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Guinness hopes to make a splash in U.S. beer market with new lager

Guinness Black Lager.

KAI RYSSDAL: Onto something lighter now to bring things to a close. Or, actually, onto something heavier but trying to get lighter: beer. A particular kind of beer, to be precise: Guinness Stout. More people have probably heard of it than drink it, in this country anyway. One of our editors said today she thinks it tastes more like liquid tar than anything else.

And therein lies the problem for the Irish brand owned by the beverage giant Diagio. Guinness is huge in Europe and Africa. It's got, though, less than 2 percent of the American market. So Guinness is coming out with a new, dare I say it, lager.

Sally Herships has more on this brewing apostasy.


SALLY HERSHIPS: Americans like beer. They drink $103 billion worth of it every year -- most of it made in the U.S.

JOHN CRAVEN: You know, kind of that yellow, fizzy bubbly stuff that you see on the commercials.

John Craven is founder of BevNET.com. He says Americans like their brew cold and refreshing a la Budweiser. Guinness is known for it's thick dark stout. Which, according to the company, requires a pour time of two minutes. So enter Guinness Black. The brewer's new take on something lighter -- a lager.

Doug Campbell is in charge of the Guinness brand for Diago.

DOUG CAMPBELL: Being the lager style that is it is, it already will appeal more to kind of an American palette -- so things that aren't quite as challenging going down.

Even if Guinness' new lager is easier to swallow, how do you get customers to buy it? Or even try it?

CAMPBELL: That, of course, is the crux of the marketing question.

So Campbell says Guinness will promote the beer with TV, digital and print advertising -- but it will also be doing blind taste tests.

TIM CALKINS: Well you can see the challenge that's facing Guinness. Because the brand is very distinctive. But it has a very unique product that has a fairly limited appeal.

Tim Calkins teaches marketing at Kellogg School of Management. He says Guinness is making a classic marketing move -- stretching its brand. But he says it could be risky. If Guinness isn't careful, its new lighter beer could dilute the dark brand it's famous for.

In New York, I'm Sally Herships for Marketplace.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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