We have discussed many times here the distinction between true craft beer and “crafty” beer. Since craft beer’s popularity is continuously growing in leaps and bounds, defying nearly all logic, many non-craft beer brands are looking to capitalize on the popularity of craft beer without actually being craft beer themselves. If the consumer doesn’t know you aren’t craft beer they can believe they are buying a higher quality beer while buying something without the craft beer pedigree.
BensBeerBlog is alleging that AB InBev’s / Labatt’s popular brand Shock Top is looking to capitalize on customer ignorance to grow their beer’s success by pretending to be craft beer. Ben’s evidence is none other than a leaked “connections brief” that shows Labatt’s strategy for marketing Shock Top in 2015. The project is called “Shock Top 2015 IMC: Fun Craft Connection” and is shows that Labatt believes that Shock Top is their “big bet in the battle against Micro Craft.”
The document admits that craft beer is “growing rapidly, with the proliferation of brands eroding Labatt’s share. These tiny powerhouses are strong regionally, winning through local craft connection models (local footprint, experiential, non-traditional).”
Labatt believes that the Shock Top brand is believed by consumers to have “small brewer / craft credentials” and thus can dominate in an otherwise fragmented craft segment. The document outlines a strategy to piggyback on the success of their “Speaks for Itself” campaign to attempt to “redefine flavour in craft without our delicious, approachable liquid, and cement Shock Top’s position as a fun, flavorful craft brand.” (Original emphasis.)
Labatt is apparently backing Shock Top as a way to recover a shrinking market share by their other macro brands. They want to increase Shock Top production by 40% in 2015 while somehow still attempting to maintain the image of being a micro / craft beer.
According to the document this is possible as Labatt’s research shows that 75% of consumers believe that Shock Top is from a small brewery. I’m curious how many of these people surveyed are beer drinkers in general or just don’t associate Shock Top as a Labatt or even AB InBev property and thus assume it must be just another craft beer.
The document illustrates that Labatt is looking to invest $2.7MM in advertising to make Shock Top the “craft” beer that, “inspire[s] people to ‘live a life full of flavour’.”
I think they will likely see an increase of sales based on this strategy. While the deviousness of attempting to cloak their mass market beer in a false sense of craft beer credibility, I will applaud anyone who is seeking a beer with better flavor. If Bud Light drinkers switch to Shock Top I consider that a win for all parties.
If Labatt wants to change the conversation about taste I don’t see why true craft brands wouldn’t encourage that. Shock Top is a rather unimpressive Belgian wheat beer and there are countless other craft beer brands that are effective at competing with Shock Top on flavor. Labatt admits that they have an uphill battle as craft beer’s popularity is in large part to the flavor of the beer but also their local footprint. Enjoying an amazing craft beer from Stone Brewing Company is a great experience but enjoying a great craft beer from your own local brewery combines flavor and local pride. An element that a national brand like Shock Top isn’t going to be able to emulate effectively.
The document does point out a very serious concern for craft beer in America. An anonymous beer drinker named “Matt” in the document says, “I like to reward myself by trying different, flavourful beers, but I’m intimidated by most craft beers because they are too pretentious and complicated.”
The main goal of the Blind Tiger Podcast is an attempt to help demystify craft beer but the very need for a show like ours illustrates that there is a barrier to entry for people looking to experiment with their beer. That not knowing styles (and the increasing hybridization of those styles) can mean that ordering a beer in a tap house that has one hundred taps can be overwhelming and encourage someone to buy something from a brand they know and trust as being pleasing in the past.
If there is to be a downfall to craft beer I do believe it will be from the pretentiousness of craft beer. The beer itself is just a tasty beverage but if craft brewers and those who sell craft beer attempt to elevate it to a point where only “experts” of a certain stripe are invited to participate then its popularity will begin to wane.
I think Labatt has a hard sell with Shock Top. I think as they expand it will extremely hard to keep the image of being a craft brewery, especially since craft brew enthusiasts will be quick to point out that Shock Top is essentially Bud Light: Belgian White.
In the end though I’m hopeful that AB InBev and MillerCoors transform from the inside. Rather than being “craft” about their properties I want them to just outright embrace more flavorful beer. Their purchase of Goose Island caused an uproar in the craft beer world but my own personal opinion was that so long as the quality remained high the Goose Island reputation would take a bit of a hit but the beer would be all that mattered.
If Budweiser were suddenly a large conglomeration of craft beers would that really be a problem?
I wish Labatt the best of luck with Shock Top and this new marketing strategy but I’m skeptical that Shock Top will really reclaim a number of craft beer drinkers. Instead I think their success will be grabbing drinkers from other mass market drinkers. You might see Bug Light Lime fans switch to Shock Top. Or Shock Top might steal some Blue Moon drinkers. I don’t see many people already invested in drinking good, local craft beer becoming loyal Shock Top drinkers.
But I could be wrong. What do you think?