How brewers struggle to find the right branding blend
Beer company websites raise the question of what happens when you try to combine brandbuilding and corporate material. The best provide a cool mix that balances both elements.
Carlsberg says it has “probably the best website in the world”. Well, it would, wouldn’t it? I thought I would check it out just in case, and can confirm that it does not. But it did set me looking at beer companies’ websites – an interesting bunch, because they raise the question of what happens when you try to combine brandbuilding and corporate material. A dangerous mix, as Carlsberg shows.
Its site demonstrates the problem. The home page offers two links: Experience and Company. Experience leads to the sort of brandbuilding website that keeps marketing people happy but should, I suspect, be queried by the finance director. It is an animated mishmash that lets you listen to music, learn bad Portuguese (for the Euro 2004 football tournament) and plan a “running dinner” (don’t ask). As in so many sites driven by Flash animation software, this is tough to navigate around and, unless you have broadband, slow, slow, slow. And why is the Croatian site in English?
The Company link leads to a corporate section that is adequate, but boring – to look at and to read (“Carlsberg sells German water business” was the main headline when I visited). The Values section raises the art of blandness to a new high, while the other corporate sections are well-organised but, well, boring.
Getting the proper mix
Surely, though, company websites are supposed to be dull, aren’t they? Do investors, journalists and jobseekers expect anything else? The answer is yes they do, or at least they should. A company’s brand is about more than how it presents itself to consumers. It is also about how it is seen by investors, employees, journalists, regulators and all those other ‘stakeholder’ groups that together make a huge difference to the group’s future. In other words, Company is as important to brand as Experience.
Carlsberg’s mistake is to assume that visitors will look at the website as a whole: like a sweet-and-sour dish, the blend of Fun and Dull will come up with a whole that is just right – responsible yet imaginative, that sort of thing. But what if you only taste the sour bit? Were the Company home page the main Carlsberg.com home page, I don’t think even those jolly Danes would dare to joke that it was “probably the best website in the world”.
Branding and added fizz
I looked at other quoted brewers, to see how they handled the balance. Diageo, which owns Guinness, has put lots of effort into its brand sites. Guinness is another expensive affair which found a role for itself during the rugby season – it’s a big sponsor – but struggles to build the brand at other times. The history section is good, especially the old ads, but aside from this, what’s the point? Beyond an obscure link on the Diageo site, there is no attempt to integrate the two (nor indeed to integrate the corporate with any other brand site). This should mean Diageo can look at its corporate effort as a standalone builder for the broader brand. It hasn’t, sadly. The web people clearly didn’t make the case with the finance department, and anyway they are colour-blind. Purple, red and yellow is not a good combination anywhere, let alone on the home page of a major corporation.
Better news from Heineken, which does the same as Carlsberg, but does it better. It has many ho-hum brandbuilding sites, though I did spot a feature on the US site that made me think there may be hope for the breed yet. “Heineken and Real present downloads music on the house,” the headline said. It turns out that you can download music tracks free if you tap in a code, and you will find that on a pack of beer. A brand site that actually increases sales – whatever next?
But what really impressed me was the corporate site (linked, but also at www.heinekeninternational.com). A map on the home page is designed to show what’s happening round the group, and also links through to employee profiles. This is a site that creates a real fizz around the business – a huge contrast to its flat Danish rival.
Achieving a balanced blend
Anheuser-Busch, maker of US Budweiser, has a different approach, but an effective one. Its home page is cheerfully chaotic, in the manner of many American sites, and mixes links to brand sites in with corporate information. It has a shop where you can (still) buy a St Patrick’s Day stein, an interesting mix of cultures. But it also has some serious ‘reputation management’ material under “Beer carbohydrates – the real story”, a mini-site that aims to shred the unfriendly thoughts contained in a book called The South Beach Diet. I said in my last column that Americans didn’t do reputation management online: I retract in the case of Anheuser-Busch.
This site works because it really is properly balanced. We are not steered from the home page to have fun in one area and tedium in the other. It’s all mixed up, which may well be the best of way of boosting the brand as a whole. Carlsberg should (probably) take note.
First published on 16 June, 2004