Why has Stella failed “The Stella test”? – Part 1

So, after more than 20 years, Stella Artois beer in the UK has walked away from their "Reassuringly Expensive" campaign. I expect this was a tough call to make, as its one of the most amazing success stories, ever. If you are outside the UK and don’t know the ads, you can see them here in an earlier post.

The consistent campaign played a key role in quadrupling in the business over 20 years….check out that sales graph on the right.

We use it as an example in brandgym workshops of one of the rare brands that has pulled off a tricky balancing act:
– Consistency: sticking to key elements in terms of both the idea ("You’d do anything to get a Stella") and executional elements (French language, cinematic quality, music, endline)
– Change: updating the execution to keep it fresh. Coming up with better and better "episodes" in the same story

The new campaign keeps the French feel and cinematic quality. It is another mini masterpiece of casting and production. The endline has changed to "Pass on something good". The music has changed. But more importantly, the communication idea has changed:
– The previous campaign always had someone doing something (drinking a dying man’s last Stella) or giving something (selling the beautiful shoes you’ve saved up to buy your mum) to get a Stella. I loved this, as it was one of the best examples of sausage and sizzle: telling a simple product story, but in an entertaining and beautifully told way
– The product story in the new ad is much harder to decode…according to the You Tube entry "Caring acts serve as an analogy for the care that has been passed on from the Artois brewery over six centuries." Mmmm. The beer is in the background, and the star of the ad is an old man’s hat that is passed from person to person.

I’m sure there was a solid argument made for walking away from the Reassuringly Expensive campaign, and I can see the Powerpoint presentation now. "The brand’s sales have slowed in the last couple of years… competition is more intense at the premium end of the UK lager market…. a host of international brands (Peroni, Tiger, Corona, Budvar etc.) are vying for space in the fridge, and in the pubs/bars….the campaign has eventually tired out…"

But what a shame. And you have to wonder if there wasn’t a way to keep the idea of "You’d do anything.." and update it.

Perhaps the biggest reason for change was the other golden Stella rule the brand has broken, this one to do with focusing on the core and not extending. I’ll come back to that one next week…for now, a minute’s silence please, to mourn the passing of a great campaign….