In my last post on Cameron’s of Hartlepool in the 1980s I alluded to Crown Ale. A Google search failed to find the images I was looking for, but a bit of coaxing from Boak and Bailey led me to the brewery visitors’ centre in Hartlepool and the very helpful Marie-Louise McKay, who sent me exactly what I was looking for.
We are going back almost 30 years so my memory is, I’m afraid, a bit sketchy, but hopefully the following is of some interest.
Crown was first brewed in 1977 to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee, initially I believe only in bottles.
I’m unsure when it was introduced on draught (keg) but judging from this font image, probably not long after what was planned to be a limited edition bottle, in response to positive customer reaction in and around Hartlepool and Teesside.
The ABV was 5%, but according to legend the beer underwent a fairly rapid fermentation which resulted in an actual ABV higher than declared. The recipe had to be adjusted on order to reduce the alcohol content, following reports of higher than normal levels of drunkennness in Hartlepool.
In my time I think the ABV was around 4.5%. Crown Ale was relatively light in colour but still a full bodied beer, without the maltiness of Strongarm, the company’s flagship brand. Distribution was limited to Hartlepool and the local South Durham area, within some of the Cameron Inns estate and CIU clubs where Strongarm did not appeal. The big brand within the clubs at this time was Whitbread Trophy Special, brewed at Castle Eden on the Durham coast and dispensed via electric meters, frequently from five-barrel tanks.
No one seemed to know the origins of the agricultural scene now featured on the Crown font, nor was the description “naturally strong” particularly illuminating.
The problem for us marketing types was that , whilst Strongarm had its aficionados, it was outgunned in the free trade. In the company’s own pubs, Hartlepool brewed Hansa lager had a poor reputation and the younger town centre venues were shifting large quantities of Carling bottles as a result.
The company had a divisional structure with Cameron Brewing looking after the brewery, distribution and free trade and Cameron Inns running the pubs. The latter’s management argued that their performance was being damaged because lager drinkers were unwilling to see that Cameron’s had ze Hansa.
Budgets were tight and fighting for marketing funds was always tough in a company chaired by an accountant, so we were looking for something which would make a big impact for a small budget, with no money for conventional advertising. This was, of course, long before the onset of social media.
Crown volumes were (from memory) about 2500 barrels a year. We felt that a radical change in Crown’s image and presentation, given the product’s characteristics, could increase its appeal to younger drinkers turned off by Hansa and, given the premium charged in managed houses for bottles of Carling, offer them decent value as well.
Existing Crown drinkers were very loyal, given the brand’s history, so the risk that a major image change would switch them off was small, even if it didn’t appeal to everyone.
Hence our ales product manager unveiled the new font for a renamed Cameron’s Crown.
A lot of people hated it, even if they could see what we were trying to do, but it certainly got people talking and gained some additional distribution in the company’s heartland.
I left Cameron’s not long after the relaunch, so how the following years turned out, I don’t know. I had forgotten about Crown until the recent Marstons rebranding of their ale range revealed the new image for Pedigree.
Just goes to show there’s nothing new in marketing.