Marketing Meets Mission – Harvard Business Review

Written by Myriam Sidibe

A beer brand might seem an unlikely ally in the campaign to end violence against women. But the clear connection between alcohol and abusive behavior made Carling Black Label, the largest beer brand in South Africa, realize it had to take up the challenge.

The brand has long targeted men, and its messaging has been all about defining masculinity. In the 1980s its television ads featured cowboys who deserved a cold Carling Black Label as a reward for a long day’s work. In the 1990s, when South Africa abolished apartheid, Carling’s ads depicted a nation of builders: Ordinary men were now the heroes—strong, honest, and hardworking. In the 2000s the brand connected the beer with entrepreneurs and the rising generation of “self-made” men, the new role models.

That’s where things stood when AB InBev bought Carling’s owner, SABMiller, in 2016. Andrea Quaye, then AB InBev’s new vice president of marketing for Africa, understood how valuable the brand was, but she also knew it couldn’t continue with business as usual. As the acquisition was going through, local researchers were raising alarms about the country’s drinking problem. South Africans are among the heaviest drinkers on the continent, and men are by far the major consumers. This excess has many consequences, but among the most troubling are rates of murder and violence targeting women that far exceed the global average.

Rather than trying to distance itself from the problem, Carling decided to confront it and use its clout to drive social change. That required taking some responsibility—and risk. It wanted to keep South African women safe and maintain the brand’s leadership position, but at the same time, it had to stay true to its heritage as an emblem of masculinity.

The question was: How to do it?

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By Alessandra Leone
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