New Zealanders will be familiar with the story. It’s the one about the beer brand that uses an iconic New Zealand bird as its logo and brand name. Ever since their first billboards went up, they’ve been the source of some controversy. At first glance, the advertising appears a bit of harmless fun – just short statements about something topical, often a bit controversial. But some have taken offence in the past, citing that already marginalised groups needn’t be the source of more mirth.
If, as has happened, the advertising is deemed to have crossed the line and is making headlines for the wrong reasons, the company will usually offer an apology, remove the advertising and get on with planning the next campaign.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
From a business perspective, those billboards surely pay themselves off many times over, especially when they do generate controversy. For a relatively small outlay in a world cluttered with advertisers competing for your attention, the amount of exposure can be significant. Which is probably why it’s such a useful marketing tool. You could argue that the campaign in general has been so successful that the majority of the general population would know them for their advertising rather than the beer.
But that’s enough about Tui.
The point is that controversy gets you noticed. For an example in the craft beer world, see Brewdog. The Scottish brewers seem to follow the line of ‘any publicity is good publicity’ and it works beautifully for them. They’ve been involved in a brewing war with the Germans over the world’s strongest beer, heated (and often very entertaining) online debates with industry figureheads and lengthy legal disputes with alcohol advisory groups. But for all the sideshow that is the marketing, they would surely still consider themselves craft brewers. They just understand that most people don’t drink craft beer (all craft brewers know this fact as it gets reinforced every time someone quotes market share). This in effect leaves you with a couple of options; (a) maintain the status quo by building your reputation slowly and steadily or (b) back your product, get on the soapbox and shout as loud as you can. That’s certainly the attitude taken by New Zealand’s Moa Beer. And they know it works – they’ve done it before. Well, sort of.
For those that missed the last decade, there used to be a New Zealand vodka company called 42 Below, started by a guy distilling vodka in a basement in Wellington. It was homebrewing, just not beer. Anyway, a few years later that guy sold the vodka company for $138 million which is a rather impressive return by anyone’s standards. The idea was fairly simple: make a great product, and make it popular. To do that when you’re a small business with no money to spend on advertising, you have to do things differently in order to stand out. For example, controversial billboards. Just look at what every else is doing and do something completely different. 42 Below were very, very good at it.
To cut a long story short, the people behind 42 Below are now backing Moa beer. The emergence of Moa could almost be considered as 42 Below: The Sequel. Same cast of characters, same plot line, same locations, just a slightly different product at the heart of the story. The fundamental difference is that where 42 Below was a product built from scratch, Moa – the brewer, the beer, the brewery – already existed. What it really needed was a makeover, a bit of re-branding.
And that was the point of change. Almost overnight, Moa was in the extremely fortunate position where they have a dedicated team to run all facets of the company. The brewers make the beer, the business people sell the beer. That’s how the big beer companies do it and it’s a luxury that many craft brewers unfortunately do not have and it limits their growth as a consequence. Moa got a new life – new label, new packaging, new ideas and a new attitude. They now operate in a mysterious middle ground between the wicked corporate giants and the small but loveable craft brewers. They have a big business attitude but a craft brewing philosophy.
They also have aspirations of success, not just in New Zealand but around the world, and the wheels are most definitely in motion. And why not? They have the people that have been through the process of building a successful international beverage brand before so there’s no reason they won’t succeed again. Just to take a few examples, duty-free presence was an important building block for 42 Below. Which beer you can buy in duty-free stores? Big beer companies secure sponsorship at big events with global coverage. Who’s sponsoring the NZ Olympic team for London 2012? Distribution is a key to success in other countries. Who’s been securing important deals in the USA recently and employs sales reps in Australia? The company states openly that it wants to take Steinlager’s place on the world stage as ‘New Zealand’s beer’, at least in the eyes of foreigners. Would you be game enough to bet against it happening?
Part of taking a bold approach is that you’re likely to offend at some point – and not just customers. There was some negative backlash from other New Zealand craft brewers to an article Moa posted on their website called ‘Craftwashing’ which stated their position on what defines a craft brewer. That definition happened to exclude a good number of New Zealand’s best and most innovative contract brewers and it certainly got people talking. But then, that’s what they do best. When we say ‘they’, it’s worth considering again that difference between the two sides of the business – the brewing and the marketing. Hearing Josh Scott, company founder and one of the brewers, speaking at the Moa Tap Takeover at the Local Taphouse, it was very obvious that he has such enthusiasm and knowledge about what he does – making beer. The marketing side of the business is taken care of by other people and he seemed to prefer it stays that way. Get him talking about brewing temperatures or yeast strains and you can see the passion – ask about the marketing and he almost appears uncomfortable. Just goes to show that there’s always more to a brand than what you might take at face value.
For all the furore that they are able to generate, having craft breweries like Moa should, in our opinion, be welcomed. They are ambitious and they have the means for success. As is the case with the craft arms of multi-national brewers, every time they get mentioned in the news or place an advertisement it is, in some small way, encouraging people away from mainstream lagers towards craft beer. Through these means, craft beer has a meaningful way of moving from being a niche product to being more widely accepted. Surely that should be what most craft brewers would want to aspire to; more people drinking better beer. If there’s a company like Moa that’s prepared to get on the world stage, voice their opinion and say “We’re from New Zealand and we make interesting beer down here”, that’s a really, really good thing. The alternative to that voice is essentially having no voice and letting the multi-nationals have a free reign.
If you look back to the opening paragraph you can see that sometimes there’s a lot of other stuff that surrounds this whole beer thing, and what we described as a Tui campaign could easily be applied to Moa. But when it comes to the product itself, there’s a world of difference. If we’re ever given a choice between the two, make ours a Moa.Orignally posted on the author’s blog waterandhopsandmaltandyeast.com.