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Mark Andrews: Wat's in a name? Some brands are best forgotten

By Mark Andrews | Features | Published:

Suppose you were launching a new car brand. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been invested to ensure your product is at the leading edge of technology, quality, style and reliability. It is a cut-throat industry, but with the right marketing yours could be the car everybody aspires to own.

Watneys – some things best left in the past?

So you call it the Austin Allegro.

We all love a bit of nostalgia, and everyone remembers the Allegro, right? Square steering wheels, wheels falling off, and windscreens that pop out when you jack them up. It’s what the market’s crying out for. Yet somehow the Chinese automotive giant SAIC, which now owns the brand, has so far managed to resist this temptation.

So whatever made a new brewer of ‘craft’ ales decide to revive the Watney’s name for its products?

Now I will concede I know very little about marketing. It’s why I don’t have an asymmetric hairstyle, I don’t wear Joe 90 specs, and I’ve never lived in a loft apartment decorated with up-cycled old mangles bought from a craft market in Shoreditch at £4,000 a throw. But Watneys? Really?

Watneys brewery closed in 1979 and for the past four decades it has been uttered almost as an expletive by real ale buffs.

Best remembered for the hated Red Barrel, packed with chemicals for easy distribution and sold in tins the size of a dustbin, it is hard to think of a brand less worthy of a comeback.

Now I must confess I am not much of an authority on the merits or otherwise of Red Barrel, I was very much of school age at the time it ceased production. But I can speak with a little more conviction about another 'retro' beer brand which recently made a comeback. In 2017 it was announced that Hofmeister was making a comeback.

Remember Hofmeister, the watery British-made faux-German lager promoted by a bear in a shell-suit in the 1980s? Well for some reason, a group of entrepreneurs also decided to use that name to market a genuine, authentic ‘craft lager’ which actually comes from Germany.

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Now I find the very idea of ‘craft lager’ a rather strange concept. To my palate, all lager, craft or otherwise, tastes exactly the same: cold, gassy and pasteurised, with all the personality of a DSS official. OK, that probably says more about my personal prejudices than the quality of the beer, but I can’t say I’ve noticed beer buffs flocking to the new Hofmeister. I spotted a few bottles in B & M Bargains just after the launch, on offer for 60p each, and since then I have neither seen nor heard of it.

One can only presume the thinking is that reviving infamous brands from the past, such as Watneys and Hofmeister, will generate a bit of publicity in the early days, and I suppose it has already achieved that end by virtue of the fact I am writing about it here. But does it really make you want to drink the stuff?

It's a bit like opening a luxury jewellery shop. And calling it Ratners.

Like I said, I don’t know much about marketing. But I think the new Watneys, no matter how good it is, will face an uphill battle purely because of the name it is saddled with.

I think the clue is in its new advertising slogan: “Watneys is back, and taste nothing like it used to.”

Go on, you know you want some.

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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