So, I have been watching and enjoying the latest VB, sorry Victoria Bitter, commercials. Yes, I have been really enjoying them. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. They are great theatre.
Let’s face it, beer commercials have some of the biggest production budgets and employ the best creative agencies with the best talent. They are also commissioned by beer marketing types who would much rather spend time on ad shoots than brew floors and who give the high-paid ad men plenty of scope to flex their creative muscles. The end result is commercials that are funny, entertaining and visually spectacular. Most importantly, they are memorable.
The question is, do they sell beer?
The latest ad for Vic Bitter is desperately trying to reconnect the brand to its working roots. The target market that was explicitly identified when the re-rebranding was announced a couple of weeks ago was blokes who chop wood rather than buy it from the servo. Of course, how many hard-working tradies have the time or the inclination to do that after raising a sweat all day. But I digress…
The reconnection with the worker is needed because in their attempt to satisfy some management KPIs, CUB’s marketers tried, and failed, several years ago to move the brand away from the sweat-stained Jackie Howe wearer and connect it with the everyman through the monumentally clever and hugely entertaining The Regulars ads.
The ad was a work of creative genius, and is deservedly among the most loved beer ads in recent memory. It wasn’t just popular, it was critically acclaimed. It was named Australian Ad of the Year in 2009 and won the coveted Gold Lion at Cannes in 2010.
Problem was it didn’t help, sales dived.
The next strategy, Cry, took an interesting route. VB sought to take the piss out of the fashion conscious urban male who it described as superficial and portrayed as phony.
Judging by the number of faux hawks, ironic beards and skinny coloured jeans on the streets these days – and even sported by blokes who drive work utes and wear high vis during the week – this is a growing demographic. Having a go at a growing market segment, one that has a strong sense of self, when you have lost your own way is an interesting sales tactic.
Despite spending a reported $7.5 million on the effort sales plummeted further.
Now they have gone back to the tried and tested Hard Earned Thirst ads. Through very clever copywriting and a big budget they seek to get in touch with things that are sacred to a bloke, like calloused hands, an old t-shirt and sweat. Well scripted and expansively – and expensively shot – these ads seek to reconnect the drinker with what the marketers regard as the working roots of the beer.
But advertising and marketing are a dark art. If a great ad led to sales, The Regulars would have seen VB sales soar. It didn’t. [pullquote]In chasing a different demographic CUB shattered an essential myth about the brand. In changing the recipe it shattered a myth about the beer.[/pullquote]
Lightning must be caught in a bottle for advertising to work. The message and the execution must resonate but there must also be an essential honesty to them – and the brand – that strikes a chord.
It is here where Victoria Bitter has its greatest problem. The brand has major credibility issues.
In chasing a different demographic CUB shattered an essential myth about the brand. In changing the recipe it shattered a myth about the beer.
Over the past three years they have told everyone that the beer that had always been about the Hard Earned Thirst was really just another Drinking Beer and, in very publicly fucking around with the recipe to save a few bob, they said there was nothing special about that beer anyway.
It’s a classic case of not what you say, but what you do. The problem was never with the ads, it was always with what the brewery was telling us about the beer through their ever-changing strategy. While CUB was shouting from the rooftops what VB meant to us, they were showing that it was really just another brand to them.
The great irony to all of this is that when VB said they were ‘getting real’ in 2010, then-Marketing Manager Paul Donaldson said,
“VB has always been an honest, genuine brand and that’s what Australians love about it,” said Paul Donaldson, group marketing manager for VB and Crown. “It’s an authentic beer enjoyed by more Australians than any other brew….”
They said that but showed just the opposite.
Can you unshatter an illusion? This is what the latest ads have to try and do. [pullquote]While CUB was shouting from the rooftops what VB meant to us, they were showing that it was really just another brand to them.[/pullquote]
The classic VB commercials were voiced by John Meillon, delivered is his mellifluous baritone. He intoned the lines of the iconic Vic Bitter ads with perfect diction and with his voice bursting with passion but without a trace of self-consciousness. He spoke to the Victoria Bitter drinker rather than down to them.
I’m not sure who voices the new ads but they sound like they are delivered by actor William McInnes trying to impersonate comedian Mick Molloy at his most ocker. The thinking among the pressed shiny suits seems to be that if we put enough testosterone and Winnie Blues into the voice, if we finish each line so low in the bass register that you can feel the floor vibrate, the message will be credible among blokes who wear sweaty work shirts.
Funnily enough, when they dumped the hard-earned thirst in 2009, Fosters’ then beer head Peter Sinclair was quoted as saying the brand was guilty of trying too hard. It’s a comment that could be made about the latest campaign.
The Urban Dictionary sums up the Try Hard as:
A person who puts a large amount of effort into achieving a certain image, or counter-image, to the point where it is obviously contrived. Rather than achieving an image through genuine personality, the try-hard consciously attempts to fit a certain style through deliberate imitation, forced style, or scripted behaviour. That is to say, he/she is trying hard to create an image.
Has Vic Bitter hard-earned its credibility back or is it just another try hard attempt destined to fail?
There’s a lot riding on the outcome.
Victoria Bitter works up a hard earned thirst making the latest TV campaign
Victoria Bitter celebrates the return of the iconic brand’s tag line ‘for a hard earned thirst’ in a new TVC campaign set to premiere on Australian television on Thursday 8 November. To view the ads now please click here http://bit.ly/Se2F2X.
The new campaign consists of three spots, ‘Hands’, ‘Shirt’ and ‘Sweat’ that champion capable Aussie blokes and reinforce the simple truth that there’s nothing like a hard earned thirst.
Carlton & United Breweries (CUB) General Manager of Victoria Bitter, Richard Oppy, said the campaign is the final step in taking Victoria Bitter back to its best.
“The feedback from drinkers about the return of Victoria Bitter to full flavour and full strength has been overwhelmingly positive and we think returning to the ‘For a hard earned thirst’ tagline will be just as well received.
“Victoria Bitter is once again the only beer for Aussie blokes who have worked hard and built up a hard earned thirst, whether it’s on a work site or doing a bit of DIY on the weekend.”
The men featured in the new spots were either experienced tradesmen or simply skilled, capable blokes.
To provide a unique, close-up view in all spots, tiny cameras were attached to everything from chainsaw blades, to sledge hammers and from ute trays to paint rollers, going through rigorous testing to ensure they could withstand the impact of honest, hard work.
Clemenger BBDO Melbourne created the TVC and Executive Creative Director Ant Keogh said the team wanted to make ads that captured the heart and spirit of what beer drinkers loved about the brand.
“When it comes to writing a Victoria Bitter ad, there’s so much pressure from all sides.
“Right from the outset, our creative team made a commitment to focus on what was right for Vic Bitter drinkers. Of course, that’s how it should always be, but to truly do that is another thing. We wanted to make ads that captured the heart and spirit of what beer drinkers loved about the brand”, he said.
Drinkers will also notice that the new Victoria Bitter comes in packaging that gives a tip of the hat to the heritage packaging of the past. The new look, created by Melbourne design agency Cowan, puts ‘Victoria Bitter’ proudly back on the label, as well as integrating the ‘1854’ establishment date and ‘4.9%’ ABV message.
The new Victoria Bitter, at full flavour and full strength is widely available now at pubs and bottles shops right across Australia. Victoria Bitter, the original big cold beer is back.