How 10 Beers Came To Dominate Bars Around The World

bartenderBeer: Tastes like money.

Photo: Scootie / Flickr, CC

The beer business is dominated globally by a handful of companies—Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors, (known as SABMiller outside the U.S.) and Diageo, to name just a few.Although much of the business is dependent on long-term distribution contracts that lock in beer sales at stores and restaurants, these companies still spend hundreds of millions of promotional dollars annually bolstering their brands.

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Drinkers’ tastes are increasingly unpredictable. Our parents may have been lifelong drinkers of MGD or Guinness, but their adult children like to try craft brews or low-cal varieties. Thus, it’s easier for upstart brands to usurp category leaders. (Coors Light, for instance, just toppled Budweiser from the No.2 spot in U.S. sales.)

Each year, market research company Millward Brown ranks the top 10 beer brands globally, based on “brand value.” The company’s BrandZ model takes into account a brand’s dollar earnings, its potential future earnings, and the quality of the brand in the mind of the consumer, to arrive at a final “brand value,” expressed in dollars.

We’ve put that information together with a description of the marketing plan for each beer: Now you’ll know why you drink the drink you drink. Each beer’s story is coupled with a fantastic photo of a bartender, culled from Flickr.

  • NOTE: Millward Brown’s ranking information is published above each photo, the marketing history is published below each photo.

10. Beck's. Brand value: $1.554 billion, down 20%

Beck's is a huge international brand that could use a steady hand at the marketing tiller. Currently, Beck's ad agency is Mother in New York, which won the account after driving up Stella Artois sales for parent Anheuser-Busch InBev, which owns both brands.

Mother's low-key campaign currently focuses on Beck's connection to art and artists, some of whom, such as M.I.A., have been asked to design Beck's bottle labels.

The Beck's account has bounced around in recent years, and its ad budget has been small (it spent less than $1 million in 2010). Pre-2007, the account was at Leo Burnett and Ground Zero. It moved to Lowe Worldwide in 2007, then Publicis in 2009, and finally to Mother in 2011.

Some stability on the ad side might help it stem the loss of brand value.

9. Miller Lite. Brand value: $2.313 billion, down 9%

The decline of Miller Lite's brand value can be directly pegged to its declining sales. To quote Ad Age: 'Miller Lite has struggled recently. Shipments fell by 4.3% in 2011, and market share dropped to 7.2% from 7.4%, according to Beer Marketer's Insights.'

The slump led to the firing of its longtime ad agency, DraftFCB, which had worked on the account since 1979.

Marketing for the beer currently seems a little desperate. After trying a few departures that failed to reverse the sales slide, MillerCoors reverted once again to its venerable 'Miller Time' tag. It also introduced a novelty 'punch top' can, which lets the beer pour out more easily. Perhaps MillerCoors hopes we'll drink more of it if it exits the can faster?

8. Brahma. Brand value: $2.359 billion, up 18%

Brahma is the No. 1 beer in Brazil. Along with Skol and Antarctica, Anheuser-Busch InBev's big three Brazilian beer market leaders make up 90 per cent of A-B's sales in Brazil.

Skol and Brahma essentially walk hand-in-hand in this market, and sales were up 3.9 per cent in Q1 2012. (Budweiser only launched in the country in August.) As long as the Brazilian economy grows, and Brazilians spend more on non-discount brands, Brahma benefits.

Currently, Jennifer Lopez is the face of the brand in the country.

7. Guinness. Brand value: $4.044 billion, up 17%

Guinness beer is flat in Europe but growing in the U.S. and developing countries, particularly in Africa, where Guinness has a huge activation around televised soccer challenges. Chief marketing officer Andy Fennell recently told investors:

'In Africa, ... Under the Guinness brand, we produced a football match between Nigeria and Argentina. All of the spectators, photographers, commentators, pundits, etc. were Guinness drinkers, but 42 million people watched the game on TV live and we generated 2 million in media value on the back of the event.'

