Is Stella’s Cidre a stretch too far?

The extension of Stella Artois from lager into cider with Stella Artois Cidre is an interesting bit of brand stretching. This is after all a brand with a track record of dodgy brand extensions. It launched then killed Artois Bock and Peeterman Artois back in 2007, as I posted on here. And last year's Stella Artois Black premium beer launch has not been expanded.

Now, "Can Stella stretch from lager to cider?" is, as regular readers will know, not really the right question. Most strong brands like Stella have, in theory, the potential to stretch into adjacent categories. But the real question is "Can Stella make any money from cider?"

Challenge 1: physical availability

The first thing that trips up many new launches has nothing to do with fancy pants marketing stuff like Facebook and Twitter. Its simply getting the bloody product on shelf and seen, or "physical availability". Here, Stella's cider is backed by the the world's biggest brewing company, AB In Bev. So, there is a good chance the new product will get stocked. So, let's hope that bit is sorted.

Challenge 2: mental availability

The bigger challenge for Stella Artois Cidre is "mental availability": being recalled and relevant at the point of purchase. And this is tough, as Stella is up against some established brands. In particular, there is Magners, which revolutionised the cider market by promoting a new ritual of drinking it over ice. It is number 2 in the off-trade (supermarkets) with sales of £60million, but really strong in the on-trade (pubs) with sales of £140million. For cheaper more mainstream cider there is Strongbow, leader in supermarkets with sales of over £200million.

So, Stella has to try and re-wire cider drinkers' brains and create new "memory structure" that gets them to choose Stella not Magners, over and over again. And here, I worry that they will struggle.

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Lack of relevant news

I can sort of see what Stella are trying to do with Stella Cidre. Magners and most other brands use traditional imagery of rural scenes, craftsmanship and apples. Stella uses none of this. Instead, it relies on emotional "sizzle" by trying to be the new, more contemporary and stylish cider. This is shown by launch advertising that focuses on how to pronounce the name of the product, and in doing so reinforce the brand's continental associations (which look French, but are in fact Belgian). But is this really enough to make up for the lack of authority and expertise of the leading brands?

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"We have a fancy French name" doesn't seem to be that relevant a bit of news to me. One commentator summed his views up with the following piss-take:

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Will Stella have stamina

Re-wiring consumers' brains to create new memory structure takes time and lots of money. Experts reckon it takes two to three years. So it will be interesting to see how much stamina Stella has. Given the lack of relevant launch news, I expect the brand will have to spend heavily to get any traction. Reports do talk of a launch with "A multi-million pound TV, online and point-of-sale campaign." However, will this spend be maintained post the launch period?

Net, it does feel like Stella Cidre is what we call "a brand ego trip", where the brand kids itself into thinking that the brand name itself is enough to add value in a new a market. The words of AB InBev's Stuart MacFarlane do give this impression: "Stella Cidre will prove once and for all that Stella, as a brand, is right up there with other leading brands, such as Coca-Cola, in its ability to reach new customers in new categories." Mmmm. Its one thing to reach those new customers. Its another thing to be recalled and relevant though. And Coca-Cola are perhaps not the best example of brand stretching to copy, given that apart from Diet Coke most of their extensions have been relative flops (Coke Zero, Coke with Vitamins, Coca Cola Blak etc.)

In conclusion, when you are thinking about brand stretching, to mis-quote JF Kennedy: "Ask not what the new market can do for your brand. Ask what your brand can do for the new market". If Stella had followed this advice, I'm not sure they would have launched Stella Cidre.