The 5 Best Beer Marketing Gimmicks

As the Craft Beer Industry continues to carve out a niche in today’s beer-lover landscape, the big beers push, pull and drag to use their heavy advertising dollars to stand out.  Is this good taste?  What I mean is – the focus on many of the more recent advertising tools have been geared towards gimmicky ad ploys with very little attention to taste, quality and product.  In a $196 billion industry that encompasses 85% of America’s alcohol market, it can be exceptionally difficult for beer brands to stand out. It appears innovation, technology of color-coded-temperature-sensitive cans have pushed aside the true root of great taste and quality inside the can.  Either way, some concepts (and commercials) have been entertaining and it’s fun to watch the top breweries battle for best-of-show ideas using scientists and engineers – not to improve their product but instead how to make it stand out in a crowded beer cooler.  Enjoy.

Below are five of the craftiest marketing ploys in the big beer industry today and how their looks, functions and overall appeal affect prospective buyers.

“My Bud Light” labels

5 of the Craftiest Marketing Ploys in the Big Beer Industry image budlightlabel1
Photo from Daily Finance

Looks: For a while Bud Light’s labels sported a special feature. The small white space below their logo resembled a dog-eared notepad and encouraged the drinker to “make your mark” by doodling with a key or coin.

A fancy splash graphic played up the side of the label, complementing the curvy aesthetic of the brand name’s border and making us wonder how the little notepad looked so dry. And when inscriptions were made, the paths left behind a metallic outline reminiscent of scratch-off lottery tickets.

Function: The obvious function behind the label is to scrawl your name onto your beer and avoid confusion with other partygoers. The makers also recommend leaving your phone number on the bottle for that good-looking someone across the bar. One commercial for the special beers even shows two guys leaving behind Buds with a suggestive “party” and their address on the side, of course followed by a successful gathering of every attractive woman in their apartment building.

Overall appeal: The “My Bud Light” labels definitely had something going for them. In a world where people use hair ties and defaced labels to keep track of their beer in the crowd, it’s smart to fashion a feature that lets them write their names on it.

But this gimmick is now a thing of the past, as it must not have drawn the response that Budweiser had hoped for in a limited run several years ago. Or perhaps the “limited time only” was meant to be a part of the appeal in itself.

Coors’ cold-activated can

5 of the Craftiest Marketing Ploys in the Big Beer Industry image coors1
Photo from buba69

Looks: These Coors cans use color to their advantage. What better hue to associate with your brand’s ice cold beer than blue? It’s a common theme in the beer industry (see Bud Light, Labatt Blue, Pabst Blue Ribbon), the color being synonymous with the super chilled temperatures we Americans love our beer served at.

Function: The purpose is evidently to show the consumer that “this beer is cold”. The cans utilize a simple chemical reaction by printing the mountains with thermochromic ink. When the liquid inside gets below a certain temperature, the exterior dye changes from transparent to blue.

And they’re reminiscent of the temperature-activated, color changing charms of days past: 70s mood rings, and those wondrous plastic spoons from the cereal boxes. It’s a nostalgic touch that brings us back to that naïve amazement of our childhood and subconsciously works in the Coors brand’s favor.

Overall appeal: But, then again…what do we have hands for? Must we forsake our sense of touch and wait for the beer to tell us when its contents are ready to sip?

Coors has even gone as far as punching out a little “window” to exhibit the effect of their cold-activation to passersby. It all seems pretty silly to me, but this novelty seems to turn casual beer drinkers on to the beverage.

Miller Lite’s punch tab

5 of the Craftiest Marketing Ploys in the Big Beer Industry image punchtab1
Photos from shane o mac and Dirty Beer Hole

Looks: There’s not much to look at here. The punch tab is merely an opportunity for an extra hole in the top of your average Miller Lite can. They’ve added a little instructional graphic on the side to give you the right idea, in case you missed the plethora of advertising on the box you pulled it from.

