Beer Brands – Entertain & Be Relevant this World Cup

Now the World Cup is underway, all the big-game hype, stirring montages, post-game chatter and debate that only an occasion like this can evoke have returned. Along with this, comes a barrage of marketing activity seeking to connect brands with the passion, engagement and spectacle.

Perhaps second only to sporting brands themselves in terms of relevance and fit with the World Cup, beer is unequivocally the drink of choice for communal football viewing in the UK. So at Ipsos ASI, we took a look at 3 lager brands and their football-themed ads to see which was best able to resonate and generate positive brand impact, amongst footy fans and more generally.

We interviewed c.2000 people in the UK in 4 days to get a get a rapid response to ads from brands using football – FIFA’s official beer sponsor Budweiser, the FA’s official beer, Carlsberg and one of the sponsors of ITV’s coverage, Carling. Our aim is to validate who’s come into Brazil 2014 with all the form of a tournament winning campaign.

Each brand is trying to deliver their brand strategies in different ways; Budweiser through tapping into the anticipation, Carlsberg and Carling through exaggerating scenarios designed to resonate with the football fan. Team tactics and formations distinguish competing football teams from one another, and likewise, no two brands set out their stall in quite the same way

Ipsos ASI World Cup Infographic

Test results: entertain and be relevant

From the results, Carling’s “Office Escape” ad is the most enjoyable to watch (44% strongly agree it is “entertaining”), comfortably above norms. The sight of a man deftly escaping the office to get to the pub in time of kick-off, only to come a cropper at the end entertained more than the other ads we tested.

Though a crowd pleaser, the Carling ad performance was pegged back by weaker branding compared to Carlsberg’s “Fan Squad” ad. Featuring Jeff Stelling, Paddy McGuiness and Ian Wright, Carlsberg were more overt in their depiction of a perfectly designed pub – using prominent Carlsberg green throughout, and featuring frequent product and logo shots. These many cues saw them top score for brand linkage – 59% felt it was clear who the ad was for compared to 48% for Carling. And whilst slightly behind Carling for entertainment value, it was still well above norm.

Both Carling’s and Carlsberg’s ads were likely to be ads that are talked about too, both scores above norms – especially for Carlsberg among regular lager drinking football fans (who were more than twice as likely as the norm to talk about the ad). The pro-England sentiment and relatable scenarios illustrates the value of humour and striking a resonant chord in order to build retransmission potential and wider campaign visibility.

Test results: It’s what happens to the brand that matters

The creative flair on show with the ads from non-official World Cup brands contrasts to Budweiser’s mood-setting, black and white “Rise As One” creative. One could argue they were constrained creatively by their status as tournament sponsor and thus unable to use a local tone of voice to identify more closely with an English audience. Indeed, the tests saw Budweiser come away with weaker branding scores and lower entertainment and talkability than the localised efforts of competitors.

But history has shown that football is about end results, not just playing the beautiful game for the sake of it. And the result for the brand is where success or failure should be measured.

There’s little point asking directly if any brand impact has occurred – the post-rationalised response received is not a good indicator of campaign effect as people cannot accurately or objectively tell you if their perceptions of a brand have changed. So instead, we observe it with a comparison of our scores between ad exposed test groups and a non-exposed control group.

All three brands sat on an even keel in our control group when it came to associations with the World Cup, with about a quarter of consumers citing any of them. But in the test groups, despite employing highly contrasting ads, Carlsberg and Budweiser both saw sizeable lifts in association with the tournament. Carlsberg succeed here off the back of strong branding and entertainment; Budweiser from continuing a consistent strategy of building the expectation and the emotion of the big event, bolstered by the right to officially claim to being the beer of the tournament. Both brands also saw equivalent gains for understanding what football fans want.

Much like how a 30-yard individual effort and a well-worked team set piece both ultimately produce the same end result, both brands have improved on their brand association. Though Carlsberg must take more credit from the outcome seen in our tests, given they haven’t spent the money that Budweiser did to gain official partner status.

Carling, while certainly not decreasing associations, did not gain as much relatively. This is most likely due to the absence of obvious cues to the World Cup in the execution. The World Cup is not as conducive to subtlety in advertising, particularly as so many brands are using the event in their communications strategy, both within and outside of their category. As with any noisy environment, to really cut through, simple messages are usually better.

So what conclusions can we make?

Carlsberg, using insights gathered on the communal viewing experience, has used a crowd-pleasing, brassy and humorous ad in keeping with their irreverent history and prowess of previous years’ campaigns. Will they have the legs to hold on after this promising build-up though? Starting strong is great, but tournaments are never decided by success in the first rounds. Is there more to come?

Carling has also gone for an entertaining approach, but thus far, has not had the same end product as their competition. The variation in their tactics in the form of sponsorship of ITV’s live coverage could well see them strengthen over the course of the contest, so they’re not to be written off just yet. But the subtle branding is currently limiting their potential.

Budweiser is the big spending, pre-tournament heavyweight, going into the contest to be effective if not quite as enjoyable to watch as their rivals. Gains made in World Cup association and understanding the needs of football fans prove that it’s not always flair that gets the best end results – direct, route one tactics are arguably more effective in a cluttered field.

Campaign Jobs