Long Live The Local!

I guess, like many of us, I like the idea that I have a decent nose for bullshit. That may just mean that I’m a fairly (very!) cynical old git but I see a lot of this stuff dropping into my email or Facebook feed, usually because someone has ‘liked’ or forwarded it, and I often think ‘mmm, not sure’ or ‘really?’ or, as in this case, ‘I smell bullshit; wonder who plopped?’

The answer this time would be ABInBev, Carlsberg, Heineken and Molson Coors. It took maybe ten minutes looking at the Long Live The Local website to figure this out. Why? Because I had to make coffee as well. Oh, why? Well, it turns out that the campaign is ‘backed’ by Britain’s Beer Alliance and that particular organisation is funded by, well, take a guess…

I am a cynic, I get that, but these companies are cynical on a national level and that site, plus the ‘campaign’ they are running are about as deceitful as advertising gets as far as I can see and people are falling for it in droves; from the start of their campaign to now some 200,000 people have signed their petition; assuming their numbers are to be trusted of course.

And it’s deceitful because? Kidding, surely? Ok, how many people would sign a petition fronted by Heineken to ‘save the local’ when Big Beer has been as responsible as anybody else for the decimation of local pubs and the dumbing down of their own products in pursuit of profit.

Let’s have a quick look at deceitful marketing, because it grinds my gears massively, and then move on to profit and just who’s zooming who because it might be a bit of fun.

So deceit, why am I so convinced that they are yanking our chains?

Have a look at that site, Long Live The Local, and it looks like it’s been knocked together by a bunch of good old boys in a taproom over a few beers. It’s a bit clunky, a bit wibbly in places and has a few typos here and there, as it would be if it were a knock-together. The truth is a bit different though.

The campaign is run by Havas PR, a global conglomerate, who have run campaigns for Emirates, Volvo and Dubai Tourism among others. Typos and cute clunkiness for a company of this stature would not happen, I would bet dollars to doughnuts that any errors are designed in. Why? Again? Okay, How about because the annual budget for this campaign is £3 million, yes – three million pounds. How many typos would you accept in a £3 million six page website? Me too.

Okay, so they’re being a bit tricky. Still a good cause though right? Mmm, is it as cut and dried as that?

No, no it isn’t. The challenges that pubs face are many and varied, it’s fair to say that the tax burden is a factor but tax isn’t the only headwind facing the industry. It is also fair to say that duty increases, thanks to Gordon Brown and his ‘duty escalator’ ran away for a while and we have George Osbourne to thank for putting an end to that; what’s the reality for us. Is beer really so over priced?

In 1983 the average pint of beer cost 70p, in 2018 it was £3.00 (probably much thanks to Wetherspoon’s) so beer has gone up by a staggering 429% or 11.92% per year, scandalous right? In the same period though, average wages have gone up by 369% or 10.26% per year so actually not as scandalous as at first sight.

So beer’s gone up, but not as much as we are being told.

Do ABInbev actually care about your local? I don’t know, but if they cared about your beer rather than their bottom line they may not have dropped the ABV of Stella from 5.2% to 4.8%. They might well say that they did that in order to ‘stay in line with our competitors’ but there’s no doubting that they have been squealing about costs for years and that ABV cut is huge in terms of their bottom line; seriously.

When Heineken pulled the same stunt in 2013 reducing John Smith’s Smooth from 3.8% to 3.6%  it put a dazzling £6.6m on their bottom line according to the Financial Times at the time.

I’m not going after ABInbev particularly, in fact Heineken or Coors would have been easier to spell, they are just first on my list and very typical of Big Beer as far as I’m concerned so they are representative.

As with most big companies, they are nowhere near as cuddly as they would like us to believe and they are definitely not scratching around to make ends meet, their annual report strikes a very upbeat note:

ABInBev Annual Report 2019 (Ref: 2018)

Delivering profitable growth, with EBITDA margin expansion of 118 bps to 40.4%, driven by premiumization, cost discipline and continued synergy capture. We achieved further synergies from the combination with SAB, with 805 million USD in 2018 and over 2.9 billion USD captured to date out of our commitment to deliver 3.2 billion USD by the end of 2019

That’s $202 million profit in 2018.

But they want to give us cheaper beer so that’s a good thing right? Their take on tax was a bit more telling in 2016:

 While no companies were explicitly named in the EU Commission ruling, reports in Belgium and the UK have quoted sources naming AB InBev as one of the beneficiaries of the illegal scheme.

The brewer reportedly transferred around €140 million (£105m) out of its taxable accounts and into a non-taxable holding company under an “excess profit” ruling awarded by the initiative.

Here’s my personal take on the Save Your Local campaign: It’s funded by Big Beer and Big Beer, in my opinion, doesn’t give the teeniest, tiniest, most microscopic flying fuck about your local. It’s a marketing campaign designed to put pressure on the chancellor to cut duty which would bolster their bottom line.

Do you really want to support your local? Then go and have a pint, a pint of overpriced Stella that’s had the guts ripped out of it if you must, but please think before you lend support to these companies; they’ve been taking the piss for years and are flapping now because the craft beer revolution that’s sweeping the country is showing up their overpriced and under strength pish up for exactly what it is.



Editor’s Note:

I happened to be in the car one day and heard the term ‘astroturfing’ which is this idea where a big company or cause pretends to be driven by grass roots people. Trump’s presidential campaign was, apparently, very good at this; paying people fifty bucks to wave a flag and say what a good old boy Donald is. Astroturfing seems to fit the Long Live The Local campaign perfectly.