Foster's, the 'Australian for beer', calls time on television advertising

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The Independent US

The online universe has secured another significant scalp in its battle with the old-fashioned mainstream media, with Foster's becoming the first beer brand to abandon TV and do its advertising online.

For its reshaped campaign to tempt American beer guzzlers, the brand that touted itself as the "Australian for Beer" is switching its marketing efforts to the heavy.com, a music and video site aimed at young men that proclaims itself "the No 1 internet site for wasting time". No more will the ad breaks in broadcasts of international sports such as the Tour de France, Formula One motor racing and the world surfing tour feature spots boasting how Foster's is indeed the Australian word for beer.

The new format will still retain an Aussie flavour, using Foster's familiar "F" inside an "O" logo, above the new slogan of "Crack Open a Friendly", intended to cement the image of Australians as a matey, sociable bunch.

But the internet promotion will, to borrow a slogan from one of Foster's main European competitors, reach places other beers cannot. The heavy.com ads will carry a competition to win a date in Las Vegas with an Australian model by answering questions based on video clips about the 10 girls posted on the site.

Foster's advertising firm, Ogilvy & Mather, also plans what it calls a "viral" campaign, with commercials made to look like homemade videos which it hopes will create a word-of-mouth buzz about the brand.

Foster's move is yet more evidence of the trend of TV networks losing younger viewers and newspapers bemoaning a decline in advertising and young readers, emphasising the accelerating shift from the traditional media to the fragmented world of niche cable channels and the internet. The result has been a small but significant shift in Foster's market profile.

The brand "has been skewing a little bit older in terms of the consumer footprint than any healthy beer brand in the US would wish", said Pete Marino, a spokesman for SAB Miller, Foster's licencee in the US. "So there's a push to go for legal drinking age consumers, young men 21 to 27."

Research by Miller found the average age of Foster's drinkers in the US had inched up to 30, comparatively young, but well above the minimum legal age.

But the brand is also victim of its relatively small market share in the US. For major campaigns, television remains the most potent advertising tool, but Foster's TV ad budget, of just $5m (£2.6m) last year, was too small to have much impact. "The amount of TV presence you can get for your money just isn't enough," Gary Cattell, Foster's brand director told The Wall Street Journal. Unlike the UK where it is regularly in the top three brands by market share, Foster's is a minor player in America. Here the beer market is dominated by the three domestic giants, led by Anheuser-Bush with its Budweiser brand, followed by Miller and Coors.

The top import in the US is Corona from Mexico, followed by Heineken from Holland. In 2004, Foster's ranked only 10th, with 8 million cases sold, compared with 98 million cases for Corona, and 62 million for Heineken. It is most unlikely that the really big boys will follow online. "Do I think the Bud Lites and Miller Lites of this world will go down this route? Not any time soon," Mr Marino said.

Curiously, the shift to the internet may actually reduce the exposure of underage drinkers to Foster's ads. An Ogilvy spokesman told the Journal: "You get eight-year-olds watching beer advertising during the Super Bowl."

The Super Bowl is the annual climax to the gridiron football season. For the 2006 event, Anheuser Busch paid a record $2.5m dollars - half Foster's entire TV advertising budget - for a single 30-second spot.

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