Anyway, I wanted to share something I read today at his Beverage Professionals site: "Split Personality." It's about how the beer industry looks at branding. A lot of craft beer drinkers -- the hardcore -- look on branding, marketing, promotion, and advertising as pretty much tools of the Devil...because that's what the big brewers use. When craft brewers use them, it confuses these people; witness the way some of them trash Samuel Adams, a beer brand that has done amazing things to establish craft's credibility across the country, and one that produces excellent beers, exceptional and experimental beers.
However, as Rosen's colleague Michael Browne points out, it's not so much the branding the bigs use that should be disturbing; it's how they do it. Here's how he starts the piece:
'So a bunch of states that have this 3.2 ABW law. You have to sell a watered down (‘non-intoxicating') beer to distribute in many channels.'
‘Okay, I get it,’ says the newcomer to the beer industry.So we take our biggest brands -- the ones we spend hundreds of millions of dollars marketing - and water down the product by 25% so we can sell it in these channels.’‘Use the same brand name for this watery version of your product?’Yup’
And you know it's true. Just that example alone is completely true; you'll see 3.2 versions of well-known brands -- like Budweiser -- in states like Oklahoma, and it won't say "Bud 3.2", it just says "Budweiser." (I'm not picking on Budweiser in particular, it's just an example.)
What do you care? Well, Browne does, and for reasons that might intrigue you.
...the beer industry has convinced itself that playing fast and loose is okay, as long as there is a lot of volume at stake. And consumers are keenly aware of this. They know that craft brewers and specialty imports do not have compromised versions in these markets. They are able to draw a bright line between the mass producers and the small brewers that don't compromise… more evidence of the split personality in the beer industry. There are a bunch of large brewers who will put one brand on 2 very different beers; and there are craft Brewers that won’t.Just one more chapter in a larger narrative that crafts are all about the beer; mass brewers are all about money.
Branding doesn't have to be a dirty word if you play it straight. After all, when I see "Deschutes," or "Victory," or "Bell's," or "Sierra Nevada" on a label, I know I'm getting a good beer. It may not be exactly to my taste, but the solid experience and integrity going into it makes it an easy decision to give it a try. Brand integrity is important, and it's been one of craft brewing's best practices (even through re-branding and the occasional slip -- Rogue's multi-labeling experiments come to mind).
When craft is seen to have clear lessons for big brewers on basics like this, it's another sign that the whole industry might be changing. It's slow, but if the sales pros are chiding big brewers about this kind of, well, this kind of deception, that's a good sign.