Marketing Boston Beer: When Ad Spending Is About More Than the Ads

tv with sam

Believe it or not, Sam Adams is kind of small in the world of beer.

Yes, on the continent of craft, it’s the largest country around, exporting about 3 million barrels of beer, almost 2 million more than second-ranked Sierra Nevada. But put that into the context of a globe filled with nuclear powers of AB InBev, SABMiller, Heineken and more, and all of a sudden Sam Adams annual output doesn’t seem so powerful.

It’s not clear cut, given that Sam Adams six-packs and boxes of seasonal releases adorn the shelving at supermarkets and convenience stores across the country, but Boston Lager, Rebel IPA and all their friends only hold 1.3 percent of beer market share. In the grand scheme of the industry, that’s quite a lot, but it’s also roughly the same as Bud Light Platinum.

Which is why Boston Beer has been upping its advertising game. But it may not be as simple as a perceived land grab to take up more space on TV or radio, leading to the annexation of of space in your beer fridge.

Rather, there are hints that the Sam Adams’ marketing strategy simply adheres to co-founder and chairman Jim Koch’s outlook on the beer industry and where Boston Beer sits among it all.

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There’s Craft in Your Beer: A Giant, An Industry and a Definition

sam adams-dictionary-beer-definition-craft-crafty

Something that has always struck me about the beer industry is its white-knuckled grasp on definitions.

We have BJCP guidelines to tell us how a beer should look and taste, but we also have a definition of beer itself. Or, at least, what constitutes the artisanal aspect of beer production, better known as “craft.”

All the “little guys” earn a title of “craft brewer” depending on a variety of standards set forth by the Brewers Association. Namely, that breweries be independently owned (or at least 75 percent so), they create beers whose flavor comes from “traditional” or “innovative” brewing ingredients and they produce 6 million barrels of beer or less, approximately 3 percent of annual sales in the United States.

That last marker – size of production – might also be recognized for its relationship with the Boston Beer Company, the largest member of the Brewers Association. In 2010, the Association upped its threshold of allowable barrel production from 2 million to 6 million as Boston Beer, maker of Sam Adams, was preparing to break through that cap, thus nullifying its existence as a “craft brewer.”

As it stands today, Boson Beer produces about 3 million barrels of Sam Adams annually, and that number is going up. Fast.

For beer enthusiasts, defining the difference between Big Beer (AB InBev, SABMiller) and everyone else has been a hot topic in the past year, as the Brewers Association works to inflate craft’s market share in order to sell 20 percent of all beer by 2020.

But the thing is, these definitions come across more fermentally-challanged than anything, especially when you consider they are placed upon businesses in an industry that thrives on bucking trends and setting their own paths. Even if a brewer is producing 3 million barrels of beer, they are more than the definition we provide for them. They are not a descriptive term, they are a story.

Instead of focusing on Boston Beer’s place in terms of the definition of craft, we should instead train our eyes (and livers) on the company’s commitment to the industry. As a profit-driven company, the growth and business acumen of Boston Beer is kind of amazing, but if you look hard enough, you’ll see that owner Jim Koch has never lost sight of his roots as a plucky, upstart brewer.

Which is why I’m devoting a few posts this week to a deeper look at Boston Beer and what they’ve been doing in recent years. To some, the company may seem to be a giant in the beer industry that simply is adorned with the title of “craft.” Their ever-expanding profits and ad dollars certainly create that point of view.

But ultimately, the flexibility of the company and commitment to its homegrown culture is what drives its products (and company) forward. But don’t just take my word for it:

“We are reminded every day that we are still a small business,” [Jim] Koch told Entrepreneur.com in Washington D.C. during National Small Business Week. “We have to compete with these enormous global companies that are 50, 100 times our size, and you have to bring the small business game to that — just innovate, try to think of a better way to do things, try to be more nimble and smarter about all your decisions.”

I hope you’ll join me this week to share your own impressions of Boston Beer, Sam Adams and why being nimble is valuable when you have to wiggle out of a definition thrust upon you.
+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

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An Adjective Adjunct: When Beery Wordplay Lacks Soul

A beer description as empty as it seems.

A beer description as empty as it looks.

The absolute worst (or is that best?) thing about words is they have meaning.

Books tell us their purpose. Teachers educate on their place. But really, what words produce for us aren’t just complete sentences. They form subjective emotions.

For me there is one such word that is a villain to vernacular, laughing mischievously at me, just one man unable to combat it alone.

It is unfortunately well-liked, often used, and forever relied on, a fly in my pint.

It is “smooth.”

And it needs to go away.

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Out of the Glass, Into the “News”

glassware-pint glass-snifter-ipa glass-beer

Behind the curtain, beyond the bottle, I’m just a guy spending my free time writing about beer. Nothing terribly special, but as passion projects go, it’s OK by me.

Every now and then, I’m lucky to interact with others, whether they be fellow beer enthusiasts or people simply curious about my research and writing.

This week, I’ve been able to share my love for beer in a couple new ways.

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Photogenic & Fermented: June 2014 Beertography

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It’s the end of the month, which means it’s time for my regular roundup of beertography from the last few weeks. I was really happy with the amount of beertography I was able to capture in June. I don’t know what hit me, but I suppose I was feeling extra creative.

Below you’ll find some of my favorite, recent shots, which you may also come across on my Instagram page, Twitter account or even Untappd. The photos below are just a few of the ones I took throughout the month, but you can find all of them on my Instagram account.

