By Paul Glader
BONN, Germany – With the federal election season in full swing in Germany, social entrepreneur and Ashoka Fellow Gregor Hackmack is busy preparing his online portal, ParliamentWatch, to host a variety of special online forums with German media partners and to connect citizen’s questions to candidates.
“It’s all about bridging the gap between citizens and politicians,” Hackmack said at the recent Ashoka Globalizer event in Bonn, which the Ashoka Germany office organized to piggy-back on the larger Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum. “We need to build that bridge.”
Hackmack and his team. who are based in Hamburg, have built a sustainable model for their ParliamentWatch (“abgeordnetenwatch” in German). The site has grown into a fixture of the German political and media scene. It’s a forum where citizens can ask direct questions of political candidates and elected officials in Germany and for Germany’s delegation to the European Union.
Roughly 95% of federal parliament members participate with the site, answering 80% of the 150,000 questions that have poured in from voters. The questions are stored in archives as a public record, which voters can use to later hold politicians accountable. The site can also sort and slice data and responses. For example, it shows, graphically, how responsive each of the major parties in Germany is to questions.
“We try to provide as much transparency as possible,” Hackmack said. “It’s one thing what people say they will do and another thing to see how they vote.”
The forum has proved popular, generating 350,000 unique visitors per month. It has partnerships running with several media including Süddeutsche Zeitung, broadcaster NDR, Spiegel Online (see Spiegel’s profile of Hackmack here) and more than 40 other local newspapers, which help draw questions from voters to the site and use some of the answers and data in news reports.
Because of the site’s popularity, lawmakers are essentially forced to answer the questions and maintain a basic profile on the site. Those who want a premium profile with a picture and integrating the platform into Twitter or Facebook FB -2.2% must pay €179 (€149 for signing up early).
“That’s how we get politicians to contribute to the project,” Hackmack shared. “If there is competition before the election, there is a clear incentive to buy the premium profile.” The rest of the finances come from donors and partnerships. And of the 50,000 people who subscribe to ParliamentWatch’s newsletter, 1,500 donate on a monthly basis.
Hackmack and his team have made the platform open source on Drupal and work with entrepreneurs and organizations in other countries who want to replicate ParliamentWatch, inviting them to pay a minimal membership fee to Hackmack’s team to help with technical support, site upgrades and consulting.
So far, partner sites have started in Luxembourg, Ireland, Austria, Tunisia and, most recently, France. Hackmack is in touch with people who want to start versions of the platform in Greece and in Pakistan as well.
Antonis Schwarz is busy at work to launch the site in Greece. “The severe economic crisis in Greece has compounded the distrust that many Greek citizens hold opposite the current political class,’’ he says in a statement on hiswebsite. He believes a breakdown in communication, a lack of transparency and one-dimensional media coverage (focusing on political decisions rather than the process) is causing a growing divide between politicians and citizens in the financially-troubled country. “In Greece, the birthplace of democracy, the involvement in party politics is decreasing, severing the limited tradition/culture of civic participation in politics and creating a detached democracy.”
Another Ashoka Fellow, Klaas Glenewinkel, helped Hackmack find funding and media training to open the site in Tunisia, which Hackmack and his team help support more fully. Otherwise, Hackmack says he doesn’t strive to find donors, partners and expansion countries. Rather, he lets the motivation bubble up in the right places and helps people once they are ready.
“If we don’t care who is running or who is representing us, why should we be surprised if they fail?” he said. “These are the world’s most important jobs! We should be investigating who is taking them.”
This post was written by Paul Glader, a journalist, professor and entrepreneur. Paul is currently a European Journalism Fellow at Free University in Berlin, Germany, and co-founder of @WiredAcademic. He spent a decade as a staff writer at The Wall Street Journal and has written for dozens of publications including The Washington Post, BusinessWeek, FastCompany.com, USA Today and The Associated Press.
Carlsberg Taps The Next Big Beer Market (Really): Women
BY PAUL GLADER|
DECEMBER 14, 2012
Carlsberg Group CEO Jorgen Buhl Rasmussen says in spite of gimmicky “innovations” in beer marketed to women, they remain a huge untapped market. But catering to them requires a new approach in management, strategy, and product innovation.
COPENHAGEN—Jorgen Buhl Rasmussen, the CEO of brewing giant Carlsberg Group, says the big beer industry has grown stale when it comes to innovation, and altogether too comfortable with its staple consumer: sports-loving dudes.
“The beer category has been suffering in terms of image. In the last 10 to 15 years, it is often connected with drunken people on the street sitting with beer cans,” he says. While the craft beer trend has been injecting new life into the beer market, it is also still too male-oriented. Men still buy 74% of lager beers, according to Datamonitor. For Carlsberg, men buy 80%. “We can and we must come up with more products that are appealing to females,” Rasmussen says.
That task is first product development, followed by smart marketing, he believes. And neither of those are easy, as women have traditionally been more interested in wine than beer-style brewed drinks. So Carlsberg is dipping its toe in the market, inventing a few new female-friendly products and marketing them carefully and organically in small, highly developed markets like Sweden and Switzerland.
