Stella fail the Stella test – Part 2

Last week I solemnly posted on the passing of one of the best communication campaigns of all time: "Reassuringly Expensive" from Stella Artois. In this post we look at another side of Stella’s marketing where they’ve walked away from the simple recipe of success that worked so well for 20+ years: brand architecture.

Stella is my star case study in coaching session about  growing the core. For 20 years they’ve focused on a single product, avoiding the fragmentation of marketing effort that comes from brand extension. They grew instead by inspired use of packaging and promotion. Re-designing multi-packs to look more like wine than beer. Creating a unique embossed glass for in-bar consumption. Creating a range of sizes, from small to big, for different occasions. The list of clever innovation on the core business goes on, and on, an on.

But no more.

Stella has gone from being a mono-product brand to suddenly having three products: Stella, Artois Bock and Peeterman Artois. And a new umbrella brand to tie these all together: Artois. Instead of one brand, we now have four. The new ad campaign is not for Stella, but for La Famille Artois.

You can see the beautiful Powerpoint chart showing the brand architecture, and how it all works in theory. And I’m sure there is a rationale about why the Artois Bock (darker, stronger beer) and Peeterman Artois products meet relevant needs. The beautiful 3-brand pub deilvery shown on the right will get more attention from drinkers. But it all seems a bit complex. And brings a risk of diverting focus from the beautiful, big core Stella business onto the new "dwarves", which I fear the two new products will be.

Some thoughts/suggestions from this story:
1. Extend sequentially: two new products at the same, after having none for 20 years, seems too much for Stella Artois. Better to launch one thing well, make it work, then follow up with the next one.

2. Build on strong brands: the bit of the Stella Artois brand people know is Stella, not Artois. So trying to turn Artois into the umbrella brand, and using it for Artois Bock is an uphill struggle. [One reason for shying away from building on the Stella name may be that it does have a tarnished reputation for being a strong beer drunk by yobs. But then isn’t working on fixing this perception a better route?]

3. Keep it simple: the new Artois range is hard to navigate, with three different brands (Stella, Artois and Peeterman). And, to make it more confusing, they’re used in different ways: Artois is the 2nd bit of Stella Artois and Peeterman Artois…then it becomes the lead name for Artois Bock. And what’s a Bock anyway?

4. Avoid umbrella brands if at all possible: the Artois brewery creates an extra level of complexity, and distracts attention away from the product brands which actually drive sales