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Your Beermonger: Mad (Beer) Men

by Nick Anderson | June 20, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 645 views | No Comments

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

“We would suggest that you stick to safer and more familiar territory-maybe something with a multi-million dollar ad campaign aimed at convincing you it’s made in a little brewery, or one that implies that their tasteless fizzy yellow beverage will give you more sex appeal. Perhaps you think multi-million dollar ad campaigns make things taste better. Perhaps you’re mouthing your words as you read this.”

So sayeth the back label of Stone’s Arrogant Bastard Ale. For many of us beer geeks, those words were formative as we began to delve into the world of craft beer. They were a rallying cry; a call to arms against the ‘Big Beer’ industry. The debate over what a ‘craft’ brewery is and when a brewery grows beyond ‘craft’ status has always been vigorous, but for many, television ad campaigns have always been a line of demarcation.

That boundary may soon be put to the test. It’s been nearly twenty years since Arrogant Bastard’s debut, and while a screed like the one on its back label may satisfy the aging punk in all of us, there’s no denying how large and competitive the craft beer industry is now. For some breweries, advertising — specifically television advertising — is going to come into play as a method for reaching new audiences as their distribution grows, while for others it may be seen as a way to cut through the din of an increasingly cluttered marketplace.

A recent article on Advertising Age reported on the recent debut of a campaign by the Craft Brew Alliance on behalf of one of its breweries, Kona Brewing Company. With Anheuser-Busch/InBev owning nearly 1/3 of the Craft Brew Alliance, the CBA’s breweries benefit from access to the InBev distribution network (which is why you see Kona, Redhook, and Widmer beers everywhere now, FYI).

With tasty, approachable recipes like its Wailua Wheat Ale and Longboard Lager, Kona is being positioned by the CBA as a gateway brand; one that can draw in more casual drinkers and those just becoming aware of craft beer. To that end, Kona is now available in 39 states on the mainland in addition to its native Hawaii.

In light of such an ambitious expansion of its potential audience, it makes sense for CBA to take to the airwaves to promote Kona. With the ABI investment in CBA, most craft beer fans don’t consider Kona to be a ‘craft’ beer anyway at this point — so it’s not like there’s any silly sense of ‘street cred’ to lose there.

It’s when beloved craft beers and independents step into the ad game that things start to get more contentious. The best example of this is the Boston Beer Company, makers of Sam Adams, who have been running national television ad campaigns for years. Sam Adams can actually be used in any number of Bugs & Daffy-style “Duck Season/Rabbit Season” arguments over what a ‘craft brewery’ is or isn’t, but the TV ads have long been a point of contention.

With the size and importance of Boston Beer Company in the U.S. (accounting for 1.4 percent of total beer sales), it’s playing on a level with the Big Beer Brands — TV is a smart investment. Also, Boston Beer founder Jim Koch has always seen the benefit of advertising — he’d left a lucrative job as a management consultant to found the brewery, after all — and as early as 1986 was sacrificing small amounts of the then-tiny Boston Beer Company’s budget to run local radio ads he recorded himself. For some, Boston Beer’s TV ads are one more example of its having ‘sold out’; for me they’re an extension of Koch’s belief in advertising as merely one of the methods by which he grows his business.

So how do you do it right? New Belgium has begun the second year of a television ad campaign that is slated to run in cities across nine states; casting a wider net than the three markets Kona’s ads will reach, but still restrained for a company with one large brewery in Colorado and another slated to be up-and-running in North Carolina by the end of 2015. Focus is the enemy of appearing over-exposed when advertising in craft beer; I was pleasantly surprised when, while painting both my new and old homes in 2012, I heard ads for New Belgium’s Fat Tire Ale on my Pandora internet radio channels.

Breckenridge Brewery has a fantastic YouTube channel, which archives the funniest TV ads made to this point for craft beer (“Gravity Activated Pouring” is a favorite of mine).

Schlafly has popped up in the ad I’ve seen almost more than any from Bud, Miller, or Coors recently: an ad by Siemens, there foremost to display how the company was able to refine and expand Schlafly’s operation without sacrificing quality, but the last image you see is of one of Schlafly’s distributor-bound beer trucks, logo taking up nearly the whole screen. Getting a large corporation to shoot and then run a national ad campaign, without having to do it yourself — I say well-played, Schalfly.

For more, check out my blog today where I’ll be sharing some thoughts I had while writing this column that didn’t necessarily fit in with its theme. Until next time.

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net, and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

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