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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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What's new?
Next beer book - now called 'Miracle Brew' - is finished! You can still subscribe to it here.
You can still listen to The Apple Orchard on BBC iPlayer radio
I'm taking the pub on tour - four dates between now and Christmas.
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Sunday, 24 August 2014

How to fail completely at social media: an object lesson from @StrongbowUK

Good marketing practice is not that difficult. It just seems that it's so much easier to screw it up.

Whenever I've been in a meeting room where marketers are discussing social media, everyone agrees unanimously that the difference between it and straightforward advertising is that it's a two-way street. Twitter and Facebook are platforms for conversations. In strategic meetings, at conferences and in marketing textbooks everywhere, everyone says they understand this.

And yet in practice, it's so very different.

Today, this tweet appeared on my timeline.


It made me quite annoyed. While I'm sure there is the equivalent of the juice from eight apples in a pint of Strongbow, by omission it very clearly implies that this is all there is. It suggests that the apples are squeezed, the juice is fermented, and that's basically it.

But this is completely untrue. Strongbow is approximately 37% apple juice . If that's the wrong figure, I'll happily correct it if anyone from Bulmers - now part of Heineken - cares to tell me the correct figure. But they won't, because they don't want you to know. Anyway, I've been told on good authority that it's 37%.

That juice has been reconstituted from concentrate, much of which is shipped in from abroad. Bulmers does use a lot of apples from Herefordshire as they claim, but there are not enough apples in Herefordshire to cater for the huge volumes it makes.

Strongbow then has more water added to bring the alcohol strength down from its natural 7-8% ABV, and lots of sugar, additives and flavourings to stop it tasting so watery.

So the tweet above is misleading, if not downright dishonest.

You can get away with that in advertising (though I will also be complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority about this tweet) but you can't get away with it in the conversation that is social media.

You might be able to make out the first response above: "that's bollocks and you know it!"

Further down the page, the responses come thick and fast:

"haven't mentioned fermented apple juice & glucose syrup,water sugar,carbon dioxide,acid:E270,E330,antioxidant:E224(sulphites)"

"how come I can't taste them then?"

"..and then bung in a load of artificial sweetener, right?"

There's even a correction to the incorrect terminology on the tweet:

"You'd probably find it easier to press them [apples] rather than squeeze."

This reminds me of the claim in another tweet from the brand which claims Strongbow is 'brewed in Herefordshire'. I'm not sure how Strongbow is made, but I do know that cider is not 'brewed'. Brewing is the heating/boiling of water with infused ingredients, such as tea leaves or hops. Cider is 'made' - at least in the method that Strongbow claims to follow here - and no brewing takes place. You'd really expect the UK's biggest cider brand to know a little bit about how cider is made.



You could argue that people who drink Strongbow don't really care about this, and there are enough 'so what?' comments on the thread to suggest you would have a point. 

But either way, what is Strongbow's response to this? How does the brand react to having its claims challenged in a conversational medium? 

It completely ignores them.

The above statements, which are potentially very damaging to the brand, remain completely unanswered. As does every other comment on the thread. The above pic was first posted on 9th August, and Strongbow UK have not responded to a single comment. 

You could argue that with regard to their critics, they simply stopped digging - but I still believe it's foolish to leave these criticisms up there, unanswered. But elsewhere in the thread there are real fans of the brand who get the same silent treatment: several people ask semi-seriously if a pint of Strongbow counts towards their five a day. One fan asks if he can blag some beer mats or other swag for his pub shed. Another asks if the tall glass featured in the shot is available to buy.

Curious, I went through a few other tweets, and its the same story every time: a mix of stinging criticism and genuine questions from passionate fans, ignored. Having looked at five or six threads, I can't find a single follow-up comment from the brand.

What a genius way to do marketing! 

Join a conversational medium and use it as free advertising space. Make outrageous claims that you couldn't get away with on TV. Then allow your critics to take potshots at you on your own timeline, leaving them there for everyone to see, making you look stupid and dishonest, and also piss off your most loyal fans by ignoring them as well.

No wonder this brand with a marketing budget running into millions has got fewer than 10,000 Twitter followers. They're actually lucky they don't have more people to watch online brand marketing commit painful suicide. 

Boys and girls of Strongbow, I'm afraid you really haven't earned it with this sad, sorry show.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

When will the anti-alcohol lobby stop lying about the '£21 billion' cost of alcohol to society?

They're at it again.

