By its own claim, Carlsberg has long been “probably the best beer in the world”. But the brand’s Twitter account recently promoted tweets that actively (and often brutally) criticised their product. Notable amongst these insults were claims that the beer tastes like “stale breadsticks” and “drinking the bath water your nan died in”. 

This of course left many Twitter users scratching their heads. It was, after all, an uncharacteristic move for such a confident and self-assured brand. Some commenters even believed that Carlsberg’s social media account had been hacked. The truth, however, was much more cunning than that.  

As it turned out, Carlsberg had been laying the groundwork for a big announcement: a product relaunch. With the new slogan: “Probably not the best beer in the world. So we’ve changed it.”

A New Direction

The relaunch was apparently prompted by declining sales amidst a UK-wide trend which has seen consumers increasingly steering clear of big brand lagers. 

According to Liam Newton, Carlsberg’s vice-president of marketing, more and more people are opting for “premium” beers these days. Which is, of course, not a label typically associated with Carlsberg’s beers. 

But this shortcoming is candidly addressed in a print ad recently run by the beer giant. “We focussed on brewing quantity, not quality. We became one of the cheapest, not the best”. This admission allows them to ease the jolt of their marketing U-turn. The important point here is that Carlsberg aren’t saying they never were the best beer in the world. Instead they’re saying, in their own words, that they “lost their way”. 

Part of the genius of this campaign, besides its ambiguous and off-kilter build up, is in the brand’s ownership of its flaws. It makes them relatable and fallible, which is a surprisingly rare attribute in many global brands. 

It would have been easy for Carlsberg to simply approach their relaunch with their heads down, patently ignoring what their brand once was. But that could have been too quickly interpreted as disingenuous. 

Liam Newton, talking to Marketing Week, said, “This [rebrand] is a significant bold step to try and address this serious challenge. That’s the key thing – we haven’t evolved in line with consumer needs.”

Smaller brand, bigger business

Going forward, it looks like Carlsberg will be focussing more on their Danish roots, as well as looking to step down from the mainstream market in order to reestablish themselves as more of a craft brand.  

This all comes at a time when small, grassroots brands are gaining a lot of support in local communities. Craft beers and microbreweries seem to be enjoying a heightened level of popularity in recent times. And Carlsberg’s ownership of its shortcomings somehow manages to humanise the brand in a way that a simple, cut-and-dry, relaunch probably couldn’t. It’s the case of a big brand showing its vulnerable side. And by knocking itself down a few pegs, Carlsberg’s arguably in a better position now to rebuild and realign itself as a smaller, friendlier, and more personal brand.

In the long run it could turn out to be a very wise move on their part. But in the short term, at the very least, their newest campaign has done its job by garnering lots of online attention. They’ve simultaneously addressed a rising issue with their product and promised something better. They’ve also managed to do this whilst maintaining the core “voice” of the Carlsberg brand, as is evident in their ad’s sign-off lines: “Finally, a beer that lives up to its promise? Probably.” 

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For more on beer-related branding, check out our post on The Creative Genius Of Modern British Breweries: Top 10 Beer Label Designs. Or take a look at 5 more wildly creative rebranding campaigns.