All my shots are taken with my iPhone 5 unless otherwise noted. The space where I shoot my photos – around the house – offers somewhat limited opportunities for pretty backdrops, which is why I try to get inventive with my photo ideas and did some traveling this time around.

Let’s see what June had to offer…

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout – Framed Perfection

goose island-bourbon county stout-stout-imperial stout-beer-beertography-photo-picture

Mother Earth Endless River – Back to the Source

mother earth-endless river-kolsch-beer-beertography-photo-picture

Troegs LaGrave – Rest in Peace

troegs-lagrave-belgian-beer-beertography-cemetary-photo-picture

Sierra Nevada Rain Check – Summer Storm

sierra nevada-rain check-stout-rain-beer-beertography-photo-picture(Above shot with Nikon D90)

Heineken Desperados – Riding Across Scorched Earth

heineken-desperados-tequila-beer-beertography-photo-picture

 

As always, you can go back to see previous beertography posts:

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

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Zymurgy’s “Best Beers” Ranking and the Search for a Non-Boring Beer

non boring header

Who knew so much interesting stuff could come out of a simple “best beer” list?

First, we saw how Zymurgy’s best beers that have been around for some time may lose favor with beer drinkers when compared to all the changing options they have today. Then, it became clear that beer lovers might overvalue their adoration of Sierra Nevada brews.

The common thread between the two seemed to be the threat of becoming “boring” to consumers in an industry that is constantly shifting and adjusting products to offer beer enthusiasts.

So what’s left now is the question: what isn’t boring these days?

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Is Sierra Nevada Overvalued? The Curious Case of the “Boring” Beer

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Last week, we took a quick peek at some of the fallers and risers from the recently released “Best Beers in America” poll by homebrewing magazine Zymurgy.

For a sixth-straight year, Pliny the Elder topped the list, despite its relative distribution scarcity and what some described as an IPA that isn’t as good as the hype suggests. Even still, some of the biggest movers up the list from 2012 to 2014 were other specialty or rare beers like Founders Kentucky Bourbon Stout, Alchemist Heady Topper and Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout.

There’s a natural tendency for lists like this to function with a level of bias, but what I’ve become most interested in from looking over the “Best Beers” is also how it highlights our changing expectations and what we want from the beer industry.

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What Do the “Best Beers in America” Say About the Beer Industry?

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Also: check out this post about how these rankings may show bias toward Sierra Nevada brews.

Yesterday, Zymurgy, the official magazine of the American Homebrewers Association, released results of its annual “Best Beers in America” survey, completed by members of the organization. The list, which I’ve written about before, typically gears toward expectations: lots of IPAs and imperial stouts.

While I’ve only had a few hours to look over this year’s list with an advance digital copy of Zymurgy, I’ve already started comparing and contrasting between previous iterations of the “Best Beers” lists, which are determined by popular vote. To determine the rankings, voters selected up to 20 of their favorite beers in an online poll.

I plan to offer up full details of this year’s list next week, but I wanted to share a few initial reactions when comparing lists from 2012, 2013 and 2014. While Russian River’s Pliny the Elder and Bell’s Two Hearted IPAs have held the #1 and #2 spots, respectively, in each of the past three years, there has been some shift with other brews. (you can also see the top-10 beers for 2014 here)

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Who is the Best? Presenting the Real World Cup of Beer

beer brazil

The entire world is entranced by The Beautiful Game for the next month as the World Cup kicked off this week. OK, maybe not the United States, but there’s a lot of land out there.

But what’s soccer (or football?) without beer?

The folks at The Big Lead offered up a great chart recently of the “most popular (i.e. best-selling domestically) beers from each of the 32 World Cup countries.” It’s a fun graphic, if only to better acquaint yourself with everyone’s favorite beers from around the world.

However, I fear that chart is only half the story. I’m here to tell the rest.

It’s all well and good to know which beer is each country’s favorite, but we might as well know who would win the World Cup based on this new information, right? That’s what I’m here to do.

I went through every beer listed on the Big Lead chart and took rankings from RateBeer and Beer Advocate in order to assign each brew a quantitative value. Per World Cup rules, the two highest-ranked beers from each of the initial eight groups  moved on before the knockout stage began.

Some of the results might surprise you…

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Is the Fastest-Growing Domestic Beer a Key for Beer Marketing?

michelob key hole

Despite ongoing problems with going up against the craft beer sector here in the U.S., AB InBev recently announced it had an OK start to the fiscal year.

In fact, its three core brands – Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois – actually grew 8.3 percent gobally. It’s just that the company is still having a rough time here at home.

But all is not lost.

In one of those “blink and you’ll miss it” occasions, Michelob Ultra is riding a hell of a wave in sales right now – one that is now into its third year. From 2011 into May 2014, AB InBev-owned Michelob Ultra has seen sales growth of 10.3 percent or more each year. That’s a trend, even if it is easy to ignore as craft beers fly off the shelves.

While Michelob Ultra won’t ever knock off Bud Light as the top-selling domestic beer brand, it is currently the fastest-growing large domestic beer brand at a time when our attention is appropriately focused on the innovation of craft.

In today’s beer industry, I realize that sounds like Michelob Ultra is the senior captain on a high school’s JV football team, but it still counts for something, right?

Even more so, the way this has happened for Michelob Ultra suggests this kind of growth may be sustainable and could even be taken as a “best practice” for others.

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