VB’s new marketing tactic: pretend not to be VB.
Somewhere, someone is still drinking VB.
Yes, in spite of the wide proliferation of tasty microbrewery beer, there are enough stalwart punters still choosing VB’s industrial tang and fermenty, sour finish that the brand survives. And yet, surely the moment will come where even the most snaggle-toothed and alcoholic of greyhound racers will have had a go at something nicer than VB. Will this be the beginning of the end for this brand?
Probably not. I think the end has already begun for those guys, and they know it (although, being just one of the of beers in the Fosters/SAB-Miller paddock, the end isn’t really an end as much as the loss of one sheep from a flock of hundreds). Like the toppling of obscure dictators in sandy places, I am sure the end will be a drawn-out and ultimately pretty embarrassing affair. Perhaps, on some distant night, an angry mob will fire kalashnikovs into a secluded foxhole outside Geelong to destroy the final carton of VB; there will be riotous partying in the streets for days afterwards.
The first signs that VB suspected impending doom came a couple of years back, when they trotted out ‘VB RAW’, which tasted a bit like Becks or Stella Artois but liked to spruik its purity. The marketing (which had a seemingly bottomless budget) gave me a sense they were going for a kinda macho, aspirational vibe – as if to say, ‘this is healthy and tasty yet VERY manly; drinking this doesn’t make you a poof’. RAW wasn’t bad, just a bit forgettable, and it disappeared off the shelves without fanfare within a few months of release. Here’s a shot of this extinct beast, in all its maxtreme glory.
The quiet failure of RAW left CUB with the problem of those rather tasty non-VB beers threatening the ol’ ‘Bitter market share. Presumably the guys who came up with RAW went back to the drawing board, and after much hard work have come up with a second shot at propping up the brand. I think they must’ve learnt a few lessons: the lycra crowd drinks San Pellegrino and protein shakes, and Corona in a pinch, so they’ve wisely opted not to go for another shot at that market.
Instead they’ve made a beer that tastes a bit like VB again, but made it mildly better with some crisp hop flavours and a lot less of the sour hobo-breath aroma that makes the original so infamous. It does go down pretty easily – Victoria Pale isn’t complex but it also isn’t offensive. This slight uppng of the ante won’t shatter the VB stigma, but then, the bottle doesn’t even say VB on it. Not only has it dodged that particular albatross, it also looks pretty fantastic – dumpy and retro, ditching the front label in favour of clever embossed text right on the glass.
It’s a bit sad that this is the only thing that will help this beer stand out. Going on flavour alone, I would bet that this beer fades into the annals of history much like the RAW before it. But hey, people have to see beer before they buy it – and this pretty midrange offering has the old-school visual appeal that James Squire tries so desparately to achieve (but doesn’t). Perhaps that’ll keep it in the game – after all, when your baseline is VB, everything is an improvement.
Next up: the dumpling craze.