Yesterday a cross-party committee of MPs (working with the professional liars at Alcohol Concern, natch) demanded that health warnings become mandatory on alcohol labels in order to combat what they described as an 'epidemic' of alcohol related harm. It claimed the costs of alcohol abuse to society are "ever increasing". It also said we need a minimum unit price for alcohol, that alcohol advertising needs to be more tightly controlled, and that the drink drive limit should be lowered. 

There's so much misleading rhetoric, distortion by omission and outright falsehood here it's difficult to know where to start, but let's have a go.

The urgent need to combat drink driving is particularly ironic given that another report published yesterday - which obviously didn't get a fraction of the coverage that the anti-drink scaremongers did - reveals that drink driving deaths have just fallen to their lowest level since records began

There's also a call to tighten the marketing and promotion of alcohol in order to protect children from the possibility of alcohol abuse. This, despite there being not a single study that has managed to successfully link alcohol advertising and under age drinking, and also despite the news last month that under age drinking has also fallen to the lowest level since records began.

And then there's the call for 'sobriety orders' which we apparently need in order to 'break the cycle of alcohol and crime, anti-social behaviour and domestic violence. Leaving aside the deeply offensive slur that drinkers are more likely to beat their partners, yet again it's curious that we need these new measures when violent crime is falling dramatically, and academics who have studied this decline cite a dramatic fall in binge drinking as the main reason for the fall in violent crime.

And overall, I'm confused as to how the cost of alcohol to society can be 'ever increasing' when alcohol consumption has fallen to its lowest level for twenty years. (Are you starting to see a pattern here yet?)

The '£21 billion' figure for the cost of alcohol to society continues to be quoted without question across the entirety of our news media. Yet here's the independent fact verification body FullFact discrediting the figure and declaring it unreliable over two years ago. Two of the reasons they give for this criticism are that they were unable to find anyone who worked on calculating it, and there seems to be no existing record of how the figure was actually worked out. 

This is only the tip of the iceberg as to why £21 billion cannot be relied on, as I've described many times before. And on top of all that, if there has been an 18% fall in alcohol consumption since the figure was calculated ten years ago, how the hell can cost of that consumption to society still be as high as it was, let alone 'ever increasing'? (The figure was nudged up from £20 billion to £21 billion at random, with no recalculation, even as alcohol consumption in the UK went into decline. FullFact were unable to find anyone at the Department of Health who could explain why.)

The biggest part of alcohol's cost to society according to this figure is the effects of alcohol related crime. As we've already seen, violent crime is falling sharply, thanks to a reduction in binge drinking behaviour. So I ask again - how can the cost of that crime to society not also be falling sharply?

When you read the arguments why we need to crack down on our binge drinking 'pandemic', all these facts are conveniently ignored. They focus instead on the rise in alcohol related hospital admissions (which, as I'm fond of saying, is highly dubious), and the rise in liver related health complaints. This latter is a cause for concern. But health costs are the smallest part of the £21 billion total. The argument simply falls apart under the mildest scrutiny - yet no one in mainstream media will give it that scrutiny.

There's no denying that a group of people are drinking harmfully. But the behaviour of that group is not in line with overall population trends. Measures that affect all drinkers - such as minimum pricing or restricted availability - not only punish moderate drinkers; they don't get to the heart of the problem for harmful drinkers. The problem is not the general availability of price of booze - it it was, the more affluent we are, the more harmfully we'd be drinking. In fact, the opposite is true: demographically, the less affluent you are, the more likely you are to suffer alcohol-related ill-health. 

Health warnings on packs will do nothing to deter hardened drinkers. But they will help demonise alcohol for everyone else. Why is no work being done to discover why a minority are drinking increasingly harmfully when the vast majority of the population - every time they are asked - claim to be cutting down on their alcohol consumption, and falling booze sales suggest they are telling the truth? 

The very people who claim to be most Concerned about Alcohol are betraying those most in need of their help every time they distort the true picture by suggesting we have a society-wide problem when any impartial analysis shows the problem is specific to certain groups, or at the very least shows the problem is in decline, not worsening. I honestly don't know how they can live with themselves.

Despite all its flaws,  I've been told that in the autumn the anti-alcohol lobby will be launching a massive social media campaign to 'raise awareness' of the cost of alcohol to society using the hashtag #£21billion, despite knowing full well that that figure has been discredited, and that even if it was accurate when it was first 'calculated', it can't possibly still be right now. MPs from all parties are taking part in a campaign deliberately to misinform, mislead and create undue alarm. 

Who'd have thought?