Magazine article Marketing

Can Guinness Keep Ahead?

Magazine article Marketing

Can Guinness Keep Ahead?

Article excerpt

Steve Langan's new job selling Guiness to the Irish sounds like a breeze. But it means walking a tightrope between offending traditionalists and winning over lager fans.

It's hard to believe when he's sipping a cocktail on Copacabana Beach, but Steve Langan, ex-marketing director of Coca-Cola in Brazil, says he can't wait to take up his new job as marketing director of Guinness in Ireland.

The move is a homecoming in two respects: Langan has Irish roots and, following stints at Bass and Scottish & Newcastle, a pedigree in beer marketing. He will need it for this job, regarded as the most important marketing role at Guinness. Not only is Ireland Guinness's biggest volume market - with annual sales larger than Coke's in Brazil - it is also the most prestigious.

Although Guinness still accounts for 90% of all stout drunk in Ireland, and stout represents 50% of the total Irish beer market, Guinness cannot afford to be seen to be losing out at home. Its role as cultural and national icon requires it to maintain its massive appeal, giving it a much narrower margin for error than other brands.

You might think that the task of making the Irish drink more Guinness is not one of the hardest briefs in the world, but Guinness faces an increasingly competitive landscape in its home market. Most importantly, it has to arrest a slide toward lagers, whose share of the beer market has grown from 14% in the mid 80s to 43% now.

Guinness is also being chased by the other two leading Irish stout brands, Murphy's and Beamish, each with a share of about 5%.

Langan will be up against another ex-pat in the stout wars. Peter Bray became group brand manager at Murphy's Cork head office in December. Previously he looked after the brand in the US, where he increased Murphy's Irish Stout and Murphy's Irish Amber sales by 174% in 1996.

John O'Callaghan, marketing manager for stouts at Beamish and Crawford, claims that Beamish has increased its share at Guinness's expense, but admits that the market leader has offset this by growing the stout sector as a whole. Thanks to a buoyant economy and healthy tourist trade, the market grew by 11% last year.

"The market leader's real job is to drive the market; our job is to switch people to Beamish once they have started drinking stout," says O'Callaghan.

Spice of life

This task is made easier by the fact that there are a growing number of free house pubs in Ireland - particularly in Dublin, where 60% are free. Publicans realise consumers want to try more than one brand and want to see more competition between suppliers. …

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