Divorcing Unsuitable Customers

Mark RitsonMarch 25, 20083 min

Jerome Hatt was a very modern man for the 17th century. When he earned his diploma in brewing and coopery he wasted no time opening a small brewery in the Brasserie du Canon, just a few steps from the cathedral in Strasbourg.

It was a superior position in what was, at that time, one of the more elegant towns in France. The town was also part of Alsace, an area rapidly emerging as the premier region in France for beer. By 1850, Hatt’s brewery had grown and relocated to the nearby town of Kronenbourg.

The company began to distinguish itself by using only Strisselspalt hops – the ‘caviar of hops’ – to ensure a superior taste and aroma for its beer. Growth continued into the 20th century and in 1947 the decision was made to rename the brewery in honor of its home town of Kronenbourg.

While other French breweries continued to produce big bottles of affordable but bland beer, Kronenbourg differentiated itself in the post-Second World War era by offering premium Bierre d’Alsace in smaller bottles at higher prices. It invested heavily in advertising and the brand became the most prestigious and popular beer in France.

In 1952, to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, a stronger export brand called 1664 was launched in honor of the brewery’s founding year.

The brand, acquired by Scottish and Newcastle in 2000, has continued to build on its premium position in recent years with a Phillippe Starck-designed can, premium pricing, a Gold Medal in the Brewing Industry Awards, and big-budget M&C Saatchi ads featuring composers and sculptures.

It is a consistent, premium brand. But it has one problem: its British customers. Performance-drinking beerheads who want to get drunk fast are hardly consistent with a brand built around premium, contemporary elegance for more than three centuries.

Kronenbourg is now engaged in an important but incredibly difficult strategy: getting rid of loyal but unsuitable customers. Call it what you like – anti-marketing, customer removal management – Kronenbourg must do it in order to remain true to its brand equity.

In a world where marketers try to control every aspect of the brand experience, it is easy to forget that one of the most influential touchpoints for any brand is its existing customers. In the 80s, for example, it was common to hear people say the only thing wrong with a BMW was the person behind the wheel. Careful monitoring of its market and a concerted campaign to de-yuppify the brand in 1991 ushered in an unprecedented era of success.

Now it is Kronenbourg’s turn. In a recent TV ad a beer drinker searches patiently for a place to enjoy his pint of 1664. After much searching, he finds an empty chair at an art college where he can drink his beer while posing naked for students. The message is ‘Sit. Savor. 1664.’ According to Kronenbourg brand manager Susan Cassidy, this is the first in a series of ads that will ‘extol the virtues of finding time to sit and savor Kronenbourg’.

Getting rid of customers can be just as difficult as recruiting them. We will have to see whether the activity can dislodge Gary the beer monster from Jerome Hatt’s beautiful brewery. But Cassidy and her team deserve plaudits for understanding the difference between marketing and sales, and appreciating the catastrophic impact of customers who add short-term fizz to the sales figures but then follow it with a big, bad brand hangover.


– Burberry has carried out a major repositioning over the past few years to distance itself from the football hooligans and, later, chavs, who had embraced the brand’s accessories. The company claimed such customers devalued its image and hit sales to its traditional core audience of upper-middle-class women and celebrities.

– Cyprus is attempting to upgrade its image. Long regarded as a favorite among young clubbers, it is seeking to reposition itself as an upmarket family holiday destination.

– Cider has achieved a remarkable turnaround of fortunes, overcoming associations with underage and homeless drinkers to gain a foothold in the premium market. UK cider consumption was up 10% this year.

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