On serve with Coopers at the Australian Open
Marketing speaks with Coopers’ national sales and marketing director, Cam Pearce, to find out how the first year of its five-year sponsorship of the event went, and what the deal means for this fiercely independent SA brewer.
This article originally appeared in The Serve Issue, our October/November 2017 print edition of Marketing magazine.
Cam Pearce has been a director of Coopers for 15 years, and working full-time for about half that. It’s a short time, relatively, in a company that brewed its first batch of ale in 1862. On the board with Pearce are four members of the Cooper family, while other members of the family work in the business, too. With CUB now part of AB-InBev and Lion owned by Kirin, Coopers has fought to maintain its position as the last ‘big’ Australian brewer, resisting multiple takeover bids by Lion.
Its Australian-ness and strong family ethos were specifically called out by Tennis Australia commercial director Richard Heaselgrave last year on the announcement that the sporting body had awarded Coopers the exclusive beer pourage rights for the Australian Open for five years starting in 2017.
The agreement means that only Coopers beer will be poured at Melbourne Park throughout the two weeks of the Australian Open, as well as lead-in tournaments in Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Hobart from 2017 and Perth from 2018. It also includes pourage rights for all other sporting and entertainment events at Melbourne Park.
For Coopers, the Tennis Australia sponsorship is now a tentpole feature of its marketing calendar, and one that fits both parties really well. As sales and marketing director for Coopers (and Premium Beverages, its subsidiary company that distributes Coopers as well as several large and small international brands of beer and cider), Pearce says managing a brand like Coopers is about reinforcing its authenticity as as an Australian, family company and capitalising on its position as not-really-craft and not-really-mainstream.
And it’s working. The 2016-17 financial year was the company’s 24th consecutive year of volume growth.
“In a difficult beer market that’s a great achievement and testament to our excellent staff and people that help us in the market,” Pearce says.
Marketing: Tell us about managing a brand that’s over 150 years old and still in the family – is it a matter of not screwing it up?
Cam Pearce: The family members see themselves as having a custodial and stewardship responsibility. They are mindful that each generation that has success has done so on the shoulders of those that have come before them.
On the one hand, beer’s fun and exciting, and hospitality and the beer game is a great industry to be in, but on the other hand there is an element of seriousness that the legacy that’s been left needs to be carried on.
The reality is it’s a real family company. Tim sits in the corner office and gets out and about. When we launched our Vintage Ale for 2017 in August, he was out there telling the trade and customers about it – it is very real and genuine.
From a consumer point of view, people aren’t always clear about what’s genuine or authentic and real, or not. In a family company like Coopers, it’s all very real and accessible. We’ve got about 22% of the South Australian market and about 6% of the national market, so it’s still a very personable kind of business in terms of accessibility.
At one end you’ve got the craft beer thing that has been going on for a long time, and at the other are the multinationals either buying up smaller brands or inventing new ‘craft-like’ ones from scratch. How do you find your balance?
I think, first, the craft beer growth is good for beer overall, because it creates interest among consumers and makes it more exciting. That’s good. There have been lots of different boutique breweries come into play – 10 years ago there may have been 40 or 50 in Australia and now it’s more like 450.
Having said that, you’re right that on the one hand you do have independent craft brewers and on the other hand you’ve got ‘commercial craft’ where the larger breweries have their ‘craft’ brands. Coopers sits comfortably in the craft area, but more in terms of craft-ed.
When we do our consumer research we’re considered in different ways. If you’re a mainstream beer drinker and you want to try something a bit different and move into the craft space, Coopers is a very safe halfway point, so to speak. Our beers are naturally conditioned through secondary fermentation, so the ales are genuine ale products. But equally, too, if you’re a craft drinker and you were getting a bit sick of the triple-hopped IPAs, you may want something a bit more sessionable (referring to the alcohol by volume) and an easier drinking ale like Coopers, and we fit in there well. We sort of straddle the two areas.
How did the Australian Open partnership come about? After 20 years with Heineken, that was a big change.
