You’ve probably heard the news that Pabst Brewing Company is for sale. It’s actually been for sale for about 10 years now, but this time it sounds like Uncle Sam is serious about them having to sell.
But this potentially awkward story has turned into a beautiful word-of-mouth opportunity for the company. And the best part is that they’re not even doing anything to facilitate this – at least that’s visible to me.
A couple ad agencies, namely Forza Migliozzi have launched a website called buyabeercompany.com and are accepting fake donations to round-up the $300 million the experts expect to be the selling price.
People can “pledge” money to the account and the website will keep a running tally of how much “the people” have pulled together to buy the company.
I call it PR karma… when it comes to publicity, you make your own luck. The modern day PBR (and consequently, Pabst Brewing Company) is a brand that’s built on word-of-mouth marketing, which in turn, is street cred. Consumers flat-out love the brand and are attracted to interact with it. The results are interesting stories that are created by real people – and that’s the best kind isn’t it?
I’m working on a project that has me thinking back on my time in the Craft Beer segment. I took some time this past weekend to crystalize my thoughts on what it takes to build a successful craft beer brands and here’s what I came up with.
After looking at this a few times, it seems like a lot of these concepts apply to start-up brands in a variety of categories and industries.
I’ll be elaborating on these ideas, one at a time in the coming weeks.
I was in the Portland (OR) market earlier this week when I saw a stack of green and yellow Bud Light-ish product. It made sense to me since I just saw a commercial promoting Bud Light Lime in cans. When I got a little closer, I noticed that it wasn’t Bud Light Lime, it was regular old Bud LIGHT. And then there was a stack of product next to it that had orange and black Bud Light cans.
First, it is marketing to college consumers. I’m personally not so worried about can designs leading to over-consumption as mentioned in this AJC piece, but it is marketing to a demographic that is largely under legal drinking age.
Second, this seems like a sign of a desperate brand. Is Bud and Bud Light really at the point where they need to change their packaging every quarter to get consumer attention? Even worse, they’re changing their packaging in multiple markets around the country. Talk about bastardizing the brand for a short-term lift!
Finally, changing the colors of their cans regionally is a huge sell out. If I’m an Oregon State Beavers fan, the Ducks are my enemy! So am I going to have an allegiance to a brand that is sitting there saying “we love both teams!” No! I’m going to think it’s a brand with no conviction and is a total sell-out.
Which is why Bud and Bud Light are slowly dying before our eyes.
Promotional packaging is a sign of a weak and desperate brand. Don’t be a weak and desperate brand. Don’t be lazy, sell out and rely on short-term promotional packaging to make your brand appear to be “with it.” It backfires every time.
When I worked on PBR, we focused most of our efforts on word of mouth or “buzz marketing.” Mostly because we didn’t have any money, but also because the young adult, hipster consumer resisted mainstream mainstream marketing and embraced brands that didn’t market. The hipsters were the ones rediscovering, reinventing and advocating the brand.
Believe it or not, the concept of hipsters drinking PBR was a hard idea to sell internally back in 2001-2003. You gotta remember that the brand was living on middle-aged, blue collar men who drank it because it was cheap. It wasn’t sold on-premise and it was a forgotten brand. So when it came to convincing all of the big shots that this brand had a chance with a new consumer base, we rationalized it by telling them that it was being embraced because these consumers resisted mainstream marketing.
Is that true? Do even the most fickle and anti-establishment of consumers “hate” marketing? Here we are, six years later and I say that it is totally false. I think consumers LOVE marketing. BUT, they only love it when it’s authentic and meaningful to them. If it’s fake, consumers, whether they are cynical hipsters or not will REJECT it.
That’s the beauty of social media, sampling and experiential marketing programs. All of these tactics are real because the consumer is interacting and having a conversation with a real person.
Coincedentally, when we scaled up the PBR program, we hired more people to go out there and have conversations. Even the hipsters knew that these people were there to MARKET to them. But they were totally fine with it. Why? Because it was REAL.
While I was bumming around the convention hall on the first night of the GABF (Great American Beer Festival) with Mark Silva, I got a chance to meet Pete Slosberg. If you enjoy craft beer, Pete is one of the guys you should thank because he’s one of the guys that started the “Long Tail of Beer” back in 1986 when he started brewing and selling Pete’s Wicked Ale.
It’s been 9 years since Pete came to the GABF as a brewer, which is an eternity in the day and age of the “long tail”. Here are Pete’s thoughts on the industry and how it’s changed.
I’ve been in the beer industry for eight years now, and I’ve learned that just like any other industry, it’s extremely cyclical. In the beer industry, the cycles sway back and forth from “concentrate on core brands” to “innnovate and launch new brands/styles”. Right now, We’re definitely in an “innovate and launch” cycle and it’s been interesting to see which direction the brewers go when launching a new brand: line extend or create a new brand.
It’s been interesting to see which direction to go when launching a new brand: line extend or new brand?
Let’s look at some recent case studies:
Michelob Ultra – this brand experienced huge success for a few year, but it was somewhat short lived as the popularity of the Atkins Diet waned. But it is still a brand with strong positioning and loyal, niche following. Plus it’s really the only low-carb brand that survived.
Budweiser Select – this brand is still around and probably will be for a while – but I doubt that it ever reached AB’s expectations and it appears that this brand has been relegated to a second tier brand for AB.
Miller Chill – This launch of Miller Chill was a huge success for Miller. Not only did they steal share from competitors, but they traded those consumers up to a higer priced brand.
Blue Moon – The success for Blue Moon has been developing for quite a while. I remember drinking a Blue Moon in Glenwood Springs in 2002 , long before I lived in Colorado and long before it gained its current popularity. Blue Moon is a brand that has been allowed to grow as consumers discovered the brand. Kudos to Coors for having patience and doing this the right way. In the day and age of immediate return on investment and impatient stockholders – this brand was built right.
Now here come the new brands. AB is line extending Bud Light to Bud Light Lime and Miller is extending Miller Light to the Miller Brewer’s Collection. It will be interesting to see how these brands fare, but I think it’s pretty easy to make a prediction is pretty easy: Line extensions lead to mediocre brands in the beverage business.
Bud Light Lime will probably find the same fate of Coke Lime – a niche brand that appeals to a small audience and essentially waters down the flagship. Personally, I would have just ran on-premise promotions where consumers are encouraged to try their Bud Light with a Lime, but that’s me.
Miller will test market the Miller Lite Brewer’s Collection, get some good feedback and take a couple of the styles national. But it won’t take long for Miller to lose interest because the brands aren’t growing as fast as they want and consequently, they will start to fade. I understand Miller wants to carve out a new niche in craft beers, but given the choice to line extend, I can already tell that they don’t have the patience needed to make these brands successful.
Ultimately, there isn’t a steadfast rule when it comes to answering the question of line extending or not. But, if a you’re looking for an immediate spike, line extending probably is the way to go. Just don’t bet your future on that brand, because it will probably