The alternative drink laboratory is sticky-sweet and littered with failure. Beer companies have tried beer in slim-line cans, light beers, and beers so fruity they might as well be wine coolers. Brewers have tried low-carb, low-calorie, and caffeine-fused drinks. Some “malternative” and “alcopop” brands like Coors’s Zima were hot for a time, but ultimately discontinued. Some wine coolers switched from wine-based drinks to malt-based mixtures and took a precipitous slide in sales in the 2000s. The Alizé cognac-based liquors became an urban product rather than high-end.
But beer industry veterans haven’t given up hope completely. Rasmussen and others still think product innovation and marketing brewed drinks toward women is possible. Increasingly, women know about different, palate-friendly beers like Abbey Ales, fruit lambics, ciders, ginger beers, and dark stouts—as well as about the more varied glassware they require and how to pair them with foods. Women want “a less bitter, non-bloating beer that does not give you a malty/hoppy aftertaste and breath,” says Carlsberg spokesman Ben Morton. “Flavor proliferation has become a key feature of beer innovation.”
Furthermore, it’s a key way forward when sales and profits in mature markets like the U.S. and Western Europe have plateaued and Carlsberg and the other top 4 beer companies in the world are facing competition on all sides from rival beverages ranging from Red Bull to wine to whisky. “If you look back at the last 10-20 years, and you think about what has been done in terms of innovation in the beer category, yes, you have some but not enough,” he says. “We are focused on doing more innovation to make this category more attractive and to get more consumers to engage.”
Rasmussen thinks a future round of innovation should start with product innovation rather than marketing the same old stuff in a different way. As CEO, he centralized innovation at Carlsberg, combining the R&D center with consumer insights and innovation marketing teams. The company doesn’t disclose R&D figures. But he has made “female drinks” a platform inside the company, identifying it as a major initiative on par with “health and wellness” innovation. He’s recruited female executives, researchers, and marketers to lead the brainstorming for these new “brewed” drink categories.
The idea, he says, is not to create wine coolers or non-beer products geared to women. Rather, he wants to come up with new types of drink recipes that can be made in Carlsberg-owned breweries but are lighter in alcohol, refreshing in taste, and perceived as healthy enough to take on wine, champagne, and other drinks vying for women’s dollars. “In a brewing facility you can do non-alcoholic products, sweet products, color products,” he says. “You can do more or less everything. It’s a very obvious question leading to a very obvious opportunity: We must be able to come up with more ideas and concepts for women.”
Instead of rolling the new drinks out worldwide, Carlsberg is testing beverages in small, trend-setting markets such as Switzerland, Sweden, and Denmark. If successful with women in some of these most developed countries, the theory goes that the drinks might work in other larger markets.
Carlsberg has developed several concepts, launching one called Eve, a light, fruity, sparking alcoholic drink that is low in alcohol and calories but beer-based. It has expanded Eve’s launch market of Switzerland to Russia. Company marketers say the drink should be served “in a Champagne glass to emphasize its aspirational qualities.”
More recently, Carlsberg launched BEO, a healthy, juice-like drink low in alcohol content. It’s “a brewed soft drink” based on natural ingredients but made with brewing equipment. It was tested in Sweden this year and the company plans to roll it out nationally there in 2013, expanding more broadly if sales perform well.
A third attempt by Carlsberg is on a minimalist, design label for a light beer called Copenhagen, a name intended to evoke fashion and design. “Many young people aren’t keen on the bitter aftertaste of beer,” said Kirsten Ægidius, VP Marketing. “We have created a highly drinkable beer with a balanced taste, a real alternative to white wine and champagne.” The product and brand is being tested in Nordic markets.
Several other companies are also working on products. Molson Coors Brewing Co. launched a BitterSweet effort in 2009 aimed to “remove the gender imbalance that exists around beer consumption” and boost its sales to women, which amounted to a meager 17% of sales in the past. Its U.K. and Ireland offices launched the Animée drink last year, which has 4% alcohol and is a lightly sparkling, finely filtered brewed drink in three flavors: crisp rose, zesty lemon, and clear filtered. The company’s marketing says it is aimed to “dispel the perception among women that all beers look and taste the same.” It said 79% of women in the U.K. never or rarely drink beer and, after many surveys, they hope Animée changes that objection without being patronizing.
Rasmussen, who spent most of his career at consumer products companies such as Duracell, Gillette Group, Mars, and Unilever before joining Carlsberg, wants to re-balance the customer gender base from 80% men and 20% women toward a 50%-50% split. When he oversaw Northern Europe for Gillette, he observed the brand bending of shaving products into the female market. That move helped expand the overall market for shaving products as women started buying more expensive, heavy-duty shavers (the type that men normally bought for their faces) to use on their legs instead of cheap plastic ones. Similarly, he remembers supermarkets 20-30 years ago only selling personal care products like lotions to women, while men just bought deodorants and shaving products. “Now, when you go into a supermarket, the number of products for male personal care is enormous and a fast-growing category.”
“We don’t know where it is going to end,” Rasmussen says. “I think with any piece of innovation, sometimes you get it exactly right to begin with. But, more often, you have to go back and do some more work and rework until you finally have the successful product.”