Over the coming months we will see one of the biggest marketing and advertising campaigns of recent years play out – as a Dutch master tries to dethrone an Irish giant.
eineken’s bold and ambitious attempt to go after Guinness by launching a new stout called Island’s Edge will be watched with great interest by everyone – from bar-stool philosophers and pub bores, to marketing students and practitioners the length and breadth of Ireland.
On the one hand it might seem like a battle between a plucky parvenu and challenger brand from Cork taking on a Goliath-like Dublin brewer. But on a much bigger level it’s a battle between two global drinks giants that are no strangers to combat on the international stage, having gone head-to-head numerous times in other markets.
This time, however, it’s slightly different. The Dutch brewing giant has parked its considerable tanks on its Irish rival’s front and back lawns. They are seeking to win over a chunk of the stout market that has been synonymous with Guinness, Dublin, and practically everything Irish since 1759.
Lest we forget, it’s also a battle between two of the biggest manufacturers of stout in the world.
While Guinness needs no introduction, Heineken also owns and manufactures the Murphy’s and Beamish stout brands, both of which are admirable brews – though, for various reasons, neither has ever really taken off outside of Munster.
On an entirely different level, marketers will also be watching with great interest how this battle plays out.
Heineken and Guinness (which is owned by Diageo) are giants of the global drinks industry, and both firms invest hundreds of millions of euro globally in marketing every year.
When it comes to marketing case-studies and textbooks relating to the drinks industry, you could probably fill a small library with them. You can also be sure that when the major players launch a new product or enter a new category or market, they have done their homework.
Little, if anything, is left to chance.
But the Irish drinks industry is not without its challenges.
A pandemic-induced decline in 2020 and the first half of 2021, a much wider and seemingly irreversible decline in the consumption of alcohol in Ireland, and the shifting changes in consumer habits and preferences – all of these have combined to force drinks companies to be more creative, innovative and responsive to these changes.
Low or zero-alcohol beers like Heineken 0.0 or Guinness 0.0 are evidence of this. But it’s an industry where change has been long overdue.
Heineken’s top brass in marketing now believe they can win over a new and younger generation of drinkers, who would like to drink stout but don’t like the flavour profile of Guinness – never mind the perceived age profile of its most earnest advocates.
According to Heineken’s own market research, 80pc of Irish consumers aged 25-35 think there should be more choice in the stout category, with 72pc interested in trialling a lighter tasting stout. And therein lies the opportunity.
Heineken Ireland does have plenty of form when it comes to shaking up the drinks market.
In 2015, for example, it launched Orchard Thieves on the Irish market, as it sought to break the stranglehold of the C&C-owned Bulmers. Fast forward six years and Orchard Thieves, together with its less successful sister brand Appleman’s, now control an estimated 17pc of the Irish cider market. Heineken remains the largest manufacturer of cider in the world.
Apart from gaining a sizeable chunk of the Irish market, however, Heineken also played a key role in reinvigorating and growing a category that was in 2015 becoming increasingly stagnant and facing decline in the longer term.
Such was the growth in the cider market, however, that even its arch-rival Diageo wanted a piece of the action, and launched its popular Rockshore cider brand in March 2019.
But is it possible for Heineken to reinvigorate the Irish stout market, woo younger drinkers to the dark side, and wrest control from the cold (but temperature-controlled) dead hands of Arthur Guinness?
As the great man himself might have said, good things come to those who wait.