Apr 28, 2016

Suntory works to recharge Japan’s tired mainstream beer segment

CASE STUDY: The company is pursuing a strategy of sampling for its The Malts brand with a focus on shared house residents.

Suntory aims to position The Malts as a beer to savour
Suntory aims to position The Malts as a beer to savour

Japan’s total beer consumption is 5.407 million kilolitres, putting it in seventh place worldwide. However, the beer market has been in decline for the past 11 years, with matters especially challenging for the mainstream beer segment.

A variety of factors are at play, including the trend towards frugality and the increasing popularity of chuhai (shochu highballs) and wine.

Despite the challenging environment, shipments of beer enjoyed a small increase in 2015 of 0.1 percent year-on-year—the first in 19 years.

In September 2015, Suntory sold 2 million cases (1 case is calculated as 20 large bottles) of its mainstream price segment product, The Malts. By December, it had sold 3.23 million, contributing to an overall market share of 15.7 percent.

The company forecasts sales of 7.3 million cases in 2016. It has launched two campaigns targeting people in their 20s to 40s.

For many consumers, beer symbolises the switch from work to private time. But the phrase “have a beer to start with” indicates that it’s typically consumed just for the sake of it, without much thought.
Yusuke Kawai, who is in charge of The Malts brand at Suntory, aims to change that.

“The weight has begun to shift from this concept to something where people enjoy the taste and the situation,” he said. “It is our hope that The Malts becomes an essential part of a good time our customers have with their families and friends.”

Reason to drink

Creating a clear “trigger” in the mainstream segment is not easy.

“I feel that the hurdles to getting people to try new products are becoming higher every year,” said Kawai. “This might be because there are a wider variety of products than ever, and also because customers’ preferences have diversified.”

So the company focused on social media and sampling campaigns. It also used conventional advertising methods such as TV commercials and public transit ads, but “Sometimes it’s difficult for manufacturers’ messages to reach consumers through these conventional methods. We thought social media was more important this time than for our other brands”.

Advertising work emphasises The Malts' 'umami' taste

The most distinctive feature is the promotion in shared houses—where multiple people share a rented residence and live together. The campaign aimed to achieve the dual goal of creating social media buzz and trigger tasting.

“We wanted to do more than just urge people to 'enjoy beer with your friends',” he explained. “We also wanted to actually jump into that drinking scene. Accordingly, we conducted sampling targeting shared houses around Japan among 5,000 people in 100 different locations at the time of launch.”

In January, the company also distributed The Malts as beer for making toasts at mochi (sticky rice cake)-making parties at shared houses in Yokohama.

“Since many shared house residents constantly post information on social media, a nice atmosphere where they’re drinking The Malts easily finds its way online," Kawai said. "Being able to introduce the product in the plain words of consumers, which are different from the language of manufacturers, is also appealing.”

Sampling was conducted among 300,000 people prior to launch, which also involved social media. From mid-July to August last year, in a campaign to give away six-packs of The Malts to 50,000 people, the company offered a clause where the chance to win would be doubled if applicants posted the campaign information on Twitter.

Suntory Beer plans to conduct a promotion among 3 million people in 2016 as well. It intends to conduct sampling at twice as many share houses.

“In 2016, we’d like to entrench The Malts as a beer that consumers think of as “My Beer”,” Kawai said. “We are planning to roll out various programmes, such as campaigns, sampling, and tasting events. What is ultimately important is to what degree the value we propose resonates with consumers and we can place ourselves in their place for this purpose.”

Campaign's view: The shared house strategy is a good one not only because it engages people who are naturally active on social media, but also because it ties what is in essence a generic product to a growing—and interesting—social trend in Japan. As a differentiator from beer campaigns that all seem to blend into one, we like it.

English-language case studies from Japan are few and far between. In partnership with AdverTimes, a domestic marketing-industry publication, we aim to offer a better understanding of the type of work that resonates in the country. 


Campaign Asia

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