We put a very compelling pitch in against other breweries and competitors around ‘Australian owned and made’ and ‘Australian Open’ and ‘Australia Day’, which happens in that two-week period. We created a special product, our Legends Lager, to celebrate that. We developed a campaign that was integrated throughout and multifaceted.
And I think we developed a great relationship with Tennis Australia.
We also benefited from having more than one product, whereas Heineken was a bit more [of a] one-dimensional offering. We’re providing our Original Pale Ale and our Premium Lager, as well as Coopers Light and, in some restaurants, a range of our other beers.
We worked very hard to try to deliver a proposition that would grow our brand, but also support the Australian Open. It’s a good fit. Coopers is a premium brand and the Australian Open and the lead-in events are premium events.
Like a lot of major events now, Tennis Australia wants to broaden its event out to appeal to and engage with lots of different consumers – not just people who want to watch tennis, but people who want to bring families, listen to music and do other things like that in an engaging carnival.
For that broader audience, a brand like Coopers fits well because we have a very eclectic drinkership, so to speak, from all over. It’s about the beer, quality and family. All those things work together and we were able to win the bid. The family is involved – Tim, Glen and Mel were over there – and I think Tennis Australia realised the commitment from us was significant and substantial.
How big an opportunity is the Australian Open for the brand, what do the marketing goals include and how did you activate in the first year?
For us it was a great opportunity to make people more aware of Coopers, especially in the Victorian market, but also in Brisbane, Sydney, Hobart and Perth through the associated lead-in tournaments. With something like a million people coming through the Australian Open and 100,000 in Brisbane and so on, we’re reaching a lot of people.
It’s letting people access the beer and giving them choice. It was a good fit, in that regard, for trial and awareness, and our brand awareness in the Melbourne market increased on the back of the sponsorship, and we got some spikes in the other cities where we were involved as well.
It’s been a great partnership. We did some unique things in year one. The format of Grand Slam Oval was changed in 2017 – it became a less intense area than it used to be. The high-intensity music was moved up to Birrarung Marr. We did a very substantial activation on Grand Slam Oval, which was lower key this year, enabling people to relax more, whereas up on Birrarung Marr we put container bars for the bands playing there.
We also did a lot of work with the off-trade in terms of running various promotions through banner groups and retailers, and similarly with some on-premise hotels along Southbank and the like, and we were also doing local activations. We were trying to bring Coopers’ involvement in the Australian Open to life at as many touch points as we could. That included radio and outdoor advertising, and a lot of work in the digital area with our social media marketing experts being involved there. We tried to make it a very integrated campaign – above the line, below the line and through the line – to get as much reach and leverage from the sponsorship as we could.
The other great thing about it is, being the only Grand Slam in the southern hemisphere and a really tier-one event, it enabled us to do some great engagement with the trade, with some hospitality stakeholders and developing relationships with our key hoteliers and retailers.
2018 will be year two of five as part of the contract, so we’re excited.
Sponsoring the Australian Open, brands like Jacob’s Creek are very much drawn to the ‘Grand Slam of Asia Pacific’ aspect in that it reaches Asian audiences. Is that a factor at all for Coopers?
Probably not for us, as much. Some of the other sponsors, such as Jacob’s Creek, do a lot of export and are trying to get better penetration in the Asian market, so it makes sense. Our sponsorship is at a more domestic and in-precinct level, so didn’t involve television rights or advertising outside [this market].
Where they may have a more Asian and international export push, we’re focusing on the domestic market at the moment. Our export markets are only about 3% of total production and half of that is New Zealand, so our strategic direction is to continue to grow the brand, especially in the Eastern states of Australia where we’re not as well-known. So for us it’s better to try to engage more consumers and get the brand better known in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia, than to try to do a big international push for export. We’re still firmly focused on growing our share of the domestic market, because we’re not as well-known outside South Australia as inside where we’ve been for a fair time. Things like the Australian Open and Supercars really have helped raise brand awareness, trial and distribution on the back of it, because if consumers ask for our beer that helps us to get ranged.