Posted: 3:45 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013
By Steve Cody
Pony up to the bar with craft beer and big beer and see who wins.
There are more craft breweries in the U.S. now than any time since 1890.
Overall beer sales have decreased across the board, but microbrews increased by a heady 12 percent in 2012.
Beeradvocate.com’s top 250 beer ranking is totally dominated by Pliny the Elder, Lips of Faith and Zombie Dust.
Micro brews are causing big headaches for Big Beer. But are micro brews also winning the marketing wars?
A Virtual Taste Test
I did a virtual taste test to find out. I researched the taglines and online experiences of the best-known beers, and then sniffed out how craft beers fared in comparison.
Let’s first pony up to the bar with crafts:
Colorado-based New Belgium Beer’s tagline is: "Pairs well with people" and they live up to that promise in spades. Their website experience rivals that of a finely crafted brew. It’s rich in visuals, satisfying in tone, and it seamlessly delivers on the pairs well with people promise.
Their homepage highlights everything from community to sustainability. They want you to know they care about their product, you, and the environment. One label, Fat Ale, even sponsors the Tour de Fat, a 12-city event that has raised $2 million for charity and which has donated another $5 million to non-profits. New Belgium has two sustainability experts on the management team, and asks website visitors to share ideas for "...our mutual journey towards sustainability." I’ll drink to that!
Wasatch Beers is headquartered in lovely Park City, Utah. But, there’s nothing idyllic about their website. This is one dull, corporate website for a microbrew whose brand promise reads:
"To make the best ales and lagers possible. To achieve commercial profitability, while maintaining the highest level of social responsibility. To have as much fun as we can legally get away with."
There’s nothing fun about the website and I cannot find anything about Wasatch’s commitment to corporate social responsibility. All I see is an old-fashioned marketer delivering on only one part of its brand promise: achieve commercial profitability.
My initial reaction to the Brooklyn Brewery website was, Fuggedaboutit! Their "Welcome to Brooklyn" tagline had me expecting I’d find everything needed to know to enjoy the borough. And while the website contains a brief video that tours the nation’s fifth largest city, it moves in warp speed.
In fact, the website is pretty much a hard sell for the beer, the brewery tour and its online store of fairly cool merchandise. The look-and-feel of the site reminds me more of a moribund comedy club than the newly revitalized reality of Brooklyn.
All Things to All People
I popped open my Big Beer tour by visiting Busch. Their tagline is, "You’ve earned it."
Have I? What did I do?
Sadly their website does little to explain, except to say it’s "…a beer that tastes earned." What does earned taste like? Sounds harsh.
It gets worse. The home page features angler of the year, Kevin VanDam, who also won the brand’s "Reel in a Winner" fishing competition.
Speaking for non-fishermen everywhere, I don’t care. I suppose they want to be the angler’s beer of choice, but that leaves out a lot of landlubbers.
Heineken’s tag is: "Open your world." The website reveals a contest in which Heineken picks two ordinary guys and places them in extraordinary places (i.e. a deserted beach in the Philippines. Yikes!) where they have to find a hidden six-pack of Heineken.
The Heineken website experience is just like the big beer itself. Derivative. Think: NBC’s "Get Out Alive!" meets Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World.
Finally, I checked out a bargain classic: Red Stripe. I associate Red Stripewith a beautiful Caribbean beach. And, lo and behold, the beer, its tagline and web experience all deliver on that visceral emotion. Red Stripe’s tagline is deceptively simple: "Hooray Beer!" And, the website celebrates the simplicity of tipping back a bottle of beer on a beach, with rotating screens that shout, "Hooray, no fruit needed!" and "Hooray, no fancy glass needed!"
Taste, Taglines, and Truth
Red Stripe stood alone in a sea of Big Beer websites that either tried to be all things to all people or, like Busch, focused solely on one narrow hobbyist.
So there you have it. The best microbrews are outflanking Big Beer in three ways: taste, tagline and truth. Having said that, I'd still prefer a certain Big Beer. In fact, now that I've met my deadline, I want to watch the sun set over an Ocho Rios beach while I sip my Red Stripe. (Hooray for me!)