Carlsberg, Duvel Seek Niche Among Beer Imports

You’re in the back of a taxi cab or walking down the street when you catch sight of a green-leather passport. Maybe you’re a good citizen. Maybe you’re in it for the cash reward. Either way, New York shop Cossette Post is betting you’ll open it and find yourself looking at an ad for Carlsberg beer.

At the end of this month, one million faux passports will be dropped on sidewalks, in subways and in stores in selected cities. The effort, which positions Carlsberg as a worldly, sophisticated choice, is tagged, “Drink with a world of friends,” according to Robert Reiser, chief creative officer at Cossette Post, which is owned by Cossette Communication Group, Quebec City.

The passports are part of a 10-year plan to build distribution and marketing while raising the U.S. profile of Carlsberg, a Danish import that is popular in Europe but received scant marketing attention in the U.S. from former distributor Labatt USA, said Mike Mitaro, president and CEO of Carlsberg USA.

Since splitting with Labatt in May, Carlsberg USA has assumed control of the brand’s marketing. Mitaro declined to disclose the budget but said the company plans to do TV later in the year, also through Cossette Post, which won the account in August after a review. For now, the brand has a blank slate in the U.S.

“There is no real position for this beer,” said Reiser, adding that the agency is targeting cities such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia, where people “look beyond borders” and where the import market does best, he said. “Certainly there is a ‘Fortress America’ mentality, but we believe our customers are not necessarily pro-American at the expense of the rest of the world.”

Carlsberg is one of several brands trying to find a niche in the mature import beer segment. Imports had grown steadily during the ’90s, but the segment has decelerated since then and was flat last year (like the domestic market). The import category is led by Corona, which supplies 30 percent of the import market by volume, and Heineken, which supplies 20 percent, according to Benj Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketer’s Insights.

Marketers for Carlsberg and Duvel, a Belgian brand, both point to the success of Stella Artois, a Belgian beer distributed by global brewing giant InBev, whose sales in 2004 were up an estimated 50 percent from a year earlier, Steinman said. InBev has said it plans to triple its marketing outlay over the next three years to an estimated $10 million [Brandweek, Dec. 6].

Duvel in December enlisted independent DiMassimo Carr Brand Advocates in New York to promote its beer, which has a relatively high alcohol content and which the agency will position as “the dangerously seductive blonde.”

Duvel’s tagline, “Please enjoy responsibly,” is paired with suggestive connect-the-dots posters showing men and women with ecstatic expressions and household appliances, farm animals or vegetables. “If you connect the dots, you get a fuzzy outline of what’s going on, but nothing too explicit,” said agency CEO Mark DiMassimo. The work will appear on posters and in bars on placemats, he said. Also on tap is an on-premise promotion that will bring creative teams into bars where Duvel is served to solicit advertising ideas from patrons.

To gain a foothold, both brands agree, they will have to spend consistently and improve their distributor networks over a number of years. “Slow, constant plodding” is needed to establish a secondary import brand in the U.S., said Mark H. Rodman, a strategic consultant with Beverage Distribution Consultants. Rodman likened the positions of small import beers to Godiva Liqueur, which slowly built market share. “It took 10 or 13 years,” he said. “Secondary imports face the same challenge.”