Cheap and cheerful or a UK lager classic?

Skol billboard on Avenida Juscelino Kubitschek, Sao Paulo

It's a long way from Burton to Brazil

A strange combination is Skol. One of UK lager’s oldest brands, it has been passed from hand to hand, merrily swapping owners as brewing consolidation caught up with it again and again. From Burton-brewed to cheap and cheerful discount lager in the UK and eastern Europe. Mind you, they sell shedloads of it in Brazil, where it is the best selling beer with around a third of the market.

But it’s a long journey from Burton to Brazil. When the Skol name was introduced in 1959 by Ind Coope, lager consumption in the UK was 500,000 barrels and Skol was on its way towards the growth that was to take it to being the number one lager brand in the 60s. But while the Scandinavian name was coined in 1959 to compete directly with the growing imports from Denmark and Germany, Ind Coope’s lager was a re-badging of Graham’s Golden Lager brewed in Alloa, Scotland – a brew that began its life in Allsopp’s in Burton.

In 1897 an ailing Allsopp’s had gambled £80,000 on a lager brewery from New York. The gamble seemed to pay off as lager became one of the company’s successes. Although not enough to save it from bankruptcy in 1911.  Among those brought in to save it was a Scot, John Calder, who saw greater opportunities for the brewery in Scotland where lager sold better. It was transferred in 1921 to Alloa under the care of Archbald Arrol, where Calder served on the board. Allsopp’s Lager did better under the new management and reportedly was sold in more than 40 countries.

In 1927, Calder introduced a lighter lager called Graham’s Golden Lager that also did well at home and during the 30s was stocked by Watney Combe Reid in London.

By 1959, it was time for a change and the new owners of Alloa, Ind Coope (who took it over in 1934) decided that it was time for a shake-up and a change of name. The change seemed to work as in 1961 The Economist reported that Skol had a little over a quarter of the market, slightly ahead of imports and Eddie Taylor’s Carling. The growth was achieved through increased marketing spend to recoup the investment in capital-intensive lager brewing equipment.

But it wasn’t just to be national expansion for Skol. In 1964, Allied (that had in the meantime swallowed up Ind Coope) created Skol International Ltd. with Canada’s Labatt, Pripp-Brygerierna of Sweden and Unibra of Belgium. The grand plan was to launch Skol as a world-wide brand under license. By 1969,  the number of partners had grown to six with the addition of brewers in Austria and Portugal. The number of licensees was up to 17 as Skol was marketed in 50 countries.

The results of this partnership were varied, but by far the biggest success was in Brazil. More on that later.

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Before Harp Lager there was Barclay Perkins

OK, I know I promised more for you Skolars, but Ron over at Shut Up About Barclay Perkins has produced more lovely statistics about the pivotal period of UK lager in the late 5os when volumes started to take off.

The stats show that by 1956, Barclay Perkins produced more lager than any single beer (although together, the company’s  two Milds marginally outsold lager). Barclay Perkins was one of the pioneers of UK-brewed lager and after being consumed by Courage became one of the first brewers of Harp on the UK mainland.

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When lager advertising gave Samantha one

The Skol lager ad with the immortal last line. Watch to the end –  it’ s a cracker. It also was a landmark campaign for lager, according to the agency that made it – D’Arcy Macmanus & Masius.

Why was it different? Because it was among the first mass-advertised lagers to focus on the context of the drink rather than the product quality.

For young men, the core target market, taste was not their real motivation for drinking lager; what mattered to them was the sociability and conviviality involved in drinking. This was the opportunity. The Skolars campaign, “When you know lager, you’re a Skolar” expressed all emotional motivations for drinking lager and indissolvably linked them to Skol.

Within two years Skol’s previously declining market share had been restored to the position it held in the mid seventies. This despite the interruptions to supply caused by industrial disputes.

Neither product quality, nor price relative to other standard lagers had changed and distribution had in fact declined. Thus of all the marketing factors that could conceivably have influenced the brand’s market share only advertising could have been responsible for the gains achieved in the last two years.

IPA Effectiveness Awards, 1982

The agency of course was being slightly disingenuous. Happy, convivial drinkers had been part and parcel of beer advertising since the start of beer advertising. But the difference with the 1978 ‘When you know lager, you’re a Skolar’ ads was that the drinkers weren’t happy as a direct result of the beer’s own characteristics, but because of the social context they were served in.

In other words it was part of the long farewell to claims of “Refreshment” and being “Probably the best” and towards such dubious practices as ‘Following the bear’ and making a ‘sHarp exit’.

Posted in Advertising, Brands, Lager | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments