's funny they have now made a cider because all this thrashing around with new, and ultimately unsuccesful, products does bring to mind the unlamented product develeopment dept at Bulmers before their takeover by S&N.

They too came out with a stream of (usually fairly disgusting) concoctions in increasingly desperate moves to find the next big thing. Much good did it do them.

Anonymous said...

this is hilarious