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Abobaku branding: Dear Goldberg Black, Trophy is failing, not just because it was called a “stout”

Weeks before the earth-shaking launch of Trophy Stout by AB InBev’s International Breweries in March of the year 2020, I had a discussion with someone who worked (I think he still does) with one of the agencies servicing the brand that quickly moved from socials to the marketing and communications businesses in the country. I didn’t even know that plans were afoot to extend the Trophy beer brand to the stout category of the alcoholic beverages segment.

Immediately my friend opened up on the plans, and how big it was, I told them that the brand managers did not want to enhance the market opportunities for Trophy and that if anything, they merely wanted to make personal profits by taking advantage of the success recorded by the beer. I was also strong in my argument that if those guys were not careful, they would damage the main brand by burdening it with nurturing a new product.

It is important to tell this story because another wannabe stout, The Goldberg Black is just about to bite the dust, and at its graveside, when it eventually breathes its last, mourners would remember that the sickness that took its life had been spotted by doctors, but the minders of the brand chose their deaf ears rather than the one still connected to their brains.

We will return to this later.

I have travelled this path several times before as a journalist covering the Nigerian marketing industry, and I have consistently maintained that there are certain product categories that should be spared the game of line extensions. I pointed this out when Star Lager Beer became the mother of several illegitimate budget-guzzling kids who all ended up as Abiku brands, with all the losses. I shouted about the misadventure of Guinness Extra Smooth; I drew lessons from the misadventure of Gulder Max to caution on Heineken Magnum, and when Guinness launched Orijin Zero, I also cried out over what I knew was a certain misadventure or, possibly worse still, the destruction of the main Orijin Bitters.

With the tombstones of these Abobaku brands sticking out in the cemeteries of Nigeria’s marketing failures, I always wonder why those coming after them never took any lessons. For humans, huge lessons have been taken that have significantly contained the Abiku or Ogbanje syndrome; the solution being to avoid making babies with a partner with either the AS or SS genotype, especially if you are also of the AS or SS clan. To enforce this, religious organisations have joined the crusade and discourage marriages between couples whose genotype has high probability of the birth of sickle cell babies.

They are keeping their distance because Goldberg has become available as a hybrid; as an item of a love affair for other people. Once you do this, two things usually happen – it is either they withdraw from the mother brand and migrate to the extension, or they feel so frustrated they seek refugee asylums with competition, from where they could either return or take permanent residency, depending on how the minders handle the situation.

Now, if you are a human being and you are aware of this, and you would neither marry someone whose genotype does not match nor advise any person close to you to so do, why on earth would you approve that the brand kept under your watch take the imperilled road to certain death? Aren’t there lessons in the cruel fates of those who passed before you that would impel a detour to a potentially safer pathway to the market?

Put differently, are there great gains for marketing and brand managers that blind them to the reality of the budget drains that happen when products fail and everyone is flailing and grabbing in futility at straws that won’t eventually save the day? Even if there are those gains, aren’t there more creative ways to do this than repeating the same thing over and again while expecting different outcomes?

Take the case of Trophy Stout for instance; since it came into the market three years ago, billions of naira have been poured into campaigns after expensive campaigns all designed to drive it to succeed in the market. Besides the high-octane launch event in 2020, Trophy, in 2022, unveiled a daring campaign that apparently appeared to be a direct challenge to the proposition for Guinness Stout. It rolled out a series of television, radio and OOH adverts with the theme, “NO DNA NEEDED, ORIGINALLY BLACK,” which appeared to be a direct fight with the “BLACK” proposition that Guinness has been playing around in for many years, if not decades, the latest being the “Black Shines Brightest” proposition.

If Trophy Stout had the thought of beating Guinness to the BLACK proposition, that would have been possible only in a hangover-induces dream. I have not even seen an unsure upstart such as Trophy Stout make such a daring move against a brand that appeared to have a very firm grip on the market.

As proof of its ambitions, Trophy Stout even hosted the International Stout Festival in November 2021. I do not know if this event boosted its credentials as the “DNA” of all stouts, but the numbers are not speaking to the spiking of the brand’s fortunes.

