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Brands bearing all

We were interested to see a brand compare its beer to ‘the stale piss of Satan’. We were further intrigued when the brewery elaborated, suggesting its product tasted like ‘the bath water your nan died in’. But we started to get it, when Carlsberg admitted that their lager, staple of pubs throughout the country, probably wasn’t the best beer in the world.

Promoted by Carlsberg UK for their most recent campaign

The reveal of Carlsberg’s new recipe – a ‘Danish Pilsner’ – attracted considerable attention from the mainstream press. After what appeared to be a catastrophic event for the brand (promoting derogatory, albeit creative tweets about the beer), Carlsberg revealed it was all part of the plan. They hadn’t been hacked, they were owning up to a failure. For decades, Carlsberg has positioned itself as “probably the best beer in the world.” But, somewhere along the way, they dropped the ball. Sacrificed quality for quantity.

That’s what this campaign purports to be about. A self-effacing apology; an acknowledgement that to a degree, Carlsberg’s critics are right. In response, a change to the recipe. And as the iconic tall glasses are replaced with shorter vessels, perhaps a change in the drinking experience.

Carlsberg probably not

Probably (not) the best beer in the world, by Carlsberg & Fold7

This move by Carlsberg echoes that of KFC last year, in response to criticism of their fries on social channels. “Dear KFC,” one twitter user wrote, “no one likes your fries. Sincerely, the entire world.” Rather sweep this under the rug, KFC built a campaign centred around this message – with the promise of new fries in response. In February, when KFC ran out of chicken (!) there was nowhere to hide from an obvious crisis. Their apology, FCK – We’re Sorry, was inspired. In the days that followed, the apology drew considerable praise for its humorous, honest handling of what could have been a catastrophe.

Carlsberg promoted ‘mean tweets’ to the surprise of… everyone 

It’s an interesting, and if done right, effective formula. Those more cynical amongst us might imagine brands already planning changes are now searching for their own ‘mean tweets’. A desire for transparency and trust in brands feels particularly strong in our current cultural moment, and Carlsberg have shown how to do it right. No ifs, no buts, and don’t be afraid to surprise us.


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