In an industry still dominated by the blue bird and a few others, the happy monkey is gradually gaining some measure of ubiquity, serving up beer variants that many in the country haven’t tasted before.
The handcrafted beer maker focused on product for its first phase of growth. Not many may know that Bira 91 Light, launched last year, is the lowest calorie option for any alcoholic beverage; the company claims it’s even lower than a glass of milk or orange juice. In phase one, Bira figured word of mouth was the best way to go, a smart decision considering the various strictures on alcohol advertising.
“The reason we didn’t lead our launches with marketing was because we wanted to validate the products with consumers without any push. I believe we are still in the process of discovery. Now, that we are scaling up quickly, we will need a different level of outreach,” admits Jain.
Finding the right pair: From people to food
With an average year-on-year growth of 600%, the company will be closing the fiscal with sales of Rs. 175 core. This year, it will plough back 5% on marketing.
And, to lead marketing, a year after the brand was launched Jain roped in Sandeep Singh, part of the founding team at digital agency Qasar and e-commerce firm Freecultr, and who began his career with Rediff.com. “I didn’t want to be comfortable in my late 20s. I moved to take up different roles, and set up businesses. The mandate at Bira is very similar to my core beliefs, you need to take ownership, and treat the business as your own, if growth is on your agenda,” says Singh.
Interestingly, he briefly worked with Kingfisher at Quasar. When asked if there is anything, in particular, he likes about Kingfisher’s communication, Singh mentions, “Kingfisher was one of the early adopters of social media. They still have that strong base out there. I think that is impressive.”
Currently, Bira is creating branded content collaborations. Under the IP #HotStuff, the beer brand worked with popular TV hosts Rocky and Mayur, to hunt for the perfect pair of spicy food from India’s alleyways. “Bira is good tasting beer, and the idea is to leverage that strength in our communication, too. We want to promote fun and responsible drinking. You will never see us supporting beer chugging competition. For us it all about having a good time with our products,” adds Singh.
In India, beer is perceived as a masculine drink, but Bira doesn’t believe in giving any gender identity to its monkey. “We really don’t want to give a voice to it. We want to keep its charm as is,” says Singh.
Singh picked Isobar for the brand’s digital duties, making his choice due to the agency’s strong creds overseas.
But is this enough?
According to Shripad Nadkarni, a brand consultant and entrepreneur, there was a hunger for innovative products in the Indian beer market. With players like Bira, and others to follow suit, Nadkarni thinks this highly regulated category, is slowly breathing fresh air.
When asked if Bira has the potential to become the next Kingfisher, Nadkarni states an old brand example to support his point of view. He says, “When Maruti 800 came into the market, it opened a category which was dominated by players like Ambassador, Premier Padmini, and others. It gave Indians newer options. Same is the case with Bira. I think they are doing all the right things to set the right benchmark for other brands that will come in, soon.”
While Pinakiranjan Mishra, partner and national leader, consumer products and retail of EY didn’t direct comment on Bira, he observes that, beer companies are better able to engage with its customers and increase their sales due to the emergence of fest market in India. “We have seen beer companies come out with handcrafted variety, light and strong beer varieties, or Wheat Ale and Lager beer, which is an interesting move.”
Harshil Karia, founder and managing director of Schbang, has worked with some noted brands in the liquor sector. He believes Bira is bang on its product strategy; however, he thinks they are fairly conservative when it comes to marketing spends.
“From what I see on social media, Bira is playing safe and isn’t stepping into doing anything that’s not been really done. I think what they could do take a leaf from Kingfisher, create advertising pieces, and marketing initiatives that are as iconic as their monkey,” he concludes.