Brewer chases bigger dreams than sales growth

THE e-commerce boom in China has many ramifications. Among them are “festivals” created to stimulate online shopping.

THE e-commerce boom in China has many ramifications. Among them are “festivals” created to stimulate online shopping. November 11 and June 18, ordinary dates with no special significance, have come to be celebrated as a local version of Black Friday, an occasion for “spendthrifts” to snap up merchandise up to 50 percent off their original prices.

The latest addition to this list of commercially inspired festivals is the Double Nine Carnival (September 9), conceived by leading B2C e-commerce platform Tmall. In Chinese the number nine and booze are homonyms.

On this very day retailers of alcoholic beverages partner with Tmall in offering sizeable discounts to push up sales. It is also a battlefield where retailers cross swords with a variety of gimmicks.

This year, AB InBev looks set to be the first to emerge on top. As the owner of brands like Budweiser, Stella Artois and Corona, the company recently launched a campaign featuring an immersive play and a mini-movie. As a beer lover, I was invited to attend the launch ceremony at a bar in the Tianzifang complex. The play and mini-movie, both entitled “Finding Mr X,” revolves around the theft of a “beer bible” from a pub, as well as intrigues between several suspects. The storyline is peppered with beer terminology. The 6-minute mini-movie can be found on some video-sharing websites and in AB InBev’s flagship Tmall store.

Asked about the motivation to try new advertising formats like mini-movies, Bruno Cosentino explained that consumers today are keen to know more about what brands stand for. Cosentino is the APAC (Asia-Pacific) marketing VP of AB InBev. “But it has to be done in an entertaining way, not just in a promotional, or literal way,” he says.

In a certain way, the mini-movie is part of the brewer’s consistent emphasis on consumers’ category education. Compared to liquor and wine, knowledge about beer is largely confined to small circles of connoisseurs in China. Due to the lack of “right education,” beer buyers can have difficulty selecting their purchase from supermarket shelves stocked with different beers.

Driven partly by expected top line growth and partly by a sense of mission, AB InBev has taken upon itself the job to share information such as beer brands, brewing process and food pairing tips.

“As the industry leader, we have to make people aware of what products are for which occasion and go well with which kind of food,” says Cosentino.

The mini-movie does serve as a primer on beer knowledge: The name of the fictitious bar, “1516,” is an allusion to the year the German beer purity law was introduced; malt, hop, water and yeast are identified as the four basic ingredients used in brewing; lager and ale are the products of different brewing techniques.

According to Martin Suter, Head of eCommerce, APAC at AB InBev, this form of communication blends fun with education, and is believed to be more effective in promoting beer culture.

“While beer can be complicated (to most people), we want to avoid intimidation,” Suter told Shanghai Daily.

Watching the movie, I was reminded of Jack Ma’s take on what he termed “new retail.” The e-commerce guru predicted last year that in the next decade or two, e-commerce will be replaced by new retail, meaning the integration of online, offline elements and logistics.

Bruno concurred. “I would say today online and offline integration is a basic for any kind of (marketing) campaign.”

The popularity of social media, especially mobile media, has been a shot in the arm for AB InBev’s quest to create a marketing platform that taps into online and offline resources.

During the year and a half since his arrival in China, Suter says he was “blown away” by changes that came with the e-commerce revolution.

“When I look at how the young Chinese entertain themselves and do shopping, it’s largely mobile experience,” he says.

This is something AB InBev has leveraged, hoping that by delivering differentiated content, it can better engage its target audience via social media.

Benefits are myriad, but above all, “this gives us the opportunity as the marketer to provide you with digital experiences tied to your interests,” says Suter.

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