Castle or Black Label? What Does Your Beer Say About You?

Do you ever think about what the advertising for the beer you drink says about you? Are you downing the cool beer, the beer for average guys, the working man’s beer, or the beer for metrosexuals?

Beer ads have long been an interest of mine. I devoted a chapter of my doctoral thesis to the Castle Lager rainbow nation campaigns of the 1990s, and since then I’ve kept an eye on commercials for a beverage I rarely, if ever, consume. (I’ve been known to down a Black Label on the odd occasion.)

From my outsider’s point of view, it’s interesting how much the beer market in South Africa has changed over the past decade or so. Castle Lager was big in the 1990s, but seems to have lost its way, losing its status as South Africa’s best-selling beer to Black Label (aka Zamalek). A million mineworkers can’t be wrong, as they used to say. I’ve always thought of Castle as the unimaginative, reliable oke beer drunk by, well, slightly boring, reliable okes (perhaps there are fewer of them around, hence the decline in Castle volumes). If I were to segment the whisky market in the same way, I’d mark Castle Lager as the equivalent of Bell’s.

In contrast, Castle Lite was originally launched to target black women — who at the time drank more ordinary Castle than white men, but for apparently cultural reasons could never been shown consuming beer in an ad — but has steadily morphed into the BEE beer of choice: at least, judging by its advertising and the fact that it is marketed in green glass rather than brown. (Incidentally, Hansa is also playing in that territory at the moment, which is normally occupied by brandy and whisky brands, notably Chivas, which is clearly targeting Johnnie Walker Black drinkers.) The low carb angle, which is huge in the US beer market, seems to be ignored in South Africa.

It’s also interesting that both Castle Lite and Windhoek Lager are using Americans famous for being has-beens in their advertising: Vanilla Ice in the case of Castle Lite and Louis Gossett Jr in the case of Windhoek.

Heineken is the regular fun guy beer, made more desirable by its international fame. Windhoek plays in a similar space, though a male Heineken drinker I canvassed is adamant that the two brands appeal to very different consumers. Miller is the party beer, the equivalent of alcopops, and not for serious drinkers. Peroni is the slick poser beer, suitable for consumption while seated at Parkhurst pavement cafes. Amstel — well, as for Amstel, it hasn’t been the same since SAB lost the licence to brew and market it.

By the way, if you think beer is expensive in South Africa, here’s a fascinating set of graphs from Morgan Stanley to indicate the market dominance by a few players results in higher prices for beer. (Interestingly, according to these figures, beer is even more expensive in Australia. Maybe you should rethink your emigration plans.)

I’d love to know what beer drinkers think of these ads. Do they influence you in any way? Do they align, roughly, with your image of the product? Or are your reasons for drinking your brand linked purely to the way it tastes? Even if you do swear that your choice of tipple is not driven by image, I’d be willing to bet that at some point, somewhere, what others think of what you drink is at least as important as your own opinion.


Author: MC World

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