“At the company’s AGM in 2021, a year after the launch of Trophy Stout, the Managing Director of International Breweries Plc, Mr. Hugo Dias Rocha said the dream of his company was “achieving market leadership of the beer industry in Nigeria.” I sincerely agreed with him, but Trophy Stout would never be among the golden eggs in the hatchery no matter how much it spends feeding the goose.

Like most new brands launched with aplomb, Trophy Stout graced bar tables for a few months thanks to trial patronage by either drinkers of the original Trophy Lager Beer or Stout consumers who either wanted to put their palate to the test or were looking for value for money. But I do not know how many people who did that trial patronage have got hooked on the brand, three years after.

And Goldberg enters the fray.

While the minders of Trophy Stout at International Breweries were still caught between commencing the funeral rights or continuing to invest in acquiring bigger and more sophisticated life-support equipment, veterans of line extension failure, Nigerian Breweries were busy preparing to burden its struggling beer brand Goldberg with an extension. On September 13, 2023, Nigerian Breweries released its Goldberg Black to the market, describing it, according to a story published by Marketing Edge,  as “a remarkable fusion of deep, captivating flavors with the dynamic spirit of the modern age.”

I have read the tonnes of agency press releases pasted on many news portals, and have ben unable to discern any thing that could tell what Goldberg Black stands for. The only thing I noticed was how cleverly the brand owners avoided describing the newly launched product as a stout brand. I have avoided buying a bottle to test, like I usually did in the past, because I concluded that the Goldberg Black was the most foolish extensions I have seen in this market since I began to work in marketing as a writer and player. I also thought NB Plc should have known better than to extend any of its brands, given the drains occasioned by the experiences with Gulder Max and the gutting effect that Star Tiple X, Star Lite, and Star Radler had on the Star Premium Lager brand. Star, the foremost beer brand in Nigeria nearly perished under the weight and shrivelling effects of extensions and I never thought that NB Plc would dive into this misfortune-infested pool so soon.

And in making its return to the dead-end highway, it chose the most unlikely brand on its stable, Goldberg. Apart from the ills that come with line extensions, it was clear to me that Nigerian Breweries do not understand the brands on its stable at all. You see, among the brands in its basket, Goldberg stands out as the one with the strongest brand loyalty. I have seen people who have been consumers of Goldberg and remained so for decades. These guys rarely gravitate to available brands when Goldberg is not available in bars. At present, no other beer enjoys such loyalty.

Star Lager had it those days before extension drove everyone away. Gulder aggregated loyal patrons until Gulder Max divided the house and sent both those who chose the extension, and those who didn’t migrated to competing brands as the beer “for strong men” went through identity crisis.

Why did they extend Goldberg?

Unlike in previous occasions when the reasons for extending a particular brand are predicated on leveraging the success of the mother brand, Nigerian Breweries did not give any reason(s) for the creation of this Black extension on Goldberg. Apart from the niceties pushed by Corporate Communications Director, Sade Morgan, there are no compelling reasons as to the birth of this new baby.

This leaves me to make a few guesses. One is that, unlike my earlier position, it is possible that NB Plc knows about how loyal its Goldberg consumers are and might want to leverage this to take a greater share of the stout market. Two is that while Goldberg consumers might be fiercely loyal, they might not constitute a large enough population to sustain the profitability of the beer brand, so a phasing out of Goldberg Lager Beer and replacing it with the Goldberg Black might be the end game.

But the reality of the market, especially the beer market, negates these reasons, that is assuming they are valid. History and experience have proved that you do not enhance the space and spread of a beer brand by offering the consumer another version of the same brand. I do not know how to explain this, but I will do the best I can: as a young person growing up, I witnessed a number of product relaunch campaigns that carried the message, “new and improved.” I always wondered what was “new” and what was “improved.” Line extension, I have concluded, is even a terribly ridiculous version of this old product relaunch proposition, because while in the product improvements, the old is replaced with a new one, line extension offers something entirely new to compete side-by-side with the old.

If, as I stated earlier, Goldberg consumers are fiercely loyal, would the offering of another Goldberg make them to drink more, even if that new Goldberg is a BLACK one? I do not think this has ever worked, and if the target is to offer stout drinkers a bit of their favourite product under the Goldberg brand, the reality is that the first set of people to migrate would usually be the old consumers, and once they begin to withdraw, the others from other brands wouldn’t have the encouragement to complete the journey across the Sahara.

