'Marketing guff' - the real threat to Meantime

09 May 2018  |  John Lowery 
'Marketing guff' - the real threat to Meantime

Why is Meantime Brewing using advertising to say it doesn't need to advertise, asks John Lowery

When, three years ago, SABMiller paid £120m for the Meantime Brewing Company (at an eye-watering multiplier of 80) considerable disquiet was expressed about what it would mean for Meantime.

Would the quality of their beers suffer as a result of earn-out motivated corner-cutting? Would their range diminish as they slavishly followed Pareto? Would their drinkers desert them, bewailing the sell-out? Would the founder's new responsibility to engage in the development of beers for SABMiller distract him from their core business?

Did they still qualify as a ‘craft brewery’? (Whatever that means. In the States there’s a technical, volumetric definition. In the UK, the main requirement seems to be that the brewers have asymmetrical beards, scrotal sac tattoos and a penchant for cruelty-free chia seed pesto delivered daily on a fixed-wheel tricycle. To be fair, that’s not actually the case when it comes to Alistair Hook, the founder of Meantime.)

Even CAMRA saw fit to wade in, bemoaning the potential damaging side-effects of the acquisition, which is somewhat bizarre considering that Meantime has never made a real ale and CAMRA has always been disparaging about that.

But here’s the real reason to fret…

Meantime has now got ‘marketing’ – but not in a good way.

Back in April they gave away thousands of pints of their Pale Ale for free because, as they put it, “we're passionate about our proper beer. So rather than just telling you how good our beer is - like all those other brands - we thought, why don't we put our London Pale Ale in Londoner's (sic) hands for FREE and let you decide.”

So here we have this funky company operating in the funky sector that is craft brewing stumbling upon the oldest idea in the marketing textbook – sampling.

If you have a truly remarkable product like, say, Fairy Liquid was in the 1950’s, when it engaged in the biggest sampling exercise in the history of giving stuff away for free, it sort of makes sense.

I’m sure Meantime is a ‘proper beer’ but the fact is, to the untutored palate, it tastes pretty much the same as several other kegged ales, so I’m wondering what’s been achieved by giving it away beyond contributing to the general tipsy merriment of those Londoners on the receiving end.

As if that weren’t enough, the promotion was advertised via a series of posters that claimed that Meantime didn’t need to advertise.

I’ll just run that by you again: Meantime was using advertising to say it didn’t need to advertise.

The space-time-logic continuum seems to be fraying at this point and you’d expect someone running the show to call in the marketing manager and/or the agency concerned and issue a few redundancy notices. But no.

Instead they chose to actually rip the continuum asunder, with this poster:

I’m sure you can deconstruct this yourself but just in case…

Meantime is using advertising to remind us that the beer that doesn’t need advertising, because it speaks for itself, gave us a free beer that we’ve forgotten about; and, in so doing, it is effectively announcing that the promotion didn’t work.

On their website, there’s a short video about the promotion that boasts, “No marketing guff”. Hands-up anyone who can tell me what is not guff about that marketing?

Presumably, by insisting that a ‘proper beer’ didn’t need advertising, they were railing against campaigns like this:

And this:

And this:

Come along, Alistair. You’ve got your mansion to go to now. Couldn’t a bit of change from the SABMiller deal be spent on some proper marketing?

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