6. Stella Artois. Brand value: $4.529 billion, steady at 0%

Stella's unchanged brand value is a surprise: The product is on fire in the U.S. In Q1 2012, sales to retailers grew 22.5 per cent, Anheuser-Busch InBev reported. Stella has been growing like crazy for a couple of years now. About 80 per cent of its sales come from draft.

A-B uses ad agency Mother to promote the brand. Its ads have an upscale, European feel. The most recent campaign, which uses the tagline, 'She Is a Thing of Beauty,' was kicked off with a set of Super Bowl ads in February.

In short, Stella sells at a premium because it's the beer you choose when you're out on the town and want something special. The brewery is hoping you'll demand your lager in a 'chalice' rather than a mug.

5. Skol. Brand value: $4.698 billion, up 3%

As Brazil's economy grows, so does Skol. In the mid 2000s, Skol was Brazil's No.1 beer brand. It's still one of Anheuser-Busch InBev's top three brands in the country, where A-B has a majority share of the market. In Q1 2012, sales of Skol and its sister brands increased 3.9 per cent, the company reported.

A-B recently introduced a line extension, Skol 360, around the positioning that 360 drinkers experience less 'bloating' than with other beers.

4. Corona. Brand value: $5.114 billion, down 6%

Corona stabilised sales last year after two previous years of declining sales. It keeps a strong brand image in the U.S. market as a non-threatening import that's like a vacation in a bottle. Its beach-themed ads (from agency Cramer-Krasselt) reinforce this, as does its adoption of Cinco de Mayo, the Mexican pride holiday, which parent company Grupo Modelo virtually reinvented in its own image in the 1980s. (Grupo Modelo is 50 per cent owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev.)

The slice of lime often served in the bottle's neck acts as a signal in bars, reminding other drinkers that Corona is an alternative to Bud.

All of the foregoing allow Grupo Modelo to do the one thing marketers dream of: charge higher prices for an essentially undistinguished product. Sales are up this year.

3. Heineken. Brand value: $6.058 billion, down 8%

Heineken is heavy on global sports sponsorships, and its name is closely associated with soccer's Champions League and rugby's Heineken Cup.

It also invested heavily in social media. Heineken has more than 6.8 million 'likes' on its Facebook page, more than any other beer in the world.

But, as its declining brand value indicates, even established brands have to work hard just to tread water. Heineken this year consolidated its global media planning and buying at Starcom MediaVest Group--a sure sign of a client seeking new ideas and economic efficiencies.

2. Budweiser. Brand value: $7.514 billion, down 15%

Budweiser may be the second-most valuable beer brand on the planet, but by dollar sales it's third in the U.S. Coors Light now outsells the brand--a humiliating defeat for the former king of beers.

Bud has been squeezed on two sides: Some drinkers have turned away from full-carb suds. Others have gravitated toward higher-quality craft brews. In an effort to stay relevant, the brand has tried (and failed) with various scattershot marketing gimmicks, including an 'old school' hipster redesign and a reality TV show.

1. Bud Light. Brand value: $8.368 billion, up 17%

All hail the king of beers: No surprise here -- it's America's No.1 brand by sales and has been for a long time. Selling beer in the U.S. as opposed to a foreign country gives you a default, built-in advantage in the marketplace: the U.S. is a massive market, and Americans drink a lot of beer. Anheuser-Busch InBev controls about 50 per cent of the U.S. beer market.

A-B hasn't rested on its laurels, however. It introduced Bud Light Lime and Bud Light Platinum line extensions that have both proven popular. New product launches, even if they're not successful, allow Bud to continually tell new stories to drinkers about its brands.

The company has also switched up its ad agencies. Dentsu's McGarryBowen won the Bud Light account last year. Steve Stoute's Translation now has Platinum and Lime.

Now read about the decline and fall of Budweiser ...

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