Let me state what I have consistently said in all my previous articles: You do not deepen your beer market share by offering the consumers another variety of the same brand. I am particular about the Nigerian beer drinker, who, like a jealous lover abhors the sexual aberrations of twosomes and threesomes on his favourite beer. Once he makes one brand his love interest, he invents his own emotional reasons why he is where he is, and you destroy this emotion by presenting other versions of his chosen brand with a different complexion, height, or shape.

If, on the other hand, Nigerian Breweries is thinking of phasing out Goldberg Lager Beer and replacing it with the Goldberg Black in the medium to long term, I think a grievous mistake has been made already and that is to have allowed the two Goldbergs struggle side-by-side in the market. This is because if the new Black Goldberg doesn’t survive the green one, there won’t be anything to nurture for posterity.

As things stand at the moment, Goldberg Black has been well-received in the market with more than two months gone since it was introduced. Unlike Trophy and previous extensions which attracted impressive trial purchases immediately following launch, the only noticeable presence of Goldberg Black in most bars are the point-of-sale materials pinned to various corners of many bars and lounges. With its vast penetration across the nooks and crannies of the country, Nigerian Breweries can afford to distribute and encourage the display of POS materials anywhere it demands the same to be exhibited. But it definitely has to recourse to the consumers to ensure this translates to beer bottle body counts on bar tables. This, the consumer decides, based on a number of emotional and economic factors.

While the economic factors are decided by the amount of disposable income the consumer has to spare for the beer brand in question, the emotional factor is determined by how the consumer reacts to the choices available to him, and as regards Goldberg Black, it looks like the train is beginning its journey out of the station without the newly introduced brand on board. Consumers on this train don’t look like they want this black Goldberg, and the reasons may just not be what the owners of the brand think.

You see, I think it was clever of the Nigerian brewing giants to have tried to not associate their newest offering with the stout category name. Their experience with Legend Extra Stout, which has always gasped for breath in the presence of the category oxygen-guzzler, Guinness Stout would possibly have told them that if they did not separate Goldberg, albeit mentally, from the “stout” ecosystem, Guinness would ravage them in no time and reduce it to just another player who came but did not conquer.

But this is not the main reason the consumers are not buying. They are keeping their distance because Goldberg has become available as a hybrid; as an item of a love affair for other people. Once you do this, two things usually happen – it is either they withdraw from the mother brand and migrate to the extension, or they feel so frustrated they seek refugee asylums with competition, from where they could either return or take permanent residency, depending on how the minders handle the situation.

 I must also add that consumers don’t take kindly to some of the marketing lies that we couch as intelligent positioning statements. It rankles them into the kind of quiet violent protests that impact immediately on the numbers.

In the case of Goldberg Black, I do not understand the point of calling Goldberg Black a “dark lager” when it is actually a stout. Such “intelligent propositions might sound brilliant and riveting on PowerPoint slides, but it translates to noting but revulsion on the part of the consumer: they would be annoyed if they discovered that the minders tried to fool them by pretending the brand is not a stout when it looks and tastes like one.


Ikem Okuhu is a journalist, a Public Relations professional, brand strategist and teacher. With a career that traversed Print Media, Oil & Gas, Banking and entrepreneurship, Ikem is the author of wave-making book; PITCH: Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths, a dispassionate exposition of the dos and don’ts of successful engagement in the marketplace, especially the Nigerian marketplace. He is the founder/publisher of BRANDish, Nigeria’s first nationally circulating Brands and Marketing magazine. He has also handled the PR and reputation management consultancies for a number of brands, businesses and public figures.

  • Uche Okafor

    Your analysis is spot on. Beer Consumers in Nigeria have an almost robotic dedication to the original brand they choose to drink.

    November 22, 2023 at 6:44 am Reply
  • Funsho Arogundade

    Brilliant article! Nothing more to add!

    November 24, 2023 at 8:50 am Reply
  • Onyinyechi

    Succinctly put. Ride on Sir.

    November 26, 2023 at 10:08 am Reply

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