How a great story can open doors to innovation
Innovation can take many forms. Sometimes innovation comes down to the power of a good story.
‘Storytelling’ is a word you hear a lot in marketing these days. After all, brands are essentially stories.
A compelling brand story has the power to blow open categories that once seemed fixed; cutting through long-established rules, norms and tropes.
Take drinks. Every drink choice – beer, gin and tonic, champagne – comes laden with stories, associations and social signals. We all understand these on some level – champagne is the drink of luxury and celebration, beer is the everyday working man’s drink, and so on. Some of these associations are age old, but they’re all unwritten, mean different things to different people, and they keep changing. Understanding how these stories work and how they’re evolving is key to spotting and exploiting opportunities for innovation.
A few years ago, Heineken asked Happen to look into the motivations behind drinking beer and cider in the UK. When do people choose these drinks and why?
We knew that for British drinkers, cider has a very particular set of associations which (until recently at least) had not changed in a long time. Cider was about sunshine, relaxation and refreshment. It was firmly a summery, outdoorsy, daytime drink. We wondered how we could attract consumers to drink it at other occasions – and to pay a bit more for a premium product.
The likes of Kopparberg and Rekorderlig had shown that change was possible in the cider category, and Heineken wanted to go further. We saw an opportunity to make cider more grown-up, edgier, and to take it from the summer picnic table setting to night-time bars.
To do this, we needed a new story to tell consumers about cider.
We realised quite quickly that we were going to have to look overseas for inspiration – British cider was just so weighed down with traditional associations that we couldn’t see it working.
We looked into the cider traditions of France, Spain and Australia before turning our attention to the United States, where we found some intriguing stories relating to the history of ‘hard cider’ (as the Americans call cider to distinguish it from non-alcoholic apple drinks).
We explored several ideas, including stories of the founding fathers bringing apple seeds to America and the New England hard cider tradition, tied in with imagery inspired by the Salem witch trials and The Crucible. But the story we settled on in the end was rooted in the prohibition era of the 1920s and the underground drinking dens of Chicago, known as ‘speakeasies’ or ‘blind pigs’. Blind Pig cider was born.
We presented the Blind Pig concept to Heineken, who tweaked it, refined it, and launched it successfully – initially to a small number of high-end establishments, and later more widely. It has recently launched in shops and off licences too.
The story of Blind Pig fulfilled everything we wanted – it’s nocturnal, adult and urban. The link to illicit drinking in prohibition days gave us the edge we were looking for: evoking a time when simply getting hold of drink was rebellious and risky.
And it was all down to the power of a story: expressed through Blind Pig’s flavour, packaging (the bottles come wrapped in a paper bag), marketing, visual style, even where it’s available. Perhaps most importantly of all, the brand name Blind Pig struck just the right note.
The idea of changing the tone of traditional cider branding, or of encouraging people to drink cider at night, may not seem that radical. But the success of a new idea like Blind Pig shows that disruptive innovation doesn’t have to be dramatic. Disruption can come from breaking lots of little rules in lots of little ways – the key is to know which ones to break.
Since we began work on what became Blind Pig, the cider market has gone through massive change, and the beer market is evolving too.
Beer drinkers are notoriously conservative. We think that’s going to change. Where the watchword was once ‘hands off my pint’, the rise of craft beer is making drinkers more open to new things. A big part of the success of craft beer comes from the fact that the brands are buzzing with intriguing stories – in a way that run-of-the-mill mainstream lagers simply aren’t.
Expect to see a lot more variety and innovation in the beer space in the coming years. And with it, some great stories.
Read this project case study summary here
Daniel Quinn, managing director, Happen Amsterdam