Stella Artois is a very well-known beer all around the world. That’s because it’s owned by one of the largest beer corporations in the world (Ab InBev), and they’ve long marketed Stella Artois as their main European Pale Lager (which is what Stella Artois is). However, in the United Kingdom, the beer also got an unfortunate nickname. Here’s why:
Stella Artois is known as wife beater because the beer was associated with heavy drinking and domestic violence. This is because it had an alcohol percentage of 5.2% (which was higher than average) and was widely available in the United Kingdom at discounted prices, which increased the likelihood of alcohol abuse.
However, that certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. Below, we’ve written down why Stella Artois, originally a Christmas beer, became known as wife beater and what the brand accidentally did to get a negative brand image. Furthermore, we’ll explain if this nickname has hurt Stella Artois over the years and what they’ve done to change their brand image in the United Kingdom. Read on!
Read my review of 5% Stella Artois in this blog post.
When Did Stella Artois Became Know As Wife Beater?
Stella Artois, a beer that’s been around since 1926, became known as ‘wife beater’ in the early 2000s. The reason for this was the perceived link of Stella Artois with domestic violence or public violence in general. But why did Stella Artois get this image instead of any other beer?
One of the main reasons was that the beer, when it was first introduced in 1976 in the UK up until the mid-2000s, had an alcohol percentage of 5.2%. This is how the beer was initially brewed and how it is still sold in its home country of Belgium to this day.
However, this also meant that Stella Artois was the only beer in the UK market available on tap that had an alcohol percentage of 5% or higher. This meant it was the go-to choice for heavy drinkers (mostly young men) all across the UK.
Furthermore, the brand struck deals with major supermarkets such as Tesco in the early to mid-nineties. This meant that Stella Artois, with its higher-than-average ABV, was sold at incredibly low prices. An example of this was a 24-pack of Stella Artois for 11 pounds.
The reason why Stella Artois did this was that retailers commonly refuse to put the beers on promotion at full price and, when they do, they put a competitor next to it on a discount according to Adrian Goldthorpe (business strategy director at Futurebrand that worked with InBev).
These deals promoted heavy drinking at a low price which, combined with the ABV, meant Stella Artois was the go-to beer for alcoholics and heavy drinkers.
What Was Stella Artois Image Before They Became Known As Wife Beater?
However, it’s interesting to know that Stella Artois’ brand image before the ‘wife beater’ fiasco was utterly different. For a long time, from 1976 to 2007, Stella Artois was marketed with the slogan ‘Reassuringly Expensive’. Its 5.2% ABV meant it was a ‘premium’ beer, and Interbrew/Inbev, the owners in the early 2000s, tried to make use of this by marketing it like one.
Besides this particular slogan, Stella Artois was also known for creating commercials that had a French cinematography vibe (even though the brand is Belgium). Furthermore, they used slogans for other drinks in the Artois portfolio, such as ‘it’s cidre, not cider’ for their cider, which was created to strengthen the French exclusive perception of the brand as a whole.
For a long time, this marketing strategy worked wonders, and it’s one of the main reasons why Stella Artois was, and still is, the market leader in the United Kingdom. However, as we explained earlier, they messed up their brand image by allowing their beer to be sold at low prices. That’s where everything took a turn for the worst for Stella.
Has This Nickname Hurt Stella Artois In The UK?
Of course, the nickname wife beater is not something many people would like to be associated with. Furthermore, it undermines the premium image that Stella Artois has always tried to give to its beer. As a result, this has indeed affected the market share of Stella in the past two decades.
In 2003 Stella Artois had a market share of 25.5% of the market in the United Kingdom. In 2017, this market share dropped to only 12% of the UK market.
Of course, this also has to do with the increase in competition throughout the years. Many more brands have entered the market throughout the years, which naturally results in a lower market share.
Furthermore, Stella Artois is still the leading beer brand in the United Kingdom, with annual sales in the twelve months ending in March 2020 of 301 million British pounds. Budweiser is the second-largest brand with a market share of 7% and annual sales of 188.5 million British pounds.
Has Stella Artois Tried To Change Their Image?
At some point, Stella Artois finally realized they were blowing up their brand image, and they took four measures to make sure the brand was at least perceived as likable instead of the go-to drink for heavy drinkers.
Change The Slogan
First of all, Stella Artois dropped the ‘Reassuringly Expensive’ slogan in 2007. The reason for doing so is that this slogan had become synonyms with the poor brand image of Stella Artois because it was a paradox. The marketing said ‘premium’ the general public said ‘alcoholism’. It was time for the slogan to go.
The new slogan became ‘pass on something good’. Devin Kelly, marketing director at InBev UK (the owner at the time), stated that this slogan: “It honors our tradition of stunning cinematography, which we’re known for, but also delivers a message that is relevant to today’s beer drinkers who really value the heritage, tradition and care that we put into our beers.“
Wipe Out Wikipedia References
The nickname of wife beater also ended up on the Stella Artois Wikipedia page. To improve its brand image, the brand told Portland Communications (their lobby company) to wipe out this reference.
This action was exposed in January 2012 when Tom Watson (former member of the Labour Opposition Party) said that Portland (owned by Tim Allen, former advisor of ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair) tried to wipe out these references. To this day, the information is still on the Wikipedia page.
Switch To Lower Alcohol Levels
Besides improving their brand image, they’ve also tried to improve the product and the market that it speaks to. As said, Stella Artois had an alcohol percentage of 5.2% up until 2008. After 2008, the percentage was lowered to 4.8%. In 2020, the percentage was once again reduced to 4.6% and the calories dropped to 129 per bottle.
This means that Stella Artois has a ‘regular’ alcohol percentage or at least not the highest of them all, meaning people are less likely to abuse it and pick it as their go-to choice.
Furthermore, Stella also launched a 4% beer next to their regular 4.8% beer in 2008. This beer is also still sold to this day.
Change The Glasses That Are Used In Pubs
Finally, InBev also changed the glasses in which Stella Artois is served at pubs in the United Kingdom. Instead of regular pints, they switched to Artois-branded, stemmed chalice glasses. These glasses were supposed to be more ‘feminine’, which meant heavy drinkers (usually young men) were less likely to order them. Furthermore, the shape of the glass had to bring back the brand’s premium feel.