May 10, 2008

Heart In The Wrong Place

The big news around here this week concerns Diageo's announcement that it plans to shut down its breweries in Kilkenny and Dundalk (where it makes Smithwicks and Harp respectively) and scale back production of Guinness at its St. James' Gate site with the loss of 250 jobs. Whilst politicians and economists rushed to analyse the impact on the workforce, I wondered about the effect on the three brands.

A sense of place is more important for some brands than for others, but it plays a huge part in the marketing of alcoholic drinks. Certainly, the visitors who pour into Dublin make a great deal of sampling a pint of the black stuff in the town where it's made. But whilst they remain in thrall to the notional origins of their favourite species of brand, consumers in general seem to be concerned less and less with where the product is actually made.

We drink Indian beer brewed in England, wear Italian shoes produced in China and watch London soccer teams made up of players from every corner of the world apart from London.

And yet a sense of place continues to be truly important. But not just any place. We're less likely to buy a Chinese brand of shoes made in China than we are an Italian 'original'. That short step from one workshop to another is a step too far.

So maybe it's more about what the place stands for in our minds? Despite the dilution of the ranks with day-trippers from elsewhere, the Kop at Anfield remains synonymous with knowledgeable fans and Scouser wit. Those blow-ins over at Old Trafford meanwhile (whilst drawn from the same gene pool) are seen as ignorant and dull by comparison (not to mention overly-fond of their prawn sandwiches). And, regardless of the quality of workmanship and standards of production, which may in reality exceed anything made in Switzerland, few of us would have much time for a Latvian branded watch.

So are the moves to different production sites likely to misplace the affections of loyal Smithwicks, Harp and Guinness fans? What do you think?

1 comment:

Pauln said...

When I go for my pint of Guiness tonight, I'm not sure I care all that much about where it was brewed (all I know is that it was brewed somewhere in a fully automated temperatured controlled steel tank). I understand the role that the James Gate site has in the the story of Guinness, I'm just not sure how it influences the consumption of the product. In the same way as the Budweiser we drink is unlikely to have been delivered on horse drawn carriages. The reality is that it is brewed in Kilkenny and was probably delivered on a dirty truck spewing diesel fumes into the athmosphere. The Smithwicks or 'Kilkenny' we drink has long ceased to be brewed in Kilkenny. Do smokers know or care where their tobacco was grown?

The conclusion I've come to is that there is a difference between the brand and the product. We buy the brand and we consume the product.