Real life rejuvenation – Hofmeister beer

One of the fun things I’ve done this year is invest some real cash in a real-life experiment in brand rejuvenation, by buying shares in the company that is re-launching Hofmeister beer. This brand was famous in the 1980’s in the UK as an affordable, easy-drinking lager (3.6% abv). UK readers of a certain age will no doubt remember Hofmeister, probably with some fondness. The brand had a well-loved TV campaign featuring George the bear and one of the most well-known slogans in UK advertising: “For great lager, follow the bear.” However, owner Scottish & Newcastle killed it off in 2003, following declining sales in the face of competition from premium International beers like Carlsberg and Stella Artois.

Fast forward to 2015, and Richard Longhurst decided to look up who owned the brand and whether it was for sale. After several months of negotiation the brand was purchased, and the re-launch was under way. By the end of 2016, sales started with an initial focus in the ‘on-trade’ (pubs and bars).

Below I look at how Richard and the team have gone about renovating and breathing life back into the brand using our KULA framework: Keep; Update; Loose; Add. This involves looking back at what made the famous to highlight what you can keep in terms of brand equities. You then need to look forward to decide what to update, loose or add to the brand to make it relevant today and tomorrow.

1. Keep

In addition to the Hofmeister name, the team have kept the striking yellow colour and the bear symbol. As Richard and the team asked people about their recollection of the brand, prior to buying it, they got two main reactions. First, people smiled and second, most people said, “Follow the beer!”. So there was something in the bear worth hanging on to, it seemed. The team also use the slogan on the website, saying “For Great Helles Lager, Follow The Bear.”

2. Update

The beer market has clearly moved on dramatically in the 15 years since Hofmeister was last on sale. So there was a need to significantly update the brand presentation, as you can see from the comparison of the old and new packaging below. The bear still takes pride of place, looking from left to right and holding a pint. And the yellow colour is still prominent. But we have a more contemporary graphic execution and a premium, 330ml in place of the can. The brand typeface has also been updated to give it an authentic Germanic feel.

3. Loose

The Hofmeister bear of the 1908’s and 1990’s was a pork-pie hat-wearing figure in a shiny velour jacket called George. George was played by a man wearing a bear suit (!) and was “invariably surrounded by a group of generic Cockney geezers marvelling at his skills with a snooker cue,” according to this article. See below for a classic ad from the 80’s.

One marketing route considered was to bring George back to life, based on a hope that there was some latent awareness of and fondness for him amongst middle aged beer drinkers. However, the team decided that George would have too much negative ‘brand baggage’ for people who recognised him (cheap, weak lager) and be been seen as rather ‘naff’ by the younger drinkers not born when he was last on air! So, George the bear was banished from the brand mix, although in a subtle nod to people in the know his name is used as the email contact: george@hofmeister.co.uk

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4. Add

The key thing the team needed to add to the Hofmeister brand mix was a higher quality product with authentic brewing credentials. Richard managed to find a fourth generation family-owned brewery in Bavaria to make the beer. A commitment to traditional Bavarian brewing means that Hofmeister complies with the 500-year-old German Beer Purity Law, ‘Reinheitsgebot’. This law, adopted in Bavaria in 1516, limits the Helles lager recipe to three ingredients: water, barley and hops. So, Hofmeister is now 5% ABV, light golden blonde in colour, rich in flavour and slow brewed with lower carbonation to be a refreshing, balanced, easy-drinking lager.

The brand has been on sale for a few months now and initial results are encouraging. In one trial of the beer on draft, Hofmeister outsold Staropramen and Grolsch in both volume and value, despite a 30p per pint price premium. Which is good news for the brand, and for the chances of my investment showing some sort of positive return.

Keep tuned for more news on the Hofmeister brand rejuvenation story!

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