Brand Identity – The Stella Artois Story

Stella Artois is one of the most famous, popular and also stigmatised brands in the world. They have peaked and they have fallen drastically in industry and as they emerge from their most challenging era, I am going to write about how they have tried to stick to the brand identity created for them many years ago amongst the many stigmatisations and bad publicity earned in their time. Can they regain their once highly recognised and aspired reputation? Will they be able to keep their own brand identity or will it be replaced by the identity given to them by the public?

Stella Artois is a Belgian Lager, dating back as far as 1336. It was originally brewed for the Christmas season as a limited edition beer, but due to being so popular, returned the following season, and the next until it appeared in the market as an all season beer not so long after. The name Stella Artois stems from the Latin meaning ‘star’ and the original brewer named Sebastian Artois. It prides itself on being made from the finest and freshest ingredients referred to as the Saaz Hop.

Stella Artois really began to make it self known in the market in 1981 due to a man called Frank Lowe. Lowe took the Stella advertisement account from his old company to a new one he self started and not before long had created one of the most famous advertising campaigns in history. 1981 saw the launch of a new look, a new identity for Stella Artois, it was the start of the infamous ‘Reassuringly Expensive’ campaign. Customers had originally found Stella Artois to be expensive and so would opt for an alternative cheaper option. The ‘Reassuringly Expensive’ campaign turned this major negative into a positive for the product, with a message suggesting that paying more was a guarantee of quality and many people bought into this and started opting again to choose Stella Artois. The campaign brilliantly promoted the product as being a ‘luxury worth paying for’.  The Stella Artois brand had always been associated with being expensive but now it was a luxurious, and sophisticated one. It was an upmarket choice of drink. Below is an example of one of the original ‘Reassuringly Expensive’ posters.Image

In 1986, a French film named Jean do Florette was released. One of Lowes companions caught a viewing of the film and this was the start of some of the most memorable TV advertisements of all time. Jean do Florette was a classic modern French cinema piece and so the thought was to base the advertisement campaigns on the modern French cinema genre. This made the ‘Reassuringly Expensive’ slogan stick in the heads of everybody and launched Stella Artois to higher popularity than ever before. This advertisement campaign now gave Stella Artois a classy, sophisticated and continental brand identity. The advertisements were beautifully shot, almost as if they were short films, and were French spoken without subtitles. The beauty of this was that the ad was targeted to an English spoken audience yet the need of subtitles was not needed at all. The story told itself, and the main recognisable phrase was ‘Stella Artois’. It sold itself and gave the brand recognition that no other beer or lager had at that time. Even the soundtrack to the advertisements became associated to Stella Artois, it was a great positive for Stella Artois and the campaign received many advertising awards. Image

Whist this campaign was being launched and shown everywhere, the packaging and bottled was being redesigned. The Stella Artois brand seemed to want to be re-launched as a new fresher and up to date brand. To aid this new, fresh image backed up by the brilliant on-going advertisement campaign, Stella increased their awareness through sponsoring major events. They wanted to keep this up-market, sophisticated identity so they sponsored up-market,sophisticated events such as the Queens Tennis Championships and major film festivals. Their brand was global.

In the early noughties, the public criticism for Stella started to mount. Their target market stopped buying the product, their brand identity was in tatters and they were being targeted with blames for the state of binge drinking, drunken violence and hooliganism in the UK.The main catalyst for this fall from grace was by allowing Stella Artois to be sold in supermarkets. The advertising campaign was such a big success in increasing awareness of the brand, but in the supermarkets it was soon majorly discounted with huge price promotions, not so “reassuringly expensive” anymore. As the percentage of alcohol content in Stella Artois is 5.2% rather than the average of about 4.7%, this became a popular choice by the overall population. This was a good thing for the sales of Stella Artois but the Identity associated with the lager changed drastically. 

Football hooligans were stereotypically deemed to be the image Stella, as they were often pictured with cans of Stella whilst committing vandalism, violence and thievery. Many city centre fights were also linked to the lager’s image as again the lager was drunk in advance due to the cheaper price and higher alcohol percentage. It then became just a regular drink for the lower market users.  The image in its advertising couldn’t be much more different from the real life image. The quality of the beer has nothing to do with it, it was good quality, it was just the unintended users consuming the product who would then go out and cause public disturbance afterwards, causing the public to stigmatise the brand. Again because of its high alcohol content, it became popular for binge drinking and bar crawls and has often been associated and nicknamed the ‘wife-beater’ drink; Very different to the sophisticated and up-market brand identity it gives itself. Ironically, before the company allowed it self to be discounted in supermarkets, the price was deemed to be quite expensive, however nowadays it is one of the cheaper beers available.

There are also many examples about concerned pub landlords stopping selling Stella Artois due to the stigma that came with it. One example was reported in the daily mail,

“We’re a nice place with nice, often more mature, customers… they come for a quiet drink and something to eat.” we started getting all these loudmouthed yobs in. Younger drinkers, 19 to 30-year-olds, and builders… [it would] make the other customers start to  leave early.””With Stella, we got a minimum amount of drinking and a maximum amount of aggravation,”. “It didn’t appear to be a social drink and seemed to have an adverse effect on people.

 The article continues that the landlord stopped the order for Stella Artois and after a few weeks the ‘yobs’ had left. This sort of instance happened all over the country and was horrendous for the identity of Stella Artois.

Articles would come out in the national papers stating similar circumstances and Stella Artois received a lot of bad press, loss of their target customer and contradiction to their perceived image and identity in their ongoing advertising campaign.

The Stella brand did many different things to try to drop this bad image of themselves. First of all in 2001, they embraced the green movement with a hedge fund promotion. This would allow their customers to support Great British hedgerows when they bought special edition packs of the lager. This was to give it a cleaner and more considerate image. The scheme was quite successful but they still needed something big to get rid of the bad press once and for all. In 2007 Stella Artois took a huge step in was trying to eliminate the bad public identity it had gained in recent years. The marketing and advertising team took action and put together a drastically new, fresh, do or die campaign. The new advertisements didn’t associate with modern French cinema they had been renowned for, also dropping their infamous slogan ‘Reassuringly Expensive’. These were two of the three most notable changes but you had to view these as necessary in order to distance yourself from all that was linked to the bad press.  The slogan was present during that bad era meaning it had picked up many negative connotations. It also spelt out to the users that Stella Artois were making an effort to change this perception and again with the hedge fund promotion, engaging again with their desired target user and trying to show that they are listening to them. Even more drastic of a change than dropping the slogan was dropping half of its name. Whilst still being called Stella Artois, Stella was not used or said in a single advertisement and they changed their sponsored events such as the Queen’s Club Stella Championship to the Artois Championship.

In 2008, Stella Artois took another step forward by launching a new lager with a lower alcohol content of 4%. This was regarded as their battle against the binge. This really was a turning point for the company. An opportunity was presented for a new advertising campaign for the lower percentage lager, and so they grabbed it with two hands and, like they did in 1986, created a brand new, cutting edge campaign that had people drawn in. In the 2010 “she is a thing of beauty” campaign, they mixed a sunny paradise with a ‘60’s tongue-in-cheek swing’ style and it relaunched them again to that once again sophisticated and continental drink. They really wanted to make the public look at them differently so instead of changing the drink, they changed how you drink it. They did this by launching a key ‘9-step-Preparation’ ritual or technique that must be followed out for every pint of the drink poured, and also introduced and new glass design, the now famous ‘glass chalice’, which is on the side of all these pages. The ads consist of showing many luxurious and beautiful things such as vintage motor cycles and cars, a beautiful woman, whilst coinciding with their ‘9-step-preparation’. They released this alongside their advertising campaigns to show the skill needed to pour the perfect pint of Stella Artois, showing that it takes care, precision and skill.

So going back to the first advertisement, it shows two shots at once, beautifully shot as usual with a French music, of the steps a beautiful lady takes to get prepared for a date and the 9 preparation steps for pouring a pint of Stella Artois. It shows glimpses of the woman washing, with a shot of the delicate washing of the chalice, next the woman stepping out from the bath, the chalice out from the sink ect. By liking themselves to these beautiful and sophisticated things, they are trying to stamp their original brand identity back onto the public, and you soon start to forget about the bad press with these beautiful ads and new look of the skillfully poured drinks. The whole package has been upgraded and it looks like an up-market product. It is once again a chic luxury.Image

 

I came across the marketing company AB FAB’s campaign slideshow prior to this advertisement, which focused on expanding over to America and raising awareness of the brand. They stated this:

“key selling idea: Stella Artois is a premium, high-end beer that attracts the consumer by its packaging. Stella’s attractive packaging not only serves as a good attention grabber, but also exudes a sophistication that is highly desirable among its niche audience. Stella primarily targets men ages 25-44 in business and professional related occupations. When consumers choose Stella, they select it for its quality. A little concern is given to the price of Stella; however, the quality surpasses the price, thus, leaving the consumer with a feeling of satisfaction, not provided by other imported beers.”

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Together with all of this, they launched a global competition to test the best bartenders in the world to see if they could recreate the perfect Stella Artois pint using the 9-preparation-steps. They then chose the best of those and invited them all to Brazil to a live competition again to repeat and crown the best bar tender award. This was a major coup for Stella Artois on the marketing side as it raised awareness everywhere and it came alongside the best bartenders competing to pour this once labeled ‘wife-beater’ drink. After this it showed that Stella hadn’t just regained its sophisticated identity but solidified it and added extra items to it, such as class and skill.

Following on from this major positive, Stella Artois had two more drinks to release to secure and show off its new status as one of the best. Firstly, late in 2010, Stella Artois Black was released. It was added as the ‘Premium-Plus addition’. It was marketed with a distinctive and bespoke font, glassware and pouring ritual. The Black had a slogan, ‘Matured for longer’ and was identified to be drunk in ‘down tempo’ and ‘reflective’ occasions according to AB InBev president Stuart MacFarlane. The prints for it contain white writing on a black background, presenting a very simple and clean cut look, with a touch of class and intended to appeal to 20-30 year olds.

As Stella Artois was now back to being one of the leading brands in the beer/lager market, they wanted to stamp their prominence with the release of their very own cider name Stella Artois Cidre. This gave another opportunity for them to showcase some brilliant advertising in which they once again set in France. The Ads projected it to have a ‘personality of a cool sophisticate with a wry sense of humour’. The Cidre was so successful that the company actually ran out of the specific type of apples used in its brewing. It was based on a counter intuitive message, telling the audience that it was not a cider but a Cidre. This was made them sound sophisticated and by correcting the customer through calling it the French text over the English gave the continental and educated look to the brand.

Stella Artois have been at the top of the market and bottom of society in different stages in its existence, but now they are safely back to their original and strong identity, which overcame heavy tarnishing to become one of the leading brands in the world. They are proof that identity can change due to success for the right and wrong reasons, by excellent marketing and advertising and also by poor sales decisions, but if it’s a good product with a strong and bold identity, plus a lot of money for advertising, it will come back strong and fighting.

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