Function: This product’s design is mundane but touts the special advantage of a smoother pour. The commercial invites drinkers to punch the top out with the tool of their choice, including but not limited to drumsticks, wrenches, baseball trophies and carabiners.

What could always be done with a can opener or set of keys is now made just a little bit easier by the fine folks at Miller. This must be an attempt at inspiring more tasteful shot-gunning practices for the next generation of reckless college kids… right?

Overall appeal: To be fair, I can see why this little feature works for Miller. Anyone who’s bored a makeshift can hole (for whatever purpose) knows it’s an extra bit of fun with a visceral charm of its own. So if you can give people that added amusement by etching another punch-able spot into your can and potentially boost your sales from the tactic, why not?

Miller Lite’s vortex bottle

5 of the Craftiest Marketing Ploys in the Big Beer Industry image millervortex1
Photo from Dawn Huczek

Looks: In case you couldn’t tell, Miller is big on the beer gimmicks. Here’s their vortex bottle – a subtle design integration that can be seen through the neck of the bottle in just the right light. Since it may not be immediately noticeable, they give you a reminder on the bright blue strip that reads “vortex bottle” and “specially designed grooves” close to the pouring end.

As long as the drinker isn’t sitting in a dimly-lit bar, this minor redesign may be noticeable and just enough to pique a curious patron’s interest.

Function: Miller claims that their reworked bottle “create[s] a vortex as you’re pouring the beer” and is meant to “create buzz and excitement and give consumers another reason to choose Miller”. But very little from the giant’s mouth on how the tool actually works.

And that’s because it doesn’t do much. We’d expect such a well-touted device to give us an added benefit, such as a quicker pour or better head retention. But recorded user tests and a great deal of written banter tell us that the vortex is pretty worthless when it comes to actual function.

Overall appeal: At first glance (assuming you’re in a bright room) this is a pretty alluring product design. The spiraled pattern on the inside of the beer is interesting and leaves many people curious. But it may also leave them disappointed, as after brief inspection you can tell how silly the vortex design really is.

Big beer’s faux craft beer

5 of the Craftiest Marketing Ploys in the Big Beer Industry image fauxcraftbeers1

Looks: I’ve saved the best (or most deceptive) marketing ploy for last. The big beer companies have all begun producing “craft beers” of their own under the guise of entirely different brands, and I’m clumping them together to save a mouthful.

I must say, they get an A+ for looks. These seemingly craft brews sport deliberately artisanal label designs, playing off the artsy, earthy and offbeat feel of many real craft brands.

Function: The purpose of these brands is, of course, for big beer to get their foot in the door to the now booming craft beer market. Since average consumers and longtime drinkers of domestic light beers are now flocking to the craft section of their local stores in droves, the multinational brewers don’t want to miss out on this increasingly lucrative business.

Overall appeal: The appeal with these beers is huge. For one, they taste much richer and have significantly more body than a watered-down light beer, offering an exciting new experience to people who are used to drinking crap. They’re often slightly cheaper than the real craft beers on the shelf (due to the manufacturing and shipping advantages these big brewers possess), and the bottles themselves are attractive.

But as more people are paying attention to and caring about where their beer comes from, they’re discovering that these brands aren’t quite the real deal. An important aspect of the craft brewing community is, in fact, community. Microbreweries and small owners alike stress the importance of identity, quality and mutual benefit, and many of their consumers take this to heart.

Any other crafty marketing ploys worth mentioning? Share them with us in the comments below.

Nine Beers Americans No Longer Drink

Craft Breweries are Taking a Bite Out of Macro-Brew Sales

After three years of declining sales, shipments of domestically sold beer are up by more than 1% in the United States this year. While sales of specialty, craft, and small-market beers have improved dramatically, many of the traditional, full-calorie beers that were once the staples of most breweries have fallen behind. In the five years ending in 2011, sales of Budweiser, which was once the top-selling beer in the country for years, have fallen by 7 million barrels. Sales of Michelob are down more than 70%. Based on data provided by Beer Marketer’s INSIGHTS, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the nine large — or once-large — beer brands with a five-year decline in sales of 30% or more.

While regular, full-calorie beer was once the mainstream, now light has become the primary beer of choice. Budweiser, once by far the most popular beer, has now fallen to third place in domestic sales, with 17.2 million barrels shipped in 2011, compared to Coors Light’s 17.4 million. The U.S. beer leader is, by a long shot, Bud Light, with 39.15 million barrels sold last year.

Budweiser did not quite make the 30% decline in sales cutoff for our list, but many other traditional brews did. Old Milwaukee, Milwaukee’s Best and Miller Genuine Draft have all lost 50% of their sales since 2006. Michelob shipped 500,000 barrels domestically in 2006, but sold just 140,000 in 2011.

While light beer has supplanted full-calorie beer in popularity, sales of most leading light brands have been flat over the past several years. In fact, many of the beers on our list with the biggest declines are light beers that either didn’t catch on or faded out of popularity. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Beer Marketer’s INSIGHTS executive editor Eric Shepard explained that it is specialty beers and craft beers — not light beer — that have eaten into sales of traditional full-calorie beer in the past year.

Shepard explained that like most major brand-centered industries, the beer industry has entered a period of aggressively marketing new brands and flavors. “I think that part of the reason that brewers felt we had three down years was primarily the economy… but it was also a lack of innovation, and so now you’re seeing [the beer industry] rev up these things,” he said. “The buzzword for this year was innovation.”

To combat the growing popularity of craft brews, major breweries such as Anheuser-Busch Inbev (NYSE: BUD) and MillerCoors have aggressively marketed their own specialty beer. Bud Light Platinum, which debuted during the Super Bowl, has been very successful, beating most expectations. Shock Top, also produced by Anheuser-Busch, sold 600,000 barrels last year, more than double the previous year’s sales. Another Belgian white beer, Blue Moon, which is sold by MillerCoors, was the 18th-most popular beer sold last year. Shepard expects the focus on nontraditional brews to continue at least through next year. This will likely further reduce sales of the declining brands on our list.

24/7 Wall St. identified the nine beers Americans no longer drink based on INSIGHTS top 50 beer brands with at least 500,000 barrels in sales in either 2006 or 2011 with sales declines of 30% or more over the same period. Sales for flavored malt beverages and craft beers were excluded from the analysis.

These are the nine beers Americans no longer drink.

9. Milwaukee’s Best Light
> Sales loss (2006-2011): 35.5%
> Brewer: MillerCoors
> Barrels sold (2011): 1.2 million

Milwaukee’s Best Light, according to SABMiller, one half of MillerCoors, is a “leading low-calorie beer in the near-premium segment.” Although the brand has been on shelves since 1986, in recent years customers have abandoned the beer. Sales volume dropped by more than a third between 2006 and 2011, versus a decline of just 4% for all top brands. Last year, Milwaukee’s Best Light sold 750,000 barrels, 5.8% less than in 2010. Meanwhile, sales for the top brands fell by just 1.7% during that time.

8. Miller High Life Light
> Sales loss (2006-2011): 37.6%
> Brewer: MillerCoors
> Barrels sold (2011): 390,000

Miller High Life Light was first sold in 1994 as the low-calorie version of Miller High Life, often referred to as “the champagne of beers.” But while customers have continued buying the original Miller High Life — sales declined just 3.6% between 2006 and 2011 — they have deserted the light version — which saw sales decline by more than ten times that number. In 2011, sales fell by 80,000 barrels, or 17%, from 2010.

7. Amstel Light
> Sales loss (2006-2011): 47.7%
> Brewer: Heineken
> Barrels sold (2011): 340,000

Debuting in 1980, Amstel Light claims to have been the first imported light beer available in the U.S. The brand, brewed by Heineken, is the only imported beer, as well as the only beer not brewed by Anheuser-Busch InBev or MillerCoors, on this list. Neither of these brewers experienced a sales decline as large as that of Heineken between 2010 and 2011, when U.S. sales volume fell by 3.9%. One cause was Amstel Light sales, which fell by 13.9% — more than any other major Heineken brand.

6. Miller Genuine Draft
> Sales loss (2006-2011): 52.3%
> Brewer: MillerCoors
> Barrels sold (2011): 1.6 million

Miller Genuine Draft, marketed as having “the fresh taste of draft beer in a bottle,” has lost consumers’ attention in recent years. It was one of just six beers that had sales volume fall by half between 2006 and 2011. During this time, the total number of Miller Genuine Draft barrels sold fell by 1.7 million, more than any other beer on this list. Only one other brand bottled by MillerCoors — Miller Lite — had a larger decline in barrels sold over this time span.

[More from 24/7 Wall St.: Best and Worst Run States in America]

5. Old Milwaukee
> Sales loss (2006-2011): 52.8%
> Brewer: Pabst Brewing Company
> Barrels sold (2011): 460,000

Old Milwaukee is brewed by the Pabst Brewing Company, which sold itself to C. Dean Metropoulos — described by The New York Times as “a veteran food executive known for corporate turnarounds” — in 2010. Last year, the Chicago Tribune reported that employees felt Metropoulos’ marketing plans were moving the company away from the philosophies and practices that made it successful. From 2010 to 2011 alone, sales decreased by 12.4% — worse than 80% of top brands.

4. Milwaukee’s Best
> Sales loss (2006-2011): 57.1%
> Brewer: MillerCoors
> Barrels sold (2011): 750,000

MillerCoors claims that Milwaukee’s Best is “brewed for a man’s taste,” and is “highly drinkable [and] highly affordable.” However customers have stopped buying — and drinking — the brand. Between 2006 and 2011, no major brand made by MillerCoors had a larger percentage decrease in sales. The beer is one of the worst-ranked brews on BeerAdvocate.com.

3. Budweiser Select
> Sales loss (2006-2011): 60.8%
> Brewer: Anheuser-Busch InBev
> Barrels sold (2011): 775,000

Budweiser Select, introduced in 2005, claims to offer a “distinctively full flavor,” with just 99 calories per 12-ounces — roughly the same as Michelob Ultra. The brand has not sold well since its introduction, with sales declining by 1.2 million barrels between 2006 and 2011 — more than all but a few top brands. In 2009, Anheuser-Busch InBev also introduced Budweiser Select 55, which the company describes as “the lightest beer in the world with fewer calories than any other beer option currently available.”

2. Michelob Light
> Sales loss (2006-2011): 66.3%
> Brewer: Anheuser-Busch InBev
> Barrels sold (2011): 425,000

From 2006 to 2011 shipments of Michelob Light fell by 66.3%, more than any other major light beer in the U.S. While sales of Michelob Light declined, sales of Michelob Ultra — introduced in 2002, with just 95 calories per 12 ounces — rose by 10.3% from 2006 to 2011. Anheuser-Busch InBev no longer prominently markets the beers on its websites alongside the better-selling Michelob Ultra. Between 2010-2011, sales of Michelob light fell by 19%, more than all but two of the top brands we reviewed.

1. Michelob
> Sales loss (2006-2011): 72.0%
> Brewer: Anheuser-Busch InBev
> Barrels sold (2011): 140,000

American consumers have abandoned Michelob — a lager brewed since 1896 — at a faster rate than any other beer. From 2006 to 2011, sales declined from 500,000 barrels to 140,000, with a 20% drop between 2010 and 2011 alone. No other beer on this list sold less than Michelob. The next-lowest selling beer, Amstel Light, still sold 200,000 barrels more than Michelob last year. The brand has not always struggled. According to Beer Marketer’s INSIGHTS’ Eric Shepard, “the superpremium category — basically between Budweiser and the imports — Michelob pretty much had that to itself for many years.”

Contributing Writers: Michael B. Sauter and Alexander E.M. Hess | 24/7 Wall St

[button link=”http://wp.me/P2Kf3f-3F” type=”icon” icon=”stats”] Read More – States that drink the most beer[/button]