Once Were Warriors director Lee Tamahori lends his eye to Steinlager

The celebrated director of iconic New Zealand film Once Were Warriors has lent his creative craft to the unfamiliar territory of beer advertising.

But don’t expect to see any clichés of grizzled men standing around gulping down any golden nectar. Over the course of the 90 seconds he’s been afforded for the Steinlager commercial airing this Sunday, director Lee Tamahori tells the epic story of a group of New Zealanders who 25 years ago boarded the Chimera sailboat and journeyed to the Mururoa Atoll to protest French nuclear testing.

The remarkable tale is inspired by real-life experiences of Dan Salmon and Marty Taylor, who made the bold decision in 1995 to join 14 other New Zealand ships on the treacherous 6000km voyage to the atoll.

Actual footage of that journey has also been spliced together, making for a fascinating frame-by-frame comparison to Tamahori’s interpretation of the events.

The Peace Flotilla and the efforts of those Kiwis have become an important symbol for New Zealand’s fight to ensure a nuclear-free Pacific.

At this point, you may be wondering what a beer has to do with any of this – and that’s a fair question.

The answer lies in the challenge beer companies now face every summer to separate themselves from the mass of options available in the local bottle shop.

If you don’t do something interesting with your marketing, you risk being ignored in the lead-up to one of the most important sales periods of the year. The impact of Covid-19 hasn’t changed that. If anything, it’s increased the degree of difficulty because every brand in the market needs to make up for lost time.

Data from research company Nielsen shows that the total beer market in New Zealand is worth $1.2 billion and growing, up 9 per cent on the same time last year.

There are currently 6597 active beer items currently available, with an additional 159 introduced this year alone. Around 80 per cent of these new products might be categorised in the craft space, but it shows that beer companies that stand still risk having their incumbency usurped the new hot thing in town.

Nielsen’s New Zealand head of media Tony Boyte anticipates a decent jump in beer category advertising spend in the final quarter of 2020 leading into summer.

“Our ad intel data shows that Lion Nathan Breweries increased its advertising spend by 17 per cent in October this year versus October last year, as marketers in the beer industry are looking into ways to exit the downturn,” says Boyte.

Nielsen data shows Lion spent an estimated $15.7 million on advertising from November 2019 to October 2020 – well above the $11.2m spent by DB Breweries and the $2.4m forked out by Independent Liquor.

“We’re competing with a heap of international brands and we had to focus on what makes Steinlager unique,” says Geoff Kidd, the brewer’s senior brand manager.

“Making Kiwis feel proud of New Zealanders is really at the core of everything Steiny stands for. So for us, going into a big summer after the year we’ve just had, it’s ultimately about making Kiwis feel proud.”

Stats NZ data shows that the total beer available for consumption over 2020 has fluctuated somewhat as demand has shifted.

In the three months to March, there were 66 million litres of beer products available. This dropped to 59 million in the second quarter, before sharply increasing again to 75 million in the third quarter. Interestingly, overall litres of beer available for consumption from the beginning of the year to September has increased from 290 million litres in 2019 to 302 million litres this year. The only difference is a decent portion of this consumption has shifted from bars to the home.

The fourth quarter is traditionally the most important of the year, with beer consumption increasingly massively over the warmer months. The industry will no doubt be eyeing the 101 million litres of beer recorded in the fourth quarter last year and looking to beat it this year.

A story that stands out

The Steinlager campaign, which arguably has the highest production value of any local campaign released in 2020, was conceptualised by advertising agency DDB Aotearoa.

Damon Stapleton, the agency’s chief creative officer, says the aim from the outset was to find a remarkable New Zealand story and bring it to life. That was easier said than done, with the creative team running through around 100 potential stories before settling on this one.

“We spent a lot of time researching stories, but a lot fell out for a number of reasons,” says Stapleton.

“Sometimes a story is just too familiar and there’s nothing to add because everybody knows it already. Or, it might be a story that doesn’t go further than a single individual. What we really liked about this story is the collective, and the fact that people from all parts of New Zealand left on this journey.

“We wanted to find a moment in New Zealand that everybody knows about, but that we could add something to.”

Throughout the 90-second duration of the advertisement, one thing notably absent is any overt reference to the brand being advertised.

While this breaks one of the cardinal rules of advertising, Massey University marketing professor Malcolm Wright believes this won’t necessarily detract from the emotional impact of advertising.

“If you want to stand out in a cluttered category, this is how you do it,” says Wright.

“There’s always some controversy over how much product you should show in an ad. Show too much, you detract from the storytelling. Show too little and no one knows what you’re advertising. I think they get the balance just right.

“It’s beautifully crafted storytelling and you have subtle priming throughout, like the moment when you see the bottle being used as a rolling pin. You then also have the Fleetwood Mac cover that triggers nostalgia and a sense of prideful independence.”

Wright says the success of a big emotional campaign like this can, however, be contingent on what competitors end up doing. He says that if other beer brands also opt for emotional storytelling, then the impact of the Steinlager campaign could be diluted.

He points to the example of advertising in UK bank advertising, which has seen numerous competitors all release campaigns telling emotional stories about being with their customers through all their life stages.

“If you were to swap the soundtracks of any of those ads, it wouldn’t make a difference because they’re all so similar,” he said.

He does, however, add that the uniqueness and originality of the Steinlager ad will make it very difficult to match for competitors in the category.

“Provided that they have a strong media strategy for the roll-out of the campaign throughout multiple media platforms, I fully expect it to drive sales in the short term and longer term.”

The competitors in the beer industry won’t simply roll over and concede this battle.

Colleen Ryan, partner of consumer insights agency TRA, says the unusual circumstances of 2020 will make this one of the most competitive summer marketing periods seen in a while.

She consumers will have a pent-up emotional state due to the fact that we’ve seen our movement and holiday experiences restricted so significantly this year.

“Summer is always a symbol of freedom, but it’s even more so this year,” says Ryan.

“There’s an enormous pent-up demand for freedom this year and nothing captures the idea of freedom quite as much as a beer while you’re on holiday.”

Ryan says she expects beer marketers to tap into that emotion as they look to lure customers in the coming months.

Nostalgia, says Ryan, is the other emotional string marketers will be looking to pull, reminding Kiwis that while the world has been rocked, we’re still fortunate enough to be able to enjoy some of the simpler things we always have.

She sees this nostalgia playing into the hands of the bigger familiar brands that have always accompanied Kiwis on their camping trips and holidays over the years.

“What you’re likely to see in beer advertising this year is nostalgia on steroids. They’re really going to turn up the dial on that emotion.”

Which is to say that Steinlager’s epic story will probably be the start of a strange nostalgia-driven voyage into all our pent-up feelings in the coming months.

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