The launch of Stella Artois 4% beer is a chilling reminder of how new product launches can fragment a brand, resulting in "brand scizophrenia".
The new 4% beer is being advertised with the idea of "La nouvelle smooth", in the style of 60's French cinema. It tries to capture the spirit of the French Riviera of bygone days....
... meanwhile, the main Stella campaign dramatises the birth of the brand in 1366 "when the people of Leuven had the courage to create the perfect beer".
Poor old Stella Artois. For more than 20 years it was an amazing case study of sustained success in growing the core. It stuck to the same advertising campaign, based on the idea of "reassuringly expensive". And, just as impressively, sticking to a single product, using different pack formats to meet different needs.
Then, back in November last year I posted on two ominous signs of trouble ahead. The brand ditched its long-running ad campaign and, more worryingly, tried to create "La Famille Artois" by launching Artois Bock and Peterman Artois. Unfortunately, 6 months later in April 2008, and with three products instead of one, the brand sales were down 12% (TNS Worldwdide). Now with the 4% product launch we have 4 products, and the risk of even more fragmentation. I'm sad to say that I don't expect this to do much for the brand's sales. At best, I predict sales will be flat a year from now, but spread over more products.
I wonder if this decline could have been avoided if more had been done to keep Stella fresh and relevant? The trick with rejunenation is to work on updating the brand before sales start to slow. As one sports coach said, "To stay number 1 you need to train like number 2".
Or perhaps Stella has just reached the end of its natural life as a leading brand? The heavy discounting of the brand in supermarkets had undermined its premium credentials. And a whole host of new premium packaged beers is now on sale.
Whatever the truth, adding brand scizophrenia to Stella's list of problems can't be a good idea to improve the brand's health.