No other category has mastered the art and science of brand strategy like alcohol brands. Their understanding of consumers’ needs and their finesse in applying that knowledge to branding and marketing is unparalleled. Yet, for some reason not many alcohol brands are present in the annual rankings of the most valuable brands.
In May 2018, we wrote the original post about the three most valuable beer brands. At that time, the 2017 Interbrand Best Global Brands ranking was the most recent version. According to it, Budweiser was the most valuable beer brand, Heineken was second and Corona third.
Although these are still the only beer brands to have made it onto the Interbrand Best Global Brands 2019 ranking, the order has changed slightly. All three have noted improvement in brand value, but Corona’s growth has been much more spectacular. It jumped from number 93 in 2017 to number 79, and has overtaken Heineken (number 88) to become the second most valuable beer brand. Budweiser, at number 32, is still the category winner.
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Heineken positions itself as the world’s most international premium beer, “enjoyed in 192 countries”, and has built the image of a confident and aspirational brand standing for openness, creativity and innovative thinking (“a progressive and innovative leader”). Although Heineken’s brand positioning has remained the same for many years, its communication strategy has undergone several major changes in the last decade.
Between 2011 and 2016, Heineken used a well-known communication platform, “Open your world”, highlighting an attractive image of a Heineken consumer – an admirable, charming, refined, cosmopolitan, resourceful and adventurous individual who knows how to behave in every situation. In 2016, there was a noticeable shift in Heineken’s messaging, even though the tagline didn’t change and the brand’s character, as well as its tone of voice, remained the same. The brand started putting a stronger emphasis on its product and the stories around it. It is believed that this change was a result of the growing popularity of craft beers, which mainly communicate through their product benefits.
In 2018, Heineken announced that it was dropping the “Open your world” tagline for two key reasons. Firstly, Heineken wanted to simplify the brand message to ensure that it would be understood consistently across the globe. The second reason for Heineken discarding its famous tagline is based on the findings of market research, which indicated that “Open your world” was perceived as being too forceful, pressurizing consumers “to do something”. Gianluca Di Tondo (former Senior Brand Director at Heineken) explained: “It’s asking them to cross their own border. And this was adding to an already high level of stress they consider to have on their shoulders, compared to the previous generation.”
Corona was launched in 1925 in Mexico by Cervecería Modelo (now Grupo Modelo). Currently it has two owners: Constellation Brands in the US and Anheuser-Busch InBev (which bought Grupo Modelo in 2013) everywhere else. Even though the brand is managed by two different entities, it has the same positioning globally with only some regional differences in execution.
Corona positions itself in a simple, single-minded way and is highly consistent in executing its brand strategy. It has been particularly effective in delivering its message in the US, where it is the bestselling imported beer (before Heineken and Modelo). Corona’s brand strategy revolves around the idea of “the beach state of mind”. Mexico, summer, picturesque sunsets, white sand and tropical beaches are the associations it has managed to build in the minds of consumers over the years. No other beer brand better represents the idea of relaxing in an exotic paradise and the philosophy of living a carefree life. Corona expresses its positioning through the taglines: “This is living” and “La Vida Más Fina” (in the US).
Budweiser, similarly to Corona, is also one of the brands owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev. According to Interbrand, it is the world’s most valuable beer brand. “The King of Beers”, as Budweiser likes to call itself, is an American heritage-based brand standing for patriotism, inclusiveness, authenticity, optimism, celebration and friendship.
Interestingly, Budweiser is not the bestselling beer in the US. As of 2020, it is not even among the top three US beer brands. Its sister brand Bud Light is in first position, followed by two other light beer brands (Coors Light and Miller Lite). Bud Light’s global sales are also higher than those of the main Budweiser brand.
In recent years, as a result of the growing popularity of craft and light beers, Budweiser’s leading position in the American market has been constantly challenged. The brand has been trying to find the right tone of voice for itself and has experimented with a few different styles, ranging from strong and serious to light and humorous. Budweiser doesn’t pretend that it belongs in the ranks of the artisan brands. Instead, it stands in contrast to these brands by reinforcing the image of a “no fuss” beer: a lager coming from a big brewery, which is tough, masculine, produced “the hard way” on a mass scale, not imported and, surprisingly, not for everybody (probably meaning that it’s for real men and not for fussy craft beer drinkers). Yet, its tagline, “This Bud’s for you”, is highly inclusive.
According to Interbrand, Heineken, Corona and Budweiser are the world’s three most valuable beer brands. Heineken’s strategy is centred on its premium and international character, Corona stands for the beach state of mind, while Budweiser is an American heritage brand priding itself on being “The King of Beers”.
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