Mon | Jun 17, 2019

Hylton Dennis | Know your drinkers, Red Stripe

Published:Sunday | July 29, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Hylton Dennis
Dianne Ashton-Smith
Kokab Zohoori-Doosa’s murals on Fleet Street set the backdrop for Red Stripe’s latest ad campaign as they shoot a dance scene.

Writing is my natural skill. History is my special interest. The history of the 'World's Coolest Beer', the iconic Red Stripe, and the company named for its creators, brewers, and bottlers, Desnoes & Geddes, is a type, like biographies, that I specialise in recording.

This is why I can tell, by the plan rolled out to celebrate its latest major milestone, that the Red Stripe lager beer company knows beers, but its knowledge of drinkers is 'lagging'.

Red Stripe is in its centenary year. In Jamaica it is, beyond contention, the sovereign national brand. Across the world, it is paired on par with the best brewed malt beverage. Its name and refreshing satisfaction are known worldwide.

The tens of millions of tourists who have vacationed in Jamaica over the last century know Red Stripe beer, as much as they know about the nation of reggae legend Bob Marley and sprint sensation Usain Bolt. There is no popular Jamaican politician or national hero of the international stature of Red Stripe.

Bolt's outstretched arm gesture can justifiably be characterised as a symbolic honour of the pioneering 'full hundred' global extension of the Red Stripe of Brand Jamaica, 'To Di Worl', which has benefited him.

What has been unveiled up to now of the plans to mark the Red Stripe centenary has no legacy signature befitting the great milestone. The #StandUpForYourStripe promotional advertising campaign, paired with a seven-track EP record, dwarfs the grandeur of the big brew's century.


'Big people business'


Iconic is a higher status than premium in any product category. Red Stripe's success over the century is attributable to a loyal demography of mature adult consumers. Alcoholic beverage consumption is, after all, legal adult, or, as we say in Jamaica, 'big people business'. The bitter taste that the medium stroke lager leaves on the tongue of those who merely sample it is not an incentive to patiently acquire the taste for it that is required to accept and appreciate it.

In a brief conversation with Dianne Ashton-Smith, Red Stripe's communications director, I pointed out that the centenary campaign aims at the wrong target - the 30 years and under millennial set. Her reply was, "Yes ... it gives us an opportunity to grow outside of the perceived demographic."

I replied that you grow by extension, not diversion, pointing out also that the imprint of its young marketing team was very obvious as young creatives believe their best campaign should be a pitch to their peers unless the character of the product does not make it possible. The few real exceptional maverick communicators among them quickly outdistance the pack.

Large companies like Red Stripe have opted for the very costly experiment of dispensing with the proven tradition of mentoring emerging creative talent by pairing it with experience that will train it from apprenticeship to mastery. The 'Life is a Party' philosophy of the millennial demographic will never become a set culture. They will live to see that proven.

The young creatives who paired Red Stripe with Reggae Sumfest and conceived the centenary advertising campaign, #StandUpForYourStripe, will not, under proper scrutiny and interrogation, deny that their risquÈ peers are more rum and distilled spirits drinkers than brewed malt refreshment consumers. Make me the Inquisitor, for I studied their habits quite well by a couple years of embedded observation in their 'combat zone'.

Hip for them is chillin' with a 'grabba spliff' and copious libations of Boom and rum. They 'floss' with premium champagne and whisky and when 'nutten nah gwaan fi dem', they smoke couple bootleg cigarettes and 'beat a Guinness'. Merciful Saviour!


Financial risk


So for Red Stripe to bite the bait that targeting them can make the company "grow outside of the perceived demographic" might have been hilarious if it wasn't such a huge financial risk for its stakeholders. The rum company has no contender for the demographic in this lucrative but rigidly segmented market.

The role of media is to notice the trends and provide the information as a service. So I do Red Stripe no disservice here by advising them, if possible, not to make a global millennial party tour the centrepiece of the grand centenary celebration of the iconic beer.

Of course, as I expect venomous critics to counter, loyal beer drinkers started young. They called them baby boomers and yuppies back then, in an age of respect for tradition. The ethos was acquisition of values, status, styles, tastes, and vision by learning and succession.

Now, in this alarming age, it is by choice and exception. Yet still, maintaining the right demographic focus will ensure that there is no threat posed to the premium status of the 'World's Coolest Beer'.

- Hylton W. Dennis is a publisher